For a while now, the absolute and rather uncontested king of big luxury executive sedan sales worldwide has been the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Among the obvious competition, there has been an almost unspoken agreement that this is so, and that it shall remain so for our lifetimes. Clearly, this is regardless of the fact that the motoring press – i.e. we the so-called "experts" – have generally preferred this generation of Audi A8/S8, or the sporting BMW 7 Series in its various trims. But hey, what do we know?
Deliveries of this midlife-update BMW 750Li to US dealers began back at the end of September, and we waited deliberately until now to delve deeply into it. Visually, aside from some small aesthetic changes, there is little difference on the surface between this 2013 model and the 2012 model it replaces, the main change being that it gets the latest edition of BMW's iDrive system, which in software terms is version 4.2.
We'll get to that, but there have actually been upgrades to the twin-turbocharged V8 ("N63B44" to those in the know) that renders this big Bimmer more of a sports car in its class, even in the long-wheelbase form tested here. Output is up by over eleven percent to 443 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, torque now stands at 479 pound-feet for a more modest gain of just under seven percent between 2,000 and 4,500 revs. Acceleration to 60 miles per hour is claimed at 4.7 seconds using the eight-speed Steptronic automatic, a time that seems almost freakishly quick for a 4,660-pounder that stretches 17.1 feet from bumper to bumper.
As you have likely already assumed, our test car arrived fairly well stuffed with performance, aesthetic, comfort and convenience options, taking the ultimate sticker price a few thousand north of the $100k mark. This sort of pricing is fairly common at this tier, whether you want this rear-wheel-drive 750Li with its $3,300 M Sport Package, a Mercedes S550, Jaguar XJL Supercharged, Audi A8L 4.0 TFSI, or (for a little bit less) Lexus LS460 F Sport. Every single one of these models is very well executed and intensely interesting in its own right, but there's still something special about the Bavarian.
The interior is very nice on this 750Li, and the M Sport touches add some welcome attitude and tactile surfaces. The changes all work well with the car's most aggressive drive attitude, achievable through the Driving Dynamics Control on the center console. Go for Sport or Sport+, and the M-wearing 750Li gets pleasantly hungry in its throttle mapping, steering calibration and shift times. Our tester was also supplied with options like Integral Active Steering ($1,750) and Active Roll Stabilization ($2,500), assuring that our drive experience on California's finest sunny and dry roads was going to be entertaining.
Like all of the latest high-end onboard infotainment suites, iDrive 4.2 is all about ridiculous levels of connectivity, 3D graphics aplenty, choosing the most efficient route to the charcuterie shop and much wider use of the handy pie-style menus. The iDrive interface and functionality have come light years since that fateful September 2001 day in Frankfurt, when the new 7 Series was revealed with the groundbreaking, all-in-one controller for the first time. That first generation was one of the most hated devices ever seen in a new automobile, and the Chris Bangle design didn't exactly come in for a lot of praise at the time, either.
By comparison – and thanks to other manufacturers' systems like Audi's MMI that showed how to do the central control knob scheme better – today's BMW iDrive can duke it out with the absolute best. (Are you listening, Cadillac CUE?) A particular favorite feature of ours is the progressive quality of the 3D graphics when approaching a destination, usually in a city setting. Get within several blocks of where you're headed and the screen offers a street-level point-of-view in enlightening detail. This is a very helpful advancement of the already full-featured tech on board.
As this sort of long-wheelbase 7 Series frequently doubles as a mobile office, it's a good development that the frontiers of voice recognition and dictation are becoming so advanced. There is full-sync connectivity onboard for two smartphones as well, so not only the boss can stay connected and hands-free. BMW Apps subscriptions make sure the car's ConnectDrive capabilities actually enhance and outstrip those of your smartphone. Voice recognition software can quickly identify and adapt to six different languages, among them English and Spanish, of course. The editing tools via voice control can also help you perfect any text message or email before sending.
Back to the driving, though. With the main screen and the instrument cluster both displaying what mode the standard electronic damping system was set to, it was easy to keep tabs on the Dynamic Drive Control's mood. It was also easy to appreciate our tester's 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires (245/40 R20 front, 275/35 R20 rear), which jacketed a handsome set of optional $1,300 twin-spoke M-specific alloys. With the Active Roll Control system governing the dynamic anti-roll bars to level out the corners, good handling was all but assured, but we were pleased that the 20-inch tire option didn't translate into a lot of extra road noise in the cabin. The added sound deadener in the middle and rear pillars, as well as the beefed-up window seals that are new to this midlife update all do their part to make sure peace is maintained inside.
Between the newly added Eco Pro powertrain mode and a new coasting mode while off-throttle between 30 and 100 mph, the Valvetronic-equipped V8 is said to be 25 percent more efficient than last year's model. The EPA sets 2013 city/highway ratings at 16 miles per gallon and 24 mpg, respectively, with a total range from the 21.1-gallon tank of 400 miles when driving the 750Li with restraint – something we found difficult on California's excellent roads.
This updated 2013 7 Series is more than equipped to win the proud Number Two rank in this class. An executive desiring this ride is likely to be more sport image-oriented than the comfort and luxo-liner reputation of the Mercedes S-Class, a positioning that suits us well. So, BMW is fine with the silver trophy... and we do love 7 Series. But then again, Mercedes is set to unveil an all-new S-Class sometime this auto show season, and the Audi A8 keeps getting better and better, too. It's an increasingly difficult scrap in the premium saloon boardroom, and continued fortifications like this mid-cycle updo are going to be necessary to keep BMW in the hunt.