One of the standout cars for me last year was the Mercedes-Benz S-class. As far as limousines go, its exceptional opulence and luxury were exemplary. No wonder it is the default choice for world leaders and captains of industry.
Aiming to knock the S-class off its snooty perch - yet again - is BMW's latest flagship, the 7-series.
Its class-leading dynamics aside, the outgoing model had lacked the S-class' grandeur and refinement. This sixth-generation model promises to change that.
Flagship models allow manufacturers to show off their latest technological wares. The 7-series is no different.
Like its i3 and i8 models, the 7-series boasts carbon- fibre in its chassis construction. Because of that, the new car is a considerable 130kg lighter than its predecessor.
The car also parks itself. Unlike regular park assist systems, the 7-series can be controlled via an optional display key, allowing you to manoeuvre the car into tight spaces without being in it. But whether this new technology will be approved by the local authorities remains to be seen.
SPECS/BMW 750Li xDRIVE ; 730d
Price: To be announced
Engine: 4,395cc 32-valve twin-turbocharged V8; 2,993cc 24-valve turbodiesel V6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with paddle shift
Power: 450bhp at 5,000rpm; 265bhp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 650Nm at 1,800-4,500rpm; 620Nm at 2,000rpm
0-100kmh: 4.5; 6.1 seconds
Top speed: 250kmh (electronically limited)
Fuel consumption: 8.3; 4.5 litres/100km
Agent: Performance Motors
Looks-wise, the 7-series' design is more evolutionary than revolutionary. The car looks less angular now from the side, thanks to a slightly more sloping bonnet and bootline. In front, it has a more focused face as a result of a larger kidney grille and slittier headlamps, which now extend from the grille.
One can say the new car resembles a stretched 3-series, especially when viewed from the front three-quarter angle.
A car like this is supposed to pamper and, like almost all BMWs, thrill its occupants. All variants come with air suspension. And along with BMW's familiar Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport driving modes is a new Adaptive mode, which adjusts throttle, steering and suspension response according to your driving style.
The car can scan the road upfront and use your GPS coordinates to prep the suspension for the tarmac ahead (a feature the BMW Group first used in the Rolls-Royce Wraith). As a result, the car rides magnificently, soaking up imperfections on the road with a wonderfully cushioned ride - evident when it made mincemeat of the Porto town centre's unforgiving cobbled roads.
This comfort does not come at the expense of handling. The 730d variant handles like a BMW should - displaying an agility its rivals can only dream of.
Its all-new turbodiesel engine, too, is both muscular and refined - at least most of the time. Despite its surprisingly sporty soundtrack, diesel clatter at idling is somewhat conspicuous when you are outside the vehicle.
If you consider yourself upper- echelon, the long-wheelbase 750Li is the one to have. Though slightly less fluid around corners, the car cocoons passengers with unmatched serenity. Wind and road noises are almost absent at up to 140kmh.
The cabin is indeed unbelievably quiet. That is, unless you stomp on the accelerator and stir its stonking 450bhp V8, which propels you to 100kmh from a standstill in an incredible 4.5 seconds.
Inside, cabin layout is familiarly BMW. The only difference is that its quality is unlike any previous model. Among other things, the iDrive system now has a touch display and the centre console controls are finished in aluminium, lending it a more aristocratic touch.
The 7-series' cabin is now on a par with what Mercedes has to offer in terms of luxury and quality.
Opt for the Executive Lounge package, which allows a towkay in the rear to recline his seat, stretch out his legs and control a host of vehicle functions with his own in-car tablet. Or he can simply relax under the Sky Lounge panoramic glass roof. LED modules cleverly embedded in the glass set the mood when the sun goes down.
It is clear BMW has finally closed the gap between its 7er and the S-Class. Although that alone will not make all diehard Mercedes- Benz fans switch loyalty, the new BMW flagship will at least make their buying decision much harder when it arrives at the end of the year.
•The writer is a contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.