2003 BMW 745 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
BMW steps out of the box.
BMW has launched a revolutionary line of 7 Series models. After driving the all-new 2002 745i, we're here to tell you this is a fantastic luxury-performance sedan. Its powerful engine, amazingly responsive six-speed automatic transmission, magic-carpet ride quality, brilliant handling, and awesome brakes deliver the ultimate in driver control.
No matter where you sit, its interior is beautiful and wonderfully comfortable. A longer 745Li model is available for even greater legroom in the back seats. The best-sounding stereo we have ever experienced is available for this car. The cabin is whisper quiet, a great place for quiet conversation, listening to music or solitude. A plethora of features ensure travel will never be dull.
Known for brilliant high-performance sedans with conservative styling and straightforward interiors, BMW has stepped out of the box with this design. The new 7 Series models offer stunning styling and a fresh approach to ergonomics that have sparked controversy among the automotive media. The styling is well thought out, however, and we think it deserves to be given time and consideration before being dismissed. We are growing to appreciate it.
This car stretches the bounds of driving technology to new horizons. But could it be ahead of its time? No question there's a learning curve to operating some of the more advanced secondary features. You'll need to read the owner's manual to fully master all of them, though that's not necessary to enjoy this car. It is conceivable, however, that some owners may tire of telling valets how to start the car, release the parking brake, put it in drive, and put it back in park.
Driving the 7 Series is fun and easy, however, as the car quickly and efficiently achieves any of the driver's wishes, even bending the laws of physics when necessary. In addition to its brilliant performance, this is probably among the safest cars on the road.
Indeed, as big luxury cars go, the new BMW 7 Series is the ultimate driving machine.
Two 7 Series models are available for 2002: the 745i ($67,850) and the long-wheelbase 745Li ($71,850). A brand-new engine supplies gobs of power yet impressive efficiency. A 4.4-liter V8 rated at 325 horsepower, the new engine comes with a new six-speed automatic transmission.
Before the year 2002 is over, BMW will launch an all-new 2003 760Li powered by a new 6-liter V12 engine. That will complete the new 7 Series line.
The 745i rides on a 117.7-inch wheelbase while the 745Li and 760Li ride on a 123.5-inch wheelbase. The long-wheelbase Li models are 5.5 inches longer overall than the standard 745i. BMW says about two-thirds of its 7 Series customers opt for the longer Li models.
BMW's new iDrive system is standard on all 7 Series models. And, of course, the 7 Series comes standard with a long list of luxury features, including beautiful interiors trimmed in a choice of rich leathers and woods. Standard tires are V-rated 245/50s on 18-inch alloy wheels, with optional 19-inch 245/45s on front, 275/40s on the rear.
Twelve airbags are available: two frontal airbags, two knee airbags, two side airbags, and the Head Protection System, or HPS, which is a tube-shaped curtain designed for head protection in a side impact. Active Head Restraints move the head rests closer when a collision is detected. As an option, side-impact airbags and the HPS are available for rear-seat passengers ($550). An optional tire pressure monitor ($300) is available. And there's a host of state-of-the-art active safety features designed to help drivers avoid accidents in the first place.
Options include an Adaptive Ride Package ($1900), which includes a self-leveling rear suspension, and stepless Electronic Damping Control that automatically adjusts shock damping according to conditions. A Cold Weather Package ($1100) adds a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and a ski bag. A Convenience Package ($1000) includes soft-close doors, which draw them in for easier, quieter closing, and power trunk opening and closing. A Luxury Seating Package ($2500) adds 20-way adjustments, fans to blow air through the seating surfaces, and an automatic massager. Why go to a five-star resort if you're driving one of these? Some of these features are available as separate options so you can choose exactly what you want.
BMW stepped out of the box with a revolutionary design for its new 7 Series sedans. Among the design objectives were a car that would generate greater curb appeal, more presence. Indeed, the new 7 Series cars look more muscular, more agile than before. Though the trademark twin-kidney grille and long hood make it clear that this is a BMW, the look of the new 7 Series is a dramatic departure from past BMWs in every respect.
