MUNICH, GERMANY – BMW’s next-generation 7-series saloon has been spotted at Germany’s Nurburgring circuit ahead of its official reveal expected next month. The current 7-series was the first BMW model to introduce the notorious ‘Bangle butt’ boot lid and flame surface design language, but for its successor designers have gone with a more conservative look, according to

The new 7-series receives a longer wheelbase and wider track, increasing interior space, and improving handling. The prototype’s front end also appears much longer than the current model, although its overhangs have been kept short. This design has allowed engineers to push the front axle further out, increasing the car’s footprint and thus improving dynamics. It also gives the car a wheel-at-each corner appearance, making it look smaller than it actually is as well as adding a bit of sportiness to its styling.

While the exterior changes appear to have been kept to a minimum, there are rumored to be a raft of significant upgrades underneath the new sheet-metal to help push the 7-series ahead of its Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8 rivals in the technological stakes.

BMW is expected to install a new eight-speed automatic from German transmission specialist ZF that will boost fuel-consumption and performance compared to the current model’s six-speed unit. There will also be a hybrid option based on the new two-mode hybrid system developed in partnership with General Motors, Daimler and Chrysler.

The hybrid variant will feature a petrol powered engine mated to a compact generator-motor mounted directly onto the gearbox. The electric motor will be powered by an array of lithium-ion batteries in the boot, which can be charged up using conventional brake-energy regeneration technology. Its launch, however, is still several years away, according to

The powertrain lineup for the new seven-series range will include everything from four-cylinder turbodiesels up to V-12 petrol mills. The car will also likely pick up the same 298kW 4.4-liter V-8 from the recently introduced X6.

Interior features will include an upgraded radar cruise control system with automatic braking plus a new camera-based lane departure and blind-spot warning system. There’s also the possibility of a new dual-view display screen that allows passengers to watch two different images from a single screen depending on the angle they’re sitting at. This means the front passenger and driver would see two separate images when looking at the single display, a set-up that could potentially be used to display a satnav map for the driver and entertainment programs for passengers simultaneously. A more advanced night vision system with pedestrian and speed sign detection features will also be introduced for this model.

Latest BMW models are usually launched in Australia several months after they first go on sale overseas, so expect to see the new range in local showrooms early next year. The hybrid model, if offered in Australia, will likely arrive around 2010 or later.