2010 BMW 750 Expert Review:Autoblog
The BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-class are two vehicles utterly defined by their birthplace. Each was spawned in Southern Germany, where massive stretches of autobahn honed their ability to cover boundless distances at high velocities, cosseting occupants in Teutonic luxury. But they're decidedly different beasts. In spite of their similarities, the two brands have always had distinct personalities. BMW followed its tag-line of the "Ultimate Driving Machine," while Mercedes stuck to its more sober image, focusing on its "Best in German engineering" meme.
As so often happens, automakers feel compelled to grow and expand beyond traditional audiences, and at times, the result is a diluted product that strays from its roots. When everyone is attempting to cater to the broadest possible audience, overlap is inevitable and distinctions begin to disappear. Look no further than the American mid-size sedan segment, or in this case, the last generation 7-series. So for 2009, BMW sought to re-focus its uber-sedan on what it does best. Read on to find out if BMW succeeded or if the new 7 suffers from further dilution.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
It seems fitting that BMW's flagship would lead the way in introducing new design directions for the brand. The previous fourth-generation model marked the debut of the controversial Chris Bangle era. The Bangle 7 may not have received much in the way of critical acclaim for its aesthetics, but it was the best-selling generation to date, and its distinct styling cues have found their way into many other vehicles. Even with a mid-cycle refresh that significantly improved its looks, the fourth-gen. model still suffered from a top-heavy appearance that diverged from the lower, sleeker looks of earlier editions. This latest edition marks a return to form for BMW.
While Bangle remained the titular head of BMW design during the course of the 7 Series development, his successor, Adrian van Hooydonk, led the team that created this new version. The result is a sedan with virtually the same dimensions as the last 7, but with an additional three-inches of wheelbase. Despite the stretch in the middle, the new car looks significantly smaller thanks to a slopping nose and contoured flanks that lend a tauter, more muscular appearance.
Our first experience with the new 7 Series involved time in an extended wheelbase, sport pack-equipped 750Li. This time, our tester is a standard wheelbase 750i. Currently, the only engine available in the U.S. market 7-series is the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that debuted last year in the X6. However, just before our test, BMW announced a new V12-powered 760 that will find its way to the States later this year, while buyers in other parts of the world have a choice of gas or diesel mills.
With its 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque at just 1,800 rpm, the turbo V8 is an ideal power-plant for a big luxury sedan. It's only available with a ZF six-speed automatic transmission, as for the overwhelming majority of people who choose a 7 as their preferred conveyance, a manually-operated clutch wouldn't find favor. But that's not to say the 750i isn't suited to fast driving. On the contrary, even without the sport package, the 7 feels surprisingly nimble for a 4,500 pound vehicle. To the left of the shift lever is a switch that allows the driver to select from comfort, normal, sport and sport+ modes. Similar to what's found on most other modern vehicles with sport settings, the various modes adjust the response of the electronic throttle, transmission controls, the adaptive damping and the traction/stability control.
In comfort or normal modes, BMW's flagship feels a restrained at first, but a quick switch into one of the sport modes causes the 7 to leap of the line with enough gusto to belie its curb weight. BMW claims a 0-60 mph acceleration of 5.1 seconds for the lighter standard-wheelbase 750, a number consistent with our informal timing and perhaps even slightly conservative. Those who want to manage the shift points on their own can do so by tapping the shifter to the left, followed by the usual fore-aft taps. The transmission responds quickly to driver commands, but without any wheel mounted paddle shifters, the manual mode seems to be of limited value. It's generally best to leave the controller in drive, engage sport or sport+ and let the electronics to the work.
Under braking, the sport modes induce automatic down-shifting to help ensure the engine is in the meat of its powerband, so there's never a chance of being below the curve when powering out of the corners. Accelerating in sport mode, the transmission holds gears after backing off the throttle, allowing the driver to negotiate a series of bends without hunting for gears. Of course, even though the 7 is capable of traversing winding roads at elevated velocities, its natural habitat is the autobahn or interstate. Here, a squeeze of the go-pedal will find the 750's speedometer swinging clockwise at an alarming rate.
