Truth be told I often find it hard to like - much less love - large executive saloon cars.
These are big, heavy vehicles built to be pleasurable to ride, not necessarily to drive. That in itself makes it tricky; unless I have someone to drive me around (which I do not) then I can't review it properly from that point of view. Am I supposed to write it from the perspective of a chauffeur?
The BMW 7 Series, however, has always been a bit different.
While many competitor models like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Audi A8, and the Lexus LS have paid most of the attention to riding luxury from the back seat, BMW has always seemed to balance it with driving pleasure. That is what has always been expected of a BMW; no matter which model it is, a car that wears that blue and white roundel has to be fun from the driver's seat, too.
And that brings us to the facelifted 2021 7 Series that BMW launched in the Philippines last year, a car that I think best represents the paradigm shift that the San Miguel-run BMW distributor is kickstarting not just internally, but in the luxury auto sector as well.
Walking up to this 730i Pure Excellence at the new dealership in Greenhills is actually the first time I'm seeing it in the metal because like many brands in the country last year, BMW had to hold the launch via Zoom. Honestly, I believe they were a bit conservative with the style. Sure, the classic elements are there like the bigger kidney grille and the Hofmeister kink on the rear window along with newer details like that blade on the door, but it seems like BMW designers held back.
That's not to say they didn't do their jobs, but it shows they are definitely restricted. Loyal BMW fans have a tendency to march up to Munich with pitchforks when they see or are given something different. Just look at the response to the large nose on the BMW M4. Porsche also has that same problem, which is why so many of their models have to look somewhat similar to a 911.
Conservative and constrained as the designers may have been, I have to say the look of the 7 Series did grow on me as the days went by; even more so when the sun was out. The details really do pop against the shimmering black paintwork, as the curves on the doors and rear quarter look very nice. Think of it as a finely tailored suit with a hint of shine on the material; no matter where you go, it looks impressive.
The story inside is also similar; conventional but very impressive. The driver's seat is fantastic whether you're on a long drive on the highway or spending a long time in traffic. The ergonomics of all the controls are excellent. Initially, I wasn't a fan of BMW's new steering wheel designs, but I can't really complain as the leather feels very natural in my hands - like a glove.
That's always been a BMW hallmark; they have to get the driving controls right, and you can tell by the way the center stack is angled towards the driver just a little bit. The wood inserts are very classy (and real, if we're understanding the info correctly) and contrast beautifully with the metal trim. I normally don't like wood trim but I like how they did it here; this vehicle aims for, uh, a more senior target market after all.
What I find impressive is how well-appointed the 730i Pure Excellence is. The A/C is a quad-zone climate control system; meaning each occupant can set the temperature to his or her liking, except for the one that has to sit in the middle of the back seat. The multimedia system is something we've already become accustomed to and it controls the audio system (which has the usual functions like BT and Apple Carplay but no Android Auto), your phone (if connected), and displays for certain driving information (e.g. fuel economy). When you switch driving modes, the settings pop up there as well, and you can adjust it to your liking.
The speaker system in here is one by Harman Kardon, and the sound quality is really good; I was actually playing some lossless files. The last time we checked there are actually options abroad for a more exclusive Bowers & Wilkins “diamond” speaker system, but that would be a very premium upgrade; some say it's around a USD 3000 (PHP 151,250) option. But the Harman Kardon system will do very nicely indeed.
The rear seat is something we need to talk about, and we'll start by saying that it really is inviting. When you sit down, it feels like you can just relax your stresses away. The cushioning is superb, and I particularly like the extra little pillow they put on the headrest; a nice touch. Most of the time the center armrest will be down for comfort; no one's going to sit there anyway. The rear has sunshades on both side windows and a motorized one for the rear glass; those are expected of a vehicle in this segment. The rear legroom is actually good, but it is clear that other competitors have more. That last detail we'll save for last.
For safety and convenience, this is fully loaded. Automatic controls are available for the headlights (with high beam assist) and wipers, and you've got front and rear parking sensors with a rearview camera. I'm actually wondering why it's not a 360 camera, but that's okay. You can expect a multitude of three-letter acronyms denoting safety as standard in this 730i; things like SRS can be spotted all over the cabin, while RFT, DSC, DTC, and ABS are all listed on the spec sheet. There are more, but we can move on to driving it.
