Sunday, April 11, 2010

BMW 750i

Courtesy of Edmunds Inside Line

Just like a kid writing a 10th-grade term paper, the 2009 BMW 750i is just begging to mention the guy who said, "The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one a criminal." In other words, one man's Thomas Jefferson is another's Guy Fawkes.

After being flamed with criticisms of its Bangle-butt styling and infernal iDrive controller, the last-generation BMW 7 Series seemed to be a shoo-in for criminal indictment. When this model was introduced back in 2002, car enthusiasts gathered with pitchforks in hand, carrying effigies of BMW chief designer Chris Bangle and yammering about an honored automotive brand being besmirched by styling blasphemy and misguided technological wizardry.

And yet the E65 has sold better than any of the three previous generations of the 7 Series, while both its controversial rear-end styling and iDrive control interface sprouted in copycat form all over the automotive landscape. Whatever you might say, the 2002-'08 BMW 7 Series has been undeniably successful — a revolutionary, not a criminal.

But like Thomas Jefferson, revolutionaries must move on and mellow through time. The all-new 2009 BMW 750i does just that, presenting a more enlightened approach to the full-size luxury flagship. The 2009 7 Series is quite simply one of the finest automobiles made today — no pitchforks needed.

Good-Bye, Bangle Butt; Hello, Habib Nose
The 2002 BMW 7 Series will be remembered for its Bangle butt — the curiously shelflike trunk lid and down-turned rear corners from Chris Bangle's design team that helped disguise the car's dramatic increase in overall height compared to the previous generation and the high, turbulence-reducing trunk that was required. Meanwhile, the 2009 BMW 750i will go down for its Habib nose, the enormous, vertical, kidney-shape grilles on the front of the new car that come from the 7 Series design team led by Karim Habib, a response to new European standards of safety for pedestrian impacts. It's an imposing new face for BMW's flagship, yet it seems appropriate. It's the most controversial element on a car that is otherwise tasteful, yet visually interesting, paying just enough attention to classic BMW cues as it establishes new ones.

It all adorns a body incredibly similar in size to the car it replaces, as if the engineering furniture has been only slightly rearranged. Compared to the E65, the F01 7 Series has an additional inch of length, the same exact width, 0.3 inch less height and a 3.0-inch shorter wheelbase. Though the structure is lighter (and 20 percent more rigid), than before, this 4,599-pound car is 113 pounds heavier than the last 750i we tested. The result, in any case, is a big sedan replaced by a big sedan.

Only the lankiest of long-legged drivers will impinge upon the legs of the rear-seat occupants, who occupy a supremely comfortable backseat virtually identical in size to its predecessor. If space should indeed be an issue, the 750Li adds 5.5 inches of wheelbase for a limolike backseat. By comparison, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class falls in between these two body styles of the new 7 Series.

Smaller Is Bigger
The deck lid might read 750i, but under the hood resides a 4,395cc V8 with a pair of turbos sandwiched in between cylinder banks that hums to the tune of 400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 450 pound-feet of torque at 1,800 rpm. That's more torque than pumped out by the former V12 (an engine that hasn't been ruled out for eventual application in this new car, by the way), yet it's delivered in a remarkably no-fuss manner that's very like a V12.

Almost like a supercharged Jaguar V8, the 2009 BMW 750i's twin-turbo V8 whisks you up on a quiet wave of thrust best described as civilized hooliganism. There's no chest-thumping roar, no wild exhaust histrionics, no hint of the turbos spinning away under the sculpted hood. Instead, the 750i quietly pins you into its double-articulated seatback on its way to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds (or 4.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip). That's about a second quicker than the S550 and old 750i, and just as quick as the S63 AMG that costs $37,000 more. Oh, and this engine also orchestrates a spectacular burnout.

Should you unfortunately have to stop, the new 7 Series comes to a halt from 60 mph in 112 feet with no drama, no fade and a consistent pedal every time.

