The 7-Series was launched with two V8 engines - the 735i (which is actually a 3.6-litre engine) with 272bhp and the 745i (a 4.4-litre with 333bhp). Both are smooth and refined as you'd expect with strong performance too. But the real pace comes from the flagship 760i which was introduced in late 2002. This potent V12 has 445bhp on tap and a 0-62mph time of just 5.5 seconds but it's as thirsty as you'd expect with an average economy of just 21mpg.
The sole diesel - a straight-six 3.0-litre in the 730d arrived in 2003 and with punchy performance (0-62mph comes up in just 8 seconds) and decent economy of 33mpg it's the best choice for reasonable running costs. At the same time the 730i was launched - but although more powerful than the 730d, it's no quicker and more thirsty so there seems little point choosing it.
All models are mated to an automatic gearbox with standard and sport settings and steering wheel mounted controls.
As you'd expect, the 7-Series rides exceptionally well, but that doesn't mean it's wallowy in corners and thanks to decent body control it is capable of surprising agility when asked. The suspension specification depends upon the model and options selected. A Sport pack adds lower, stiffer springs, while the Adaptive Ride features self-adjusting dampers and counter-corrects body roll when cornering - it also offers a choice of ride quality options.
Irrespective of specification the 7-Series remains true to the BMW ethos of producing a car that will meet the needs of the driver, but one that also keeps those in the back totally unruffled.
Thanks to the iDrive system, which is controlled via a centrally-mounted dial, the 7-Series console is uncluttered with only a few buttons on display. The layout isn't as stylish as the Mercedes S-Class and the slabby dash looks very prominent with wood trim but the driving position is good and there's plenty of adjustment in both the seat and steering column.
One of the quirks of the BMW is the column-mounted gear lever which is more like a large button than a gearshift, while an electronic, button-operated parking brake frees up room between the driver and front passenger.
As you'd expect, this is an area where the 7-Series excels and thanks to minimal road and wind noise, excellent engine noise insulation and a smooth ride it is a wonderfully comfortable place for long journeys. It's not quiet as cosseting as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class but it's not far behind. Rear legroom is excellent and for limousine-like amounts of space there's always the long wheelbase version, available with all engines.
Sumptuous leather seats are standard on all models and there are numerous options for both front and rear seats including ventilated and massaging options. Automatic air conditioning with individual driver and passenger controls is also standard.