Without a doubt, the 730i is a supremely comfortable car on our streets. Tire noise on concrete isn't a problem; it's quiet. Bumps aren't an issue either, and the 7 takes them on easily. Potholes are dealt with nicely, even though I feel quite a bit of mechanical sympathy whenever a car I drive goes over a bump. The G12 730i has a few tricks up its sleeve, one of which is a monocoque that uses quite a bit of carbon fiber that bumps up the rigidity and helps lower the weight. The other trick is the air suspension which helps deal with most of the rough stuff our roads can dish out.
What will surprise many about this 7 Series is that it comes powered not by a six, eight, or a twelve-cylinder. This one has a four-cylinder, 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo engine known as the BMW B48 TwinPower. If you look at the engine and then look at the size of the car, I won't be surprised if you have doubts; I know I did.
After driving it for a few hundred kilometers, I can tell that BMW actually got it right with their approach to downsized turbo engines. This engine has some go at 265 PS and 400 Nm of torque, and more importantly, the max torque (which is equivalent to 295 lb-ft.) starts at 1550 rpm and stays flat all throughout to 4500 rpm. That means this isn't a slouch when it comes to acceleration. I tested it and was getting 6.5 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h; the claim is 6.3, but that's not a big deal.
The more important digits are the fuel economy figures. In the city, this big sedan was doing 9.9 km/l (21 km/h average), while on the highway it was an outstanding 16.2 km/l (81 km/h average). Needless to say, I really like the idea of luxury whilst consuming less fuel versus the larger engines that this class of car has been known for. Yes, I know fuel economy isn't top of mind in this category because the clients can afford it, but today every liter counts.
On the highway, the 730i is smooth. The 8-speed automatic is really one of my favorites now, and in sport mode, it can be fun. Overtaking vehicles is easy as the gearbox and the smaller engine work together to give the car the confidence it needs to pass others. It won't be as quick against a straight-six or a V8, but it's definitely not slow. On the bends, you can feel the heft, but not once did it feel like it was going to be twitchy or tricky. Driving dynamics are definitely spot on considering the size.
There really is a lot to talk about with the updated 7 Series in 730i Pure Excellence trim, but the most important factor is not as much the car but the team handling the planning, marketing, and selling of it. Long story short: BMW Philippines is changing the game in the luxury sector in the Philippines.
Normally a vehicle with a 7 on the trunk lid would have a 7 digit price tag that usually begins with 8 or 9. Sometimes the price tag would even be at 8 digits depending on the variant. In 2016 when this sixth-generation BMW 7-Series debuted, the price was a staggering PHP 8,890,000 for the 740Li while the 750Li retailed for PHP 12,490,000.
This one isn't anywhere near those digits: when BMW Philippines launched this 730i Pure Excellence in 2020, the price was (and still is) PHP 5,990,000. To put that in perspective, the Mercedes-Benz S320 L retails for PHP 9,690,000, the Lexus LS500 Premier is at PHP 9,778,000 while the Audi A8L is at PHP 10,350,000.
What BMW did wasn't low tariff magic by getting a car from, say, Malaysia; this is still a 'Made in Germany' bimmer. BMW Philippines achieved that by reconfiguring their approach in business to changing market trends. The customer base has largely switched away from saloon cars to SUVs (okay, SAVs), so they knew they weren't going to sell that much. So instead of trying to go toe-to-toe with their competitors in the same price range, they decided to cleverly undercut the competition.
The first is the engine. At 2.0L, it is by far the smallest in the class and definitely cheaper to produce versus a six or eight-cylinder. The wheels aren't as big as those are 18-inch wheels, not 20-inches. There are many more, but perhaps the most important is that they opted for the short wheelbase model and not the long-wheelbase one; this is a 730i and not a 730Li.
What BMW Philippines didn't want to do was delete features, so much so that the vehicle would feel bare like those “APEC” models. The net effect is a 7 Series that is packed with luxury features at a really good price. The move was a shock to the luxury sector that Lexus actually came out with a reduced spec LS500 (non Premier) to compete and undercut the 730i at PHP 5,928,000. Lexus does have the advantage of a tariff exemption, but what we are loving is the spirit of competition (yes, that's Ralliart but it's apt) that BMW Philippines ignited in the segment.
Make no mistake about it: this is still very much a luxury full-size car but is a reflection of the change in strategy from BMW Philippines. They also negotiated with the regional and the global offices of BMW to parry down the price, but they did have to promise more sales. It turns the age-old strategy in the Philippine luxury auto sector of prioritizing profit margin over volume sales on its head. And judging by the sales so far, they're well on their way to achieving it.
If BMW does more of this across their model line, their rivals will try to do the same. If that happens, the winners are the consumers.