From a 70 mph cruise, dipping into the long pedal will have you in extra-legal speeds in decidedly undramatic fashion. Wind and road noise are well controlled thanks to the triple seals on the doors and acres of insulation elsewhere. At part throttle, the V8 is just audible enough that you can tell it's running, but it's never intrusive. Get on it hard though and an aggressive snarl begins to build. Even then, the 750 never forgets that it is a luxury sedan rather than a hardcore sports car.
Smaller BMWs have been lauded for their steering feel, and while the big sedan doesn't quite measure up to the 3 Series standard, it never feels loose or sloppy. The weighting provides just the right amount of resistance while providing feedback commensurate with the amount of lateral force being generated by the front tires. When maneuvering around tight spaces, the optional camera package on our tester came in handy. Pressing the camera button on the console toggles the massive 10.2-inch dash-mounted LCD to display the surrounds courtesy of two side-view cameras mounted just above the side markers on the leading edge of the front wheel wells.
The front seats of the 750 offer excellent comfort and lateral support, with the driver's seat benefiting from multiple power adjustments including the side bolsters that can be optimized to the width of your torso. When the door is opened, the bolsters automatically retract making it easier to get in an out, and the $2,500 luxury seating package includes a massage mode for the driver's seat as well as heating for the rear seats and steering wheel. Even in the standard wheelbase 7, the distance between the axles spans nearly 121 inches, meaning there's plenty of room in the rear compartment for three passengers. Of course, the usual caveats about the center position remain in place, including limited leg room around the center tunnel and the raised cushion which is optimally contoured for only two occupants.
Typical among modern luxury cars, every generation of the 7 Series adds more features and more fluff. Since all the added accouterments need a central control interface to avoid an overwhelming number of buttons, switches and dials, BMW led the charge with the implementation of iDrive on the last 7. Unfortunately, BMW apparently completely forgot about human usability and the result was a disaster. When the mid-cycle refresh of the 7 debuted, BMW added a few switches back into the mix to provide shortcuts to the main menu and other frequently used features. The new, third-generation system that debuted on the refreshed 3 Series last fall as well as the new 7 is vastly improved. The menu structure is much easier and intuitive to navigate, but it's still not quite as good as the interface offered by its closest competitors, not to mention some contemporary Fords.
So is the 7-series back on track? Most definitely. The 750i is a pleasure to drive and its responses belie its dimensions. For those that live in regions where roads are less than stellar, the absence of the sport pack is less of an issue. The adaptive damping system keeps the body level and unperturbed whether the pavement is pock-marked or curvy, and its surprisingly satisfying on all manner of roads. Of course, in typical German fashion, the price starts high and escalates quickly with the addition of options. Our tester had a base price of $80,300, but premium sound systems, seating, camera and convenience packages drove that up to an out-the-door price of $92,170. If you can manage those payments, the 750i's 16/22 mpg thirst for premium gasoline shouldn't be a bother, and for the money, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more willing and eager luxury sedan to consume acres of asphalt with ease.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
When the 2009 BMW 7 series was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show last fall, BMW's fifth-generation flagship had an anvil-sized burden to bear. Although the last 7 series was a milestone in the sales department, its design – which foisted Chris Bangle's influence onto an unsuspecting public – was all but universally panned when it was introduced in 2001. And if the exterior wasn't offensive enough (to some), BMW's newly-implemented iDrive system sent many reviewers and owners into unmitigated bouts of rage.
For 2009, BMW has sought to address the fourth generation's foibles while capitalizing on its strengths. And while nothing is more subjective than styling, control interfaces have a huge impact on the overall experience. Find out if BMW has succeeded on both fronts after the break.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Looking over three decades of the 7 series, it's painfully clear that the last generation was an outlier stylistically. The 2009 model appears as if it had directly evolved from the third-generation E38, but it's thoroughly up-to-date and instantly recognizable as a modern BMW. The design team, led by Adrian Van Hooydonk, created a large car that looks deceptively small, so much so that the 750 could almost pass as one of its smaller siblings without another vehicle around to serve as a point of reference.
In this segment, it's what's on the inside that counts. With all modern cars, especially those battling it out in the premium class, the number of onboard gadgets seems to be expanding exponentially. Unfortunately, all of these new features seem to necessitate a multi-function control interface. So with dashboards sprouting a veritable forest of switches, BMW decided to go minimalist and devised the iDrive system for the fourth-gen. 7 series. By adding a singular knob to control all pertinent vehicles functions, BMW sought to make its new luxo-cruiser as easy to operate as a modern PC – for better and for worse.
