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Munich brand's flagship returns to take on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, this time in petrol PHEV format

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The first time you plant your foot in this BMW 7 Series is the point when you realise that this uber-saloon isn’t solely about wafting. A surprisingly characterful growl from the straight-six engine is the giveaway that something else is afoot here. 

It’s no BMW M3, but it does lend it an air of interest that these plug-in hybrids frequently avoid.

This, then, is the BMW that will once again take the fight to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Power in this particular M760e comes from the aforementioned 3.0-litre engine, supplemented by a gearbox-mounted electric motor with a 22.1kWh (gross) battery slung under the floor. Although that’s not as big as the X5 50e’s 25.7kWh, the M760e still manages between 46-48 miles on a charge, so it’ll drop into the 8% benefit-in-kind tax bracket. Handy to know if the all-electric BMW i7 sibling doesn’t fit your needs.

As ever with BMW, the strategy here is multiple powertrains, same car. So the 760e on test sits on the same CLAR platform as the i7 and indeed the pure-ICE cars that are available in other parts of the world.

The UK misses out on the diesel and mild-hybrid options like the V8 760i, but a lesser 750e is available here. All cars come as standard with four-wheel drive and air suspension.

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This generation of the 7 Series is long wheelbase only (at 3215mm), so inside there is plenty of rear leg room. I put my 6ft 5in pal in the back and even he managed to stretch out. Our test car has the optional £11,025 Executive pack, which means the incredible 31in drop-down rear screen and airline-style reclining chairs. It’s certainly one heck of a statement piece, but it would be nice if the screen was a bit further away. As it is, it feels a bit like sitting in the front row of the cinema. All cars also come with touchscreens in the rear doors, dubbed BMW Touch Command, which work well and double as another way to keep the kids entertained. 

Up front, life is equally luxurious. The leather feels suitably soft and expensive, while the vast wraparound screen works well in a car of this size (unlike in the smaller BMWs, where it dominates too much). Climate controls are in the touchscreen (booo), but at least the major functions such as media and nav can be controlled by buttons next to the iDrive controller, the rotary version of which remains. Why on earth BMW has ditched this system on cars like the iX1 remains one of the great mysteries of the age. 

It’s not a classy, understated environment like the Range Rover’s, but for where this car will sell (China, the US), you can understand why BMW has styled it like it has. I actually don’t mind the crystal-effect plastic running around the dash, but it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.

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This M760e starts under electric-only propulsion and is, as ever, smooth in this mode. The engine, when it fires, is also barely noticeable (unless you push on, as we discovered earlier) and it’s a great companion for wafting. The acceleration doesn’t feel quite as impressive as the headline 0-62mph time would have you believe (4.3sec), but it’s certainly no slouch. Gearchanges are smooth and seamless and, combined with the ‘fill’ of the electric motor, it’s an uninterrupted accelerative curve towards motorway speeds. Minimal drama, but that’s what you want here. 

The same isn’t true of the ride quality as I’m not sure it is quite up there with the, admittedly standout, electric i7. I haven’t driven the two back to back, but my hunch is the PHEV car thrums across ridges more and doesn’t do quite such an easy job of isolating the worst of the Tarmac. Where the i7 has the most wonderfully cushioned damping, this M760e lets the wheel movement enter into the cockpit a bit more, especially under load. If the car is accelerating hard or weighted up in a corner, the air suspension seems unable to cope with the unsprung mass as well as the i7.

The upside is a chassis that isn’t quite as susceptible to roll as the weightier i7’s but there’s no disguising the still sizeable heft of the M760e over a series of switchbacks, despite the accurate steering doing its best to keep things in check. 

In other words, the trade-off in the ride isn’t worth the upside in a slightly better driver’s car. As such, and despite the interesting engine note, the i7 remains the exec 7 Series of choice.

BMW 7 Series First drives