More Choices Than Cheesecake Factory
How that effortless wave of thrust is called upon depends on the Driving Dynamics Control, the most elaborate, driver-adjustable tool for chassis setup that you've ever seen. Throttle sensitivity, transmission shift characteristics, steering effort, suspension damping and stability control are adjustable via settings for Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. Adjustment of throttle action makes the biggest difference in the way the car behaves; the adjustment of suspension makes the smallest difference, as it's always supple.

DDC sounds complicated, but it allows the 2009 BMW 750i to better appeal to a greater number of drivers. In fact, you can break down Sport mode into chassis-only (steering and suspension) or drivetrain-only (throttle and six-speed automatic transmission), although we wished each DDC aspect could be individually selectable for an even more personalized driving cocktail. That's just nitpicking, though, as is the fact that the car defaults back to Normal or Comfort at startup in order to promote fuel-efficiency.

While only enthusiasts usually opt for a Sport package on a BMW, the example we found on our 750i test car is a must for anyone. Its rear-wheel steering (Integral Active Steering) allows this long luxury sedan to whip itself around hairpins or U-turn into tighter parking spaces better than much smaller cars. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn opposite the fronts for improved maneuverability, while they turn in the same direction at highway speeds for better stability. All the rage among Japanese GT cars of the early 1990s, four-wheel steering might finally be ready for prime time.

At the track, the 2009 BMW 750i and its engineering bag of tricks managed to snake through the slalom at a truly remarkable 66 mph — 3 mph faster than the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG. It circled the skid pad at 0.84g, displaying impressive balance and communication. Quite simply, a car this big should not be cornering like this. While the 7 Series has always felt at speed as if it had shrunk to a smaller, more agile size around you, this fifth-generation car with the Sport package feels like it was thrown into a hot dryer. The big car's steering isn't as tactile as that of a 5 Series, but as a sport limo, it's hard to fault its effort or feel in Sport mode. Comfort is a different matter, though, as it delivers too much play on-center.

Stop the Presses. We Like iDrive
For the past decade, the word "iDrive" has been greeted with the same sort of response usually reserved for "Detroit vacation." No more.

While the original knob-and-screen interface was indeed revolutionary for its solution to an overload of dash buttons, it was terribly flawed. The latest edition borrows innovations since introduced by competitors and also builds upon the iDrive fixes BMW has added over the years. Buttons have been installed around the controller for quicker access to frequently used functions, and we found them to be more intuitive to use than Audi's similar MMI layout. The iDrive screen itself is more attractively integrated into the dash and features more logically arranged menus. Graphics are also nicer, especially the navigation system map, which now features a bird's-eye topographical perspective.

One of iDrive's biggest problems was that too many functions were put under its fussy jurisdiction. Now liberated are eight preset buttons on the center stack, separate climate controls (now with a BMW-first dual-zone sync function) and a toggle button on the steering wheel for selecting radio stations.

A Metaphorical Statesman Fit for Literal Statesman The rest of the big BMW's cabin is an exquisite blend of highest-quality luxury materials and eye-catching design. A leatherlike material covers the dash and door tops, with stitching that adds a handmade touch. The glossy wood trim is classy and gracefully wraps itself around the cabin.

The standard "Comfort" seats are just as advertised, with heating, cooling and an almost absurd range of adjustability that includes side bolsters and lumbar support. Whether slicing through a canyon road or escaping to Vegas for the weekend, the driver seat will cosset its occupant's butt like few others. In fact, it comes with a butt massage feature that alternates pressure between each cheek. (We're all for an intimacy between car and driver, but this is probably going a tad too far.)

A $90,000 Bargain
Most of us who drove the 2009 BMW 750i came away thinking we'd driven an even more expensive car. Upon hearing our tester rang in at "only" $89,870, the 7 Series started to seem like a bargain given its eye-popping performance, car-shrinking handling and a cabin that beautifully blends technology and luxury. It rates with the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG at a price tag less than a Mercedes S550.

While the last 7 Series certainly impressed, its visually challenging styling and exasperating interior functionality made it difficult to desire. The all-new 750i, on the other hand, is well on its way to making a place for itself among our favorite cars. What was once a ragged revolutionary is now an honored statesman.

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