Other aspects of the interior are – in some respects – a return to BMW's roots. From the '70s through to the '90s, BMW dashboards always had a center stack canted toward the driver, keeping with BMW's "Ultimate Driving Machine" theme. This decade, the center stack has flattened out, giving the passenger more access. Thankfully, the new 7 brings the focus back towards the driver, along with the transmission shifter that's migrated from the steering column to its rightful place on the center console. Unfortunately, it's the same electronic shifter fitted to the X5 and X6, with a park button on top and another button on the side that must be pressed in order shift into Drive or Reverse. If you use it long enough, you'll undoubtedly get used to it, but it is still something of a counterintuitive intrusion compared to a traditional "PRND" arrangement.
When the 2009 BMW 7 series goes on sale in North America on March 4th, it will only be available with one powertrain: the 4.4-liter twin turbocharged, direct injected V8 currently employed on the X5 and X6. In the U.S., the 400 horsepower, 450 pound-feet engine is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission, while across the Atlantic, buyers can also choose from a six-cylinder gas or diesel mill – neither of which are currently slated for the States.
But, no worries. The V8 is magnificent piece of kit. Squeezing the throttle delivers an instant wave of torque that propells you effortlessly up to speed and could risk your license just as quickly. The extended wheelbase 750Li that we sampled on Southern California's Imperial beach to Torrey Pines tarmac weighs in at 4,640 pounds, but carries its mass well. With a 51.5/48.5 front/rear weight distribution, the 750 is beautifully balanced. It feels 600-700 pounds less than its curb weight suggests and the 245/45R19 run-flat tires provide ample grip while still maintaining a decent ride.
Update: We've now been informed by BMW that this car did indeed have the sport pack, which means it did have rear wheel steering. For what it's worth, the car didn't do anything spooky like some past 4-wheel steer cars we've driven, it just felt completely stable under all conditions. Our tester didn't have the optional Sport pack, which includes an electronically controlled four-wheel-steer setup, so we can't comment on the system yet. But with only the front wheels providing directional control, the steering feel was excellent, with perfect weighting and a healthy amount of feedback transmitted from the road to the tires to the wheel. When the time comes to reduce speeds, the 750 delivers in spades, with massive 14.7-inch rotors absorbing kinetic energy up front and only slightly smaller 14.5-inch discs doing the work out back.
Both the 2009 BMW 750i and 750Li are massive improvements over their predecessors, and we look forward to spending more time with the new version when it makes its way into the Autoblog Garage. Our all-too-brief first exposure indicates that BMW has largely succeeded in meeting its goals for the new 7, and when the 2009 model the car goes on sale the first week of March (the 750i starts at $81,125 and the longer 750Li $85,025, including delivery), we think the automaker will be rewarded for its efforts.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
The ultimate driver's luxury sedan.
The BMW 7 Series cars uphold a tradition of building some of the most dynamic and exhilarating large luxury sedans in the world.
Completely redesigned for 2009, the fifth-generation 7 Series line expands for 2010. For the first time, the BMW 750i and BMW 750Li xDrive models bring all-wheel drive to BMW's largest sedan. The new V12-powered BMW 760Li can be considered the ultimate 7 Series, measured by both performance and luxury. All 2010 BMW 7 Series models add BMW's Brake Energy Regeneration system, which captures some of the energy lost as the car slows to a stop and uses it to charge the battery.
The 2010 7 Series sedan comes in standard and long versions, designated by an L in the numeric nomenclature. The 750Li and 760Li have a wheelbase that's 5.5 inches longer than the 750i. They're a little harder to parallel park, but they offer a ride that's even more luxurious due to the longer wheelbase along with considerably more rear-seat leg room.
The 750Li and 750i feature a new-generation V8 engine, with direct fuel injection and twin turbocharging. This 4.4-liter V8 makes 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, awesome numbers for an engine its size, while using less fuel than its predecessor to get occupants around town. It's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Optional all-wheel drive adds all-climate capability without ruining the 7 Series' sporty handling characteristics. The 760Li ups the ante with a 535-hp V12 and an eight-speed automatic.
