Britain’s respected car magazine Autocar has claimed that the controversially-styled BMW 7-series is heading for an early facelift and has published ‘scoop’ photos of disguised prototypes to prove it.

Disputing official claims that there will be no revised 7 before 2005, Autocar, citing BMW insiders, said the mildly restyled car would be in showrooms early in 2004 “in a bid to appease [BMW’s] worldwide dealer network which has been one of the most outspoken critics of the present styling”.

Autocar cited dealers as saying that the unusual looks of the current car have dampened sales with owners of older models either keeping their old cars or switching brands, instead of trading up despite numerous incentives.

Autocar said the facelifted car would have a more elegant, less bulbous nose with thinner headlamps, more pronounced grille and reprofiled bumper while, the controversial rump would get a subtly reshaped bootlid, more uniform shut lines and restyled bumper.

Inside, the controversial iDrive would operate more intuitively, along the lines of the system in the newly launched 5-series, and the “fussy” column-mounted gear selector and seat controls were “also being looked at”.

Autocar added that BMW is also working hard to deal with reliability issues that “have plagued the current model since launch”.