The 7-series identity problem.

This week BMW officially revealed the facelift version of their G12 7-series. The images, although shocking, were not unexpected. The grill looks comically big and mirrors that on the huge X7 SUV. I am wondering if BMW knows what it is doing?

The 7-series has always been a curious model in my mind. The 3-series is the heart of the company and its sporting ideology translated well into the 5-series, being an executive car with a sporting twist. The original 7-series was an attempt to chase the Mercedes S-class, which has always been king of the luxury car sector. Luxury being the key word here. The first three generations of 7-series emulated the S-class with subtle styling, large smooth engines and the gradual introduction of new technologies. The distinction between the two brands was that 7-series owners drove their cars rather than being driven in the back as many S-class owners were. In short, BMW sold its flagship on its core competency of driver enjoyment.

Was this successful? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the 7-series in these early years did represent the best of what BMW had to offer, both in styling and technology. But it never toppled Mercedes, who had decades of experience in the segment along with loyal, conservative customers.

I suspect BWW realized this and decided to take drastic action with the fourth-generation car, infamously known as the E65.

In 2001, the E65 was revealed and I think it was the bravest single vehicle the company has ever launched. It was not elegant in the least, with a contentious rear end that became known as the "Bangle butt" after the lead designer Chris Bangle. It abandoned the traditional BMW driver-centric dashboard and championed the very first version of the iDrive interface. I saw it at the Frankfurt motor show and was excited. It was daring, ungainly and full of fascinating technology. Nothing about the car made sense. It was certain to alienate traditional buyers but was something Mercedes could never do. The design language of this car would define BMW's range for a decade and the iDrive technology would be refined into what is now, one of the best human-car interface designs on the market.

The styling of the E65 though highly criticized at the time to my eyes has aged incredibly well. I would go as far as to say it looks more modern and interesting than anything currently coming out of BMW. It was ahead of its time and surely frightened people because the cars that have followed it have been more innocuous. The facelift E65 tried to smooth out the original cars rough edges and the F01 car, launched in 2005 was more of the same. It was a large, rounded forgettable car. BMW tried harder with the G12 7-series. It looked leaner and longer. They stuffed it with new technology like gesture control, which was more of a gimmick given how effective the iDrive had become. The interior design was a little lazy too, simply mirroring that of the 5-series. BMW focused less and less on the car's dynamic ability choosing to highlight emission efficiency and technology over driving pleasure. The problem was that by 2015, Mercedes had the luxury end of the market tied up, and the Audi A8 represented real technological innovation with its elegant glass cockpit design. The 7-series was stuck in the middle with nowhere to go.

Which brings us to the "new" 2019 facelift 7-series.

BMW admitted that this facelift has been more extensive and expensive than normal. A clear acknowledgement that the original G12 car was wanting. The focus, they state has been on luxury. This has resulted in higher quality leather inside the car and a regal exterior aesthetic, replete with huge grill. BMW has even stuffed some extra sound deadening in the wheel arches for good measure. The company has owned Rolls Royce for over two decades and I can see what they are going for in this new design. It is stark and dramatic and may well be very pleasant inside. But is this what the 7-series should be?

I get the marketing strategy, I really do. Pair the car with the X7. Go as far as graft that huge grill onto the front end. The price, size and design is aimed primarily at China and this will give those customers more choice. America has the SUVs and Europe will be more than happy with the 5-series, which is now pretty much as large as a 7-series anyway. Besides, large sporty saloons don't really sell. Look at poor Jaguar with its falling saloon sales and I'm sure the A8 isn't flying out of the dealerships either. It is a sad sign of the times that saloons just seem to be old hat.

I can't help but mourn though. In the past, a 7-series was something special. It was elegant and fast and most of all, a car you could enjoy as a driver. There was an innate authenticity that seems to have been lost and I am not convinced that any grill, regardless of its size, will be enough to regain that. Is the new car a missed opportunity? Time will tell.



E65 images sourced from www.

G12 images sourced from Autocar (www.