Weight-efficient construction and innovative chassis technology contribute to the lively driving dynamics that many expect from a BMW, especially high-end models like the 7 Series. Crash protection has been enhanced, despite the use of lighter chassis materials, though most models have gained a bit of weight compared to their predecessors, thanks to more standard equipment and comfort-related features.
The long-wheelbase cars have their own roofline, and the silhouette is sleeker than ever. The body has no transparently gratuitous scoops or scallops, and the car's size and lines clearly say eighty-five thousand bucks (roughly the base price), or one-hundred thirty-seven thousand, in the case of the 760Li.
The 7 Series interior is classy and luxurious, as buyers should expect. It's like a roomy, richly appointed cocoon protecting occupants from an ornery world, though some of the controls and features can be overly complicated. Just about every safety, comfort or convenience feature invented to date for the automobile is available on the 7 Series. Yet what really distinguishes these cars is their dynamic verve: a combination of response, acceleration, smooth ride and sharp handling that few if any large sedans can match.
Beyond its expansion of the 7 Series line for 2010, BMW has already tipped its hand with three more models expected to reach showrooms by late spring. The 2011 740i and 740Li will be powered by BMW's 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged inline-6 engine. The 2011 Alpina B7 will be a hot rod 7 Series created with the help of German aftermarket tuner Alpina.
BMW's full-size 7 Series sedan is available in standard or long-wheelbase models, with a V8 or new V12 engine and optional all-wheel drive.
The 2010 BMW 750i ($82,000) and BMW 750Li ($85,900) are powered by a 400-horsepower, 4.4-liter turbocharged V8, matched with a six-speed automatic transmission. The 750Li's wheelbase is nearly five inches longer, translating to an equal increase in rear-seat leg room. Both come standard with the amenities expected in this class, including a choice of genuine wood trim, navigation system, 10-speaker audio with HD radio, active Xenon headlights and 18-inch wheels. All 7 Series cars now come with BMW's Brake Energy Regeneration system, which captures energy lost as the car slows to charge the battery.
The new BMW 750xi ($85,000) and 750Lxi ($88,900) are the first 7 Series models equipped with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, tuned to deliver the sporty handling that has characterized the 7 Series for decades.
Options for the 750s are plentiful, and grouped in a dozen different packages. Highlights include the M Sport Package ($6,500), which adds a sport steering wheel, lift-reducing aerodynamic kit, Active Roll Stabilization, Shadowline trim and 19-inch wheels with high-performance tires. The Convenience Package ($1,700) includes power trunk operation, soft-touch automatic side doors and Comfort Access proximity key, while the Rear Seat Entertainment Package ($2,200) adds two video monitors for the rear seat. Many options are also available individually, including BMW's Integral Active Steering ($1,750), leather-covered dashboard ($1,200), and 20-inch wheels ($1,300).
The BMW 760Li ($137,000) is powered by a 535-horsepower, 6.0-liter turbocharged V12. It's also equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission and self-leveling rear suspension. The 760Li comes standard with just about everything that's optional on the 750s, including four-zone automatic climate control and an audio upgrade.
All 7 Series models have BMW's Advanced Safety System, including multi-stage front airbags with occupant sensors, front passenger side-impact airbags and front and rear head-protection airbags. Active safety features are among the most advanced available, with BMW's Dynamic Stability Control skid-management electronics and Dynamic Brake Control, featuring Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, Brake Stand-by and Active Brake Lights.
There are several safety related options, including infra-red Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection ($2,600) and a Head-up Display ($1,300). The Driver Assistance Package ($1,350) includes automatic high beams, lane departure warning & Active Blind Spot Detection, while the Camera Package ($750) adds rear- and side-view cameras.
All of BMW's 7 Series sedans look sleek and expensive, and for the price they certainly should. What's better, one year after a complete re-styling, is this: virtually all of the odd, sometimes awkward design cues from the previous-generation 7 are gone.
The V12-powered 760Li, new for 2010, has several discrete styling appointments to distinguish it from the 750Li and 750i. Its kidney shaped grille is trimmed with a wider chrome surround that is slightly concave. The 760's side gills, located where the doors meet the front fenders, have a chrome finish and V12 badges.
