Amidst the confident strides BMW has taken with its SUVs, the 3 Series and 7 Series demonstrate why the German marque produces arguably the best luxury sedans.
BMW’s current era is marked by diversification. Its Series cars now fill out every number from 1 to 8, while its Sports Activity Vehicles and Sports Activity Coupes do the same from X1 to X7 (and we’re not even at its electric BMW i range yet).
Still, look a bit further back and it becomes clear that no Bavarian hallmark has persisted as resiliently and convincingly as the luxury sedan.
The 3 Series and 7 Series have defined and bookended this segment for decades – definitive examples of what a compact executive and full-sized luxury sedan should be respectively. While standing confidently on their own as class-leaders, they are also unified in embodying BMW’s unimpeachable quality and dynamism, regardless of the number or size.
Styling you can recognise – anywhere, anytime
Presence is of immense gravity in any luxury sedan.
In an automotive world keen to push out the most eye-catching designs, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of fresh and exciting faces. Not everyone can claim to bring something new to the table while still paying homage to their machines of yesteryear.
Pick a 3 Series or 7 Series from any generation, and even if you cover their hallowed blue and white badges, chances are you’d still be able to recognise them instantly.
In current form, the siblings are as handsome as ever. The details you’d expect are all there – those double-kidney grilles, flanked on both sides by twin headlights. The C-pillars on both cars also incorporate BMW’s signature Hofmeister kink.
Nonetheless, these are inherited jewels, constantly reworked and transformed to reflect the times. The 3 Series now sports LED headlights with extended contents as standard, while the 7 Series receives BMW’s cutting-edge Laserlight technology across its entire range in Singapore.
This pioneering system doesn’t simply boast ten times the brightness and double the range of traditional LED headlamps, but also interacts with a number of on-board technologies to automatically adapt to what’s ahead, providing unprecedented levels of visibility and safety. As such, the car can detect obstacles and pedestrians up ahead and then illuminate them, while also knowing to dim its headlights in the face of oncoming traffic.
Deliciously striking too are the familiar L-shaped taillights, first introduced in the late-eighties, which persist in full, updated glory. Featuring a three-dimensional, pop-up style, these add a further touch of elegance on both cars. For the first time ever on a BMW, a full-width light strip that remains lit throughout the day (à la daytime running lights) even crowns the rear of the 7 Series, accentuating its grandeur.
A car fit for the 21st century
Having the latest tech on board is de rigueur on any luxury sedan. This is an assignment BMW has always understood. Back in the nineties, the E38 7 Series was one of the first cars ever to offer satellite navigation. Three generations later, BMW’s flagship saloon continues to innovate and deliver groundbreaking functionality by offering an intelligent Remote Control Parking feature. With its ability to move in or out of forwards-facing lots without a driver at the wheel, the occasional yet inevitable parking headache is easily eliminated.
As part of BMW’s current generation, both the 3 Series and 7 Series come with the Operating System 7.0, which includes the immensely useful Intelligent Personal Assistant, a voice-activated personal butler for the car. It won’t take long before you start wondering how life was previously like without it. Need to find a petrol station quickly? “Hey BMW”. Calling your kids on the way home? “Hey BMW”.
In the 7 Series, you can even channel your inner music conductor with gesture controls; twirl your finger to adjust the volume or swipe your hand to dismiss notifications (other gestures can also be configured).
The 3 Series and 7 Series also excel in embracing the digital era in elegant and measured portions.
Fit for the 21st century, both cars come with BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional. In addition to a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster, a responsive 10.25-inch touchscreen supporting wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity takes centre stage. All the information you need, from your location, weather and phone notifications to news updates, is displayed in rich and crisp colour; in a tile layout that can be customised depending on what you want to see.
Still, there is value in familiarity. Tactility is refreshingly present. Air-conditioning is adjusted via dedicated controls, and the iDrive rotary knob is as delightfully intuitive as always, especially when on the move.
Above all, the tech is enjoyable because the very basics of a luxury cabin are first pinned down. Climbing into these cars, it is immediately apparent how well put together everything is with soft-touch materials everywhere to be found. These are all the more present in the 7 Series, with its Nappa-leather quilted seats.
Despite being BMW’s compact executive sedan, the 3 Series offers more than sufficient rear legroom and headroom, making it is as much a car for passengers as it is for drivers. On the other hand, the 7 Series stays true to its form by fully embracing its limo credentials and proportions, with a cavernous and cossetting rear cabin fitted with extra creature comforts such as electrically reclinable rear seats and window blinds which can be raised at the touch of a button.
BMW’s core: Sheer driving pleasure
True to the marque’s decades-spanning slogan, dynamism and athleticism are sacred qualities that BMW’s luxury sedans have always embodied faithfully.
More than ever, the 3 Series is eager and spirited, regardless of which engine you go for. The steering is properly weighted, accurate and sharp. At the same time, the car feels balanced and planted, thanks to its carefully calibrated 50:50 weight distribution. Now into its seventh generation, the 3 Series remains the compact executive sedan to beat when it comes to driving dynamics.
Step into the 7 Series after driving the 3 Series and the same driver-centric cockpit greets you. Don’t be fooled by the lux-limo’s size though. This thing takes off when you put your foot down, but does so in such an unruffled manner that it takes you a good few seconds to realise your speedometer has started displaying three digits.
As a full-sized luxury sedan, the 7 Series also comes with its own party trick: Adaptive two-axle, automatically self-levelling air suspension is standard across the range.
In “Adaptive” mode, the car wafts along calmly by default, with the individually controlled air supply to each wheel deftly balancing the ride out over undulations. Upon sensing that you’re pushing it for performance, however, the car will adjust its suspension without extra prompting to cling more tightly to the road. This consistent sense of stability doesn’t simply enable the 7 Series to handle like a much smaller car, but also glide between comfort-oriented and sportier driving modes quickly and effortlessly.
Speaking of driving modes, “Comfort” and “Sport” aren’t fancy, superfluous settings on the 3 Series and 7 Series.
In Comfort mode, these are dependable and welcoming companions, offering a cushy respite in heavy traffic or after a long day at work. While the 3 Series is already a refined being, the 7 Series, with its laminated glass windows and acoustic insulation, is especially masterful in drowning out road and tire noise.
But select “Sport” and the steering instantly becomes heavier; the growls from the engines a bit throatier as both cars signal that they’re more ready than before to take on the bends and corners with aplomb. Served by a buttery 8-Speed Steptronic transmission, power delivery is also urgent while smooth, ensuring that you’re never left waiting for them to find the right gear.
The luxury sedan: Guardian of BMW’s galaxy
For more than four decades, the 3 Series and 7 Series have been tireless in bookending the luxury sedan segment, competently covering the bases they’re supposed to and then some.
The former, as a benchmark-setting compact executive sedan, offers best in class driving dynamics, but doesn’t skimp on comfort, refinement, or space for its passengers. The latter more than aces the luxury limo test yet doesn’t forget its irrevocable identity as an ultimate driving machine with its impressive litheness.
To top it all off, leading tech and an inimitable design language continue to deliver a look and feel that is unmistakeably BMW. First as pioneers, and now as cornerstones, the 3 Series and 7 Series continue to spearhead and guard BMW’s ever-growing galaxy.