The new BMW 7 Series sparked quite a reaction when it launched last month. The facelifted limousine – complete with its gigantic kidney grille and X7-insipred nose – set Internet forums raging, with commenters vehemently discussing the car’s polarising aesthetic. 

While it won’t be to all tastes, the 7’s new look is nothing if it isn’t bold. Whether you love it or loathe it, there will be no mistaking BMW’s executive flagship in your rear-view mirror; the company adamantly shying away from its once-familiar Russian doll approach to styling. Somehow, it seems you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

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The usual petrol and diesel versions will be available at launch, though our pre-production test car came in long-wheelbase 745Le plug-in hybrid guise.

The 7 Series is no stranger to electrification – the outgoing model has been offered with a plug-in powertrain since 2016. This version is different, however, switching out the old car’s four-cylinder engine for a twin-turbo straight-six. Here, it’s mated to a 111bhp electric motor and xDrive four-wheel drive, though rear-driven models are also available. 

That petrol engine is a de-tuned version of the unit found in the X5 xDrive 40i. Power stands at 282bhp, which combined with the motor produces 389bhp and 600Nm of torque: increases of 67bhp and 100Nm respectively. The 745Le will do almost 90mph in EV mode, with an electric range of up to 36 miles – 15 miles more than before. 

BMW’s engineers claim customer requests for a six-cylinder plug-in hybrid were simply too pressured to ignore. Owners thought the old set-up wasn’t befitting of a luxury limousine; on longer journeys the 2.0-litre petrol engine simply couldn’t match the power and poise of its six, eight or 12-cylinder siblings. 

It certainly feels like a more polished product. On electric there’s little difference between old and new – it still accelerates with purpose, while remaining all but completely silent around town. The harmony is only spoiled by the new external sound generator, which warns pedestrians of your presence. 

Of course, being a 7 Series, that sense of calm extends to motorway cruising, too. The redesigned digital dials feature a clever blue bar, showing you how far you can extend the throttle pedal before the engine kicks in. Providing the batteries are sufficiently charged, a gentle driving style can result in an impressive emission-free range.

There are three drive modes, plus a ‘Battery Control’ button, which allows you to charge the batteries while you’re moving. Sport and Electric both do what they say on the tin, and Hybrid mixes the two for the most efficient compromise. What’s more, if you input a destination into the sat-nav, the car will work out when best to hold charge and when to run in EV – the idea being to reduce emissions in built-up areas. It works wonderfully in practice; we travelled through countless German villages with the engine seamlessly cutting out as soon as we hit the urban limits.

That transition between petrol and electric is smooth and unpronounced, too. It’d be inaccurate to call it imperceptible, but it’s unobtrusive ­­– and after 20 minutes in the car was no longer noticeable. In Hybrid and Sport the car feels genuinely quick, with impressive response from the electric motor. The meaty roar from the six-cylinder engine is far preferable to the wheezy four-pot from before, too.

Being a BMW, the people behind the new 7’s development have been careful to ensure it remains almost as sharp to drive as the smaller 3 and 5 Series saloons. Our four-wheel drive test car offered limpet-like grip even on winter tyres, while body control was good despite the compliant damping. It’s still firmer than a Mercedes S-Class, but you’re not likely to complain when it comes to comfort.

However, despite the fact it’s a bigger, more powerful powertrain, the firm has somehow managed to dip under the 50g/km threshold for CO2. In fact, BMW claims the unit is actually more economical than the old unit at motorway speeds, due to the lower stresses on the engine. 

Inside, it’s business as usual, with a suitably hi-tech cabin filled with cutting-edge kit. Despite being a pre-production vehicle, there was little to moan about with regards quality, fit and finish. There’s metal, leather and gloss plastic as far as the eye can see, and the widescreen infotainment display – featuring the latest iDrive 7.0 operating system – is full of useful features. 

Both the standard car and the long-wheelbase version we tried have grown by 22mm, meaning space in the back is cavernous. BMW hasn’t revealed bootspace figures, but as before, the hybrid is likely to sacrifice a few litres of storage due to its repositioned fuel tank.

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