In front, the vertical bars in all 7 Series grilles are spaced wider than those on other BMWs, for distinction, though we're not sure it's very distinguishing. It doesn't make a car look more stylish by increasing the gap between its teeth. From the driver's seat you don't see that, anyway. What you see is a really nice power bulge on the hood, subtle and sweet.
The 7 Series looks best from the side or front three-quarter view. The hood is long but front overhang is short. The sheet metal contours, blending concave and convex surfaces, are still there, but they're more subtle than they've been on BMWs of recent years, and they don't shout for attention. The fenders are chiseled upward, nicely. This 7 Series has the maturity and sophistication appropriate to a car of its stature.
The long-wheelbase L models have their own roofline, creating a different profile from that of the shorter 750i. The L roof travels sensuously along with the rest of the car in order to keep it from looking like a stretched 750i with a long tail. The result is a beautiful shape that also creates a tad more headroom than what's available in the 750i.
Another thing that's beautiful are the standard 14-spoke alloy wheels. Curiously, frustratingly, many lovely cars don't have wheels that meet the aesthetic standard set by the rest of the design. BMW pays attention.
From the rear, there's little to tell the world that the 750s are remarkable luxury cars. The back end looks like any other car on the highway, with big taillights and a horizontal chrome strip. A small lip on the trunk lid only adds accent to the car's lines when viewed from the side.
Perhaps BMW feels the same way, as the 2010 760Li has also been spiced-up a bit in back. An additional chrome bar connects unique dual tailpipes below the bumper line. The 760Li's quad tailpipe tips are rectangular, and integrated in the rear air dam. The V12 model also comes standard with 19-inch light-alloy wheels, as opposed to 18-inch rims for the 750s.
The BMW 7 Series interior offers the best contemporary automobile craftsmanship and technology have to offer. Unfortunately, it also offers some of the worst. Whether the good outweighs the bad depends on personal taste and predilection.
First, the good: Great interior lighting, and the world's best backup video camera, including those that incorporate side view. The doors open way wide, for easy entry and exit. The dash is low, thin and lovely, with a great instrument cluster featuring a clean, crisp speedometer, tach, temp and gas gauges. The screen with navigation and all its menus is very readable, at 10.2 inches versus 8.8 inches before. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is just about perfect, and some drivers will find its audio controls close to salvation.
Any 7 Series model delivers the luxurious feeling cars in this class are supposed to create. Comfort, whether in the front seat or rear seat, is superb in the 760Li and 750Li. The 750i is comfortable in the front seats, but only offers 38.4 inches of rear legroom, compared to 44.3 inches in the Li models. There's still enough space for people up to about 5' 10”.
More good: Luxurious leather, even in the base Nappa trim grade, and genuine polished wood available in several choices. We absolutely loved the stitched leather dashboard, which is optional on the 750s and standard on the V12-powered 760Li. Other amenities exclusive to the 760 include stainless-steel door entry trim with an illuminated V12 sill, Alcantara roof lining and sun visors, and individual inlays of exclusive burled walnut.
We'll start the bad with the worst. The 7 Series has the fourth generation of BMW's point-and-click iDrive control, and it's accurate to call it the fourth attempt to get it right. BMW boasts repeatedly that it's clear and intuitive. Not. It is better than before, but still bewildering, and it consumes enormous amounts of concentration while you're trying to focus on the road in front of you. We've talked to owners who have learned how to operate iDrive effectively, and some like it.
We give iDrive the big thumbs down. We never figured out how to listen to the radio and hear the navigation commands at the same time, unlike the blissfully easy to understand Dodge we tested the previous week. We couldn't blow up the navigation map nor find streets that might or might not have been there. We were dismayed by the array of questions that had to be answered when we pressed Menu. There are loads of options we never knew we needed or wanted, all with strange names that didn't describe any function we know of. Ditto with icons.
BMW's redesigned, console mounted gear selector isn't much better. It looks like the joystick for a flight-simulation video game, and company engineers have re-invented the Park position, putting it where Reverse is on other cars.
