Over the weekend BMW released information, as well as the first official pictures, of its new 7-Series. The cheers you just heard were from politicians and captains of industry the world over.

Hey, haven't I seen you before?
At first blush — especially when viewed front on — the new 7-Series doesn't look all that, well, new. While the clothing may be all new, it's clearly an evolution of today's controversial range-topper. Underneath the skin is where BMW has chosen to be more cutting edge.

The new 7 goes on sale overseas later this year, with Aussie sales due sometime in 2009. Naturally specification and pricing have yet to be confirmed.

When big isn't big enough
If you can afford to spend the price of a Sydney studio apartment on a car, you'll probably want you and your fellow passengers to stretch out in maximum comfort. As such, the 7-Series — and almost every other luxury sedan — comes in two lengths: standard and long wheelbase.

Long wheelbase models — like the one above — are 140mm longer than standard cars, with all of the extra length going to the rear seat passengers. Hence, rear doors that are significantly bigger than the front ones, as well as an "L" tacked onto the end of the model name, like 740iL instead of 740i.

Like before but smoother
With its long bonnet, the overall shape of the new 7-Series is the same as before, but the harsh industrial detailing and the tacked-on boot have given way to smoother and less controversial forms.

Number soup, part I
Once upon a time the three-number model names from BMW made sense. Let's take for instance, the 740. The first number, "7", denotes the "series" of the car — generally speaking larger or more expensive cars are given higher numbers. The last two numbers, in days gone by, indicated the displacement of the engine. So, in our example, "40" would indicate that there's a 4.0-litre engine under the hood.

For the past decade or so, the engine displacement number has been merely indicative. So the new 740i and 740iL come with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder engine, while the 750i and 750iL come with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8.

Number soup, part II
BMW's switch to smaller engines mated with turbochargers is driven partly by the more onerous carbon emissions standards coming in to force in the EU in a few years.

  Current 740i New 740i Current 750i New 750i Engine 4.0-litre V8 3.0-litre TT 6 4.8-litre V8 4.4-litre TT V8 Power (kW) 225 240 270 300 Torque (Nm) 390 450 490 600 Fuel economy (L/100km) 11.2 9.9 11.4 11.4 CO2 output (g/km) 267 232 271 266

Next to gear selector is the iDrive controller knob, which lets the driver and passenger configure most of the car's settings from major to minor via the 10.2-inch screen in the centre of the dash. An auxiliary jack for MP3 players is standard, while a hard disk-based entertainment will also be offered.

iDrive, you drive
The rear seat DVD entertainment system and iDrive controller seen here will probably be part of the car's extensive options list.

The present
If you're having trouble telling the new and old 7-Series apart, here's a reminder of what the current model looks like.

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