As a prelude to handing over the keys to a new facelifted BMW ActiveHybrid 7-series parked at a marina in St Petersburg, Russia, BMW bombarded me with luxury - put me up at the Astoria Hotel, took me on a river cruise to schmooze with a member of the company's management board and wined and dined me while ballet dancers performed in a building loaded with history, style and cultural heritage.
The luxury factor probably rubbed off a bit, but it didn't dull my appreciation for the new flagship ''Bimmer'', which competes directly with the Mercedes-Benz S-class, Jaguar XJ and Audi A8. The 7-series is improved here, there and everywhere, so to speak.
While the exterior doesn't have much new to show in terms of major design changes, the iconic twin kidney grille is tweaked with nine instead of 12 vertical slats, new side mirrors and new red colour tones on the rear lights.
Frontal lamps are larger and fitted with LED running lights and the fog lights are combined with the air intakes.
Once I was behind the wheel, I slightly embarrassed myself and Krisda Utamote, BMW Thailand's corporate communications director, by fidgeting my way through the gear lever and searching for the correct Drive mode. But we did make it on the road.
Inside, the leather seats offered a world-class level of comfort.
There's an updated iDrive control unit and an optional Bang & Olufsen sound system which boasts 16 speakers to whet the appetite of audiophiles.
BABY GOT BACK: The rear compartment offers great comfort and is stocked with amenities.
And like its Stuttgart rival, BMW drivers will get to see the famous coffee cup icon when their driving behaviour tells the sensors that it's time to park on the roadside.
The old six-speed gearbox is replaced by an eight-speed Steptronic transmission which is fitted to every model and allows for enhanced fuel efficiency.
All models get a start-stop system for greater fuel efficiency.
Under the hood of the 750i is a 4.4-litre V8 that delivers 449hp, an increase of about 45hp when compared to its predecessor. There are buckets of torque with a maximum rating of 650Nm.
And then the second-generation ActiveHybrid 7, as pictured on these pages, is powered by a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine which is coupled to a 55hp synchronous motor and drums up 320hp and 450Nm of torque.
After a very short 25km drive, I was chauffeured to a summer palace built for a tsarina. The traffic conditions were perfect as they allowed me the luxury of sitting in the extremely comfortable rear seat for some three hours. I didn't fuss around too much with the 9.2-inch monitors behind the front seats since the journo next to me was hogging the entertainment system for the entire duration. Instead, I slept like a log on those comfortable seats.
The BMW people told me over lunch that the installation of the new standard Dynamic Damper System allows the revised 7-series to electronically control the damping rates at each corner individually based on road conditions and individual driving patterns.
SHINING BRIGHTLY: Above, the LED lights are new. Below, the ActiveHybrid 7 costs around 13 million baht here.
In short, it's like a custom setting for engine response and power steering feedback which conveys the feel of the road to your hands. Who am I kidding? The steering felt meaty in a very nice, premium Bimmer way. You don't feel you are driving at warp speed even though you are going flat out and the steering wheel is precise while you are very much in control.
What would it be like to drive the new 7-series in Bangkok? I could rob a bank and tell you. Priced at an estimated 13 million baht in Thailand, most of the ones you see here will be driven by chauffeurs, unless of course it happens to be the weekend.
In the words of Ian Robertson, a Brit who is the first non-German member on the company's board, the new 7-series is packed with cutting edge technology, unquestionable comfort and unparalleled luxury, although again, the external changes might go unnoticed by the untrained eye.
Comparing the 7-series hybrid with the current Mercedes S-class is probably not fair because the S400 Hybrid sports a 3.5-litre V6 and develops about 25 fewer horses; and the more potent 4.6-litre V8 which delivers about 20 fewer horses is not in 2013 format.
Meanwhile, the 2013 Audi A8 Hybrid 245hp gives the hybrid version of the new 7-series a run for its money in the fuel efficiency category.
That said, the 7-series' forte is in the comfort and technology it offers and a pampering ride that makes it one of the very best premium saloons on the market.
THE RIGHT MIX: Far left to left: The eight-speed automatic is new; adaptive suspension is standard; hybrid mates six-pot and electric motors.
HEAD TURNER: The car made quite an impression on Russian roads.
About the author
- Writer: Alfred Tha Hla
Position: Motoring Reporter