Generally, there are a lot of surprising and significant inconveniences inside the 7 Series. The seatbelt pretensioner annoyingly pretensioned us when we just needed to lean forward for visibility when pulling onto the highway. The standard climate control system offers up to four separate temperature zones, but we drove the 750Li during a heat wave, and the air conditioning on max couldn't make the cabin cool enough. Furthermore, it reset itself at 70 degrees each time the engine was shut off. Those wide-opening doors need a grab handle to easily close them, because without the optional soft-touch feature you can barely reach the notch in the armrest to pull them in.
Not counting the spacious glove compartment, there are so few storage places that you have to use the cupholders to hold basic things. All we had was a micro cassette tape recorder, a set of keys, a garage door opener, and some bridge tickets, and it was too much to ask of our $100,000 car to find us spots to store them. Use the center console, and there will be a small wing awkwardly flipped up under your elbow. Small door pockets help little.
The 7 Series isn't the greatest for hauling big things, either. Its trunk is large compared to the typical compact sedan, but not compared to the full-size luxury competition. With 14.0 cubic feet of space, the 7 Series trunk is smaller than competitors like the Audi A8, Lexus LS or Mercedes S-Class.
Despite some overly complicated interior features, there's little to complain about when it comes to driving the BMW 7 Series. About 90 percent of the time, any 2010 7 Series model is a truly satisfying machine to operate: both amazingly comfortable and quiet, and impressively quick and agile for a sedan of its size and weight.
That last ten percent is a gray area, to be sure, and in that zone the driving can get a little annoying. Perhaps BMW, with the 7 Series, suffers from a problem of ambition. It's as if the engineers and designers have attempted to raise the bar in virtually every respect, and in doing so have made simple things, like the gimmicky gear selector and even the electronic turn signals, way more cumbersome or complicated than they need to be.
The V8 engine in the 750i and 750Li models is brilliant, even incredible. It's all turbocharged horsepower, torque and smoothness, and it delivers decent mileage, in our opinion. We can't say enough good things about the 4.4-liter V8. Not just the 400 horsepower, but the 450 pound-feet of torque at a very low 1800 rpm. It is flawless. BMW claims that the 750i will shoot from zero to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, on par with sports cars like the standard Porsche 911, and we don't doubt it for a second.
The V12-powered 760Li, new for 2010, raises the acceleration bar even further. It's powered by a 6.0-liter turbocharged V12 that's turbine smooth, and it bumps output to 535 horsepower and 550 lb-ft at just 1500 rpm. BMW reports a zero-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds.
The 7 Series suspension is nearly as flawless as its engines, whether cruising in a straight line on a rough road, or tossing the big Beemer through curves. The 7 has the first double-wishbone front suspension ever in a BMW passenger car, believe it or not, and the package delivers what might be the best blend of ride comfort and handling response available in a large luxury sedan.
The optional M Sport Package offers four suspension modes: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. The only problem is all those decisions. Using the Driving Dynamics Control selector (located near the iDrive controller and E-shift lever), the car will change its performance characteristics, in the areas of shock absorber firmness, throttle response, transmission shift characteristics, power steering assist level, and Dynamic Stability control points (how much the stability control will allow the car to slide before it engages). The Sport Package also adds 19-inch alloy wheels to the 750i and 750Li, with extra-sticky performance tires.
The 750i and 750Li xDrive, also new for 2010, are the first 7 Series cars with all-wheel drive. While the AWD is similar to that used in vehicles like BMW's X5 SUV, it's tuned more to enhance performance than to optimize traction on low-friction surfaces (though it can do that, too). The 7 Series xDrive more thoroughly integrates all-wheel-drive management with other electronic systems, like stability control and the 7's Active Roll Stabilization anti-sway bars.
Like other all-wheel-drive BMWs, the 750i and 750Li start at a 40 front/60 rear default power split. But when its driver applies gas more aggressively, especially through bends, the xDrive 7 adjusts torque distribution to maintain the sporting handling dynamics of rear-wheel drive. Through a hard bend, its control system seeks a steady power split of 20/80 to optimize handling.
On dry roads, regardless of drive type, the 7 Series is remarkably balanced for a car of its heft. Standard, xDrive, it's almost a toss up. With xDrive, the steering feels heavier than that in rear-drive cars with BMW's active front/rear steering system, and we like that. But once the driver gets used to its lighter steering touch, the rear-drive 7 Series is livelier. It almost feels like a smaller car.
Distinctions are easier to find on a closed course, or in sloppy road conditions. Even with the anti-skid electronics switched off, the 750i xDrive does a lot more of the car-control work for the driver than the rear-drive 750i, balancing itself more readily with less need to be really delicate or active with the gas pedal. The rear-drive 7 Series requires a lot more work, and it asks more of its driver. While that may be exactly what enthusiast drivers want for track day, it's probably not the preferred set-up in a blizzard. We wouldn't guess many 7 Series owners take their car to track day, anyway.
The gray area of 7 Series satisfaction and performance sits largely in the transmission. The six-speed automatic in the 750 models seems over-engineered, or at least over-programmed. It insists on doing too many things for the driver, in Normal mode. We're not talking about our usual frequent complaint, that the manual mode isn't very manual; we're talking about a relentless number of automatic downshifts.
Basically, the transmission won't let the car glide. Around town, it almost feels like the emergency brake is on. Back off the throttle, and some program says: The driver wants to slow down. Let's help him! You're going 20 mph and ease off the gas for a red light, intending to coast there, and it downshifts so eagerly that you have to get back on the gas to get to the light. It's like the 7 Series is a pickup truck with its transmission in perpetual tow/haul mode.
We had to accelerate to go down our steep hill, because the transmission held the car back so much. Going up a less-steep hill, one-half mile at 25 mph, it downshifted three times and up-shifted twice. All in the name of keeping the car in the optimum gear. It's like the transmission is compelled to use all six of its gears as often as possible. With all that engine torque, it makes no sense. What's more, the kick-down shifts are often not smooth. Lurch is the word that popped up in our tape recorder, three times.
Out on the highway, this annoyance goes totally away. It's only poking around town that the 7 Series can be unwilling to glide smoothly. It seemed better with Driving Dynamics Control in Comfort mode, so we suggest staying there, and avoiding Normal altogether. Normal seems like an inappropriate word to apply to this very special car anyhow.
The 7 Series' xenon headlights may be the best in the world, greatly enhancing safety during nighttime driving.
While every 7 Series model carries a gas guzzler tax, ranging from $1,000 to $2,100, we averaged at least 19 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving during a couple of test stints in the 750Li. That, in our view, is at least acceptable for a car of the 7's size and performance. BMW is nonetheless aware of perceptions about efficiency, and to that end it has added something called Brake Energy Regeneration to all 2010 7 Series models.
Brake Energy Regeneration captures some of the energy lost as a car slows to a halt, much as the typical hybrid vehicle does. In the case of the 7 Series, that energy is used to turn the alternator, which charges the battery and supplies electrical power. In most gasoline-engine cars, the alternator operates when the car is under power, taking energy that could otherwise be used to move the car along.
In the 7 Series, the alternator only turns when the car is slowing, and the engine is essentially idling. When the 7 is accelerating or cruising, the alternator freewheels, so it draws no power from the engine.
Luxury, solidity, safety, impressive performance and a lot of sometimes complicated stuff. That's the brief on BMW's 7 Series sedan. It offers brilliant, twin-turbocharged V8 and V12 engines with a minimum 400 horsepower and up to 22 mpg, according to the EPA. It's available in short or long wheelbase variants, with optional all-wheel drive. It's balance of smooth ride and sharp handling borders on amazing. Whether one prefers to drive the ultimate luxury car or luxuriate in the ultimate driving machine, the BMW 7 Series flies at the tip of the spear.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the BMW 750iL in the Northwest's Columbia River Valley. J.P. Vettraino reported on the xDrive all-wheel-drive system from Detroit.
BMW 750i ($82,000); 750i xDrive ($85,000); 750Li ($85,900); 750Li xDrive ($88,900); 760Li ($137,000).
Options As Tested
Luxury Seating Package ($2,800) includes active seat for driver, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel and power rear sunshade; Premium Sound Package ($2000) includes high-power DSP audio, six-disc changer and USB iPod connection; Convenience Package ($1,700) includes power trunk operation, soft-touch automatic side doors and Comfort Access proximity key; Head-up Display ($1300); Leather-covered Instrument Panel ($1200); Camera Package ($750) includes rear- and side-view cameras; satellite radio ($350) with one-year subscription.
BMW 750i xDrive ($85,000).
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