The new styling has not pleased everyone, however. The design, particularly when viewed from the rear, has been controversial among automotive media. BMW says its buyers love it. We did not care for it at first, but we are warming up to it after spending time with the car and receiving a detailed (and entertaining) explanation by BMW's chief designer of why it looks like it does. BMW says it did not want a bland design for its new 7 Series and suggests that the appearance of the previous-generation 7 Series (1995-2001) was overly conservative. It should also be pointed out that this company was not what it was just a few years ago. In addition to its 3-, 5-, and 7-series sedans, BMW now has an X5, a Z3, a Z8, and, in Europe, a 1 Series. Its portfolio could be compared with a small library: Instead of having just three books as before, it now has a big shelf loaded with books and several different types of volumes. The company did not want the 7 Series to simply look like a big 5 Series. BMW felt it was time to step out of the mold, time to exercise some design leadership. Frankly, we're pleased to see passion and emotion come out of this conservative company.
To understand the styling, it is important to keep in mind that this is a radically taller car than before (2.2 inches taller), giving its occupants more head room, more comfort, more rear-seat roominess, and a larger trunk. The greatest increase in height is along the outer edges of the roof, increasing head room and improving safety for occupants. The 7 Series is slightly longer (1.8 inches) and wider (1.6 inches), but the wheelbase is significantly longer (2.3 inches) than before. With these dimensional changes, BMW had to re-work the proportions and redesign the surface details.
To maintain good proportions, the 7 Series was given a fast greenhouse with a very fast C-pillar. (All of the roof pillars are much thicker for enhanced safety in the event of a rollover.) Big wheels were used. While front-wheel-drive Chryslers use a cab-forward design, the rear-wheel-drive BMW 7 Series uses a long hood and a swept back, giving it a sporty, coupe look.
The rear end is the focus of the controversy. Much of its design can be traced back to an attempt to handle the substantially raised rear deck height. Because the roof was raised dramatically, the rear deck needed to be raised to help the 7 Series achieve its excellent aerodynamics. Aerodynamic efficiency is crucial in reducing wind noise, improving fuel efficiency, and increasing the top speed, and the 7 Series is highly successful in all three of these areas. The traditional design did not work because the tail needed to be raised so high, so a sculptured appearance was used to maintain the lines of the car.
A by-product was a much larger trunk. At 18 cubic feet, the 7 Series trunk is significantly larger than the Mercedes S-Class (15.4 cubic feet). It's dramatically larger than the trunk on the previous 7 Series and nearly as large as the humongous trunk on the Lexus LS 430. The 7 Series trunk is oriented to carry four golf bags transversely or five standard pieces of luggage. A single-link tubular hinge eliminates intrusion into the trunk space, yet it springs open when the remote is activated. A power trunk lid is also available.
The back end does not look like a BMW. Thin secondary brake lights are a radical extension of the L-shaped taillamps BMW has used previously, most notably on the current 3 Series. Extending across the trunk lid, they are designed to draw the eye across the ba.
High quality materials and elegant design make the 7 Series cabin a pleasant place. Beautiful, buttery leather trim is used throughout and a variety of fine materials makes the interior interesting without looking busy. Beautiful wood trim is tastefully used on the dash, center console and elsewhere. The wood comes in two matte finishes and two glossy finishes, light and dark shades of each. I loved the light-colored Black Cherry finished in a dull matte for its timeless elegance. I did not care for the optional strip of wood on the back dash. Two front cup holders are handsome, high-tech, and practical. The sun visors do not appear to live up to the quality of the rest of the interior, though. The standard roof liner in the 745i reminds us of fine suit material, something you might encounter on a woman's business jacket, and BMW says many of the interior materials were inspired by the fashion industry. (Suede-like alcantara roof liners will be available on the 760Li.)
The seats are supportive and comfortable, and swathed in beautiful leather. They adjust every which way (14 ways standard, 20 ways optional) and in some ways automatically: the headrests, for example, change height automatically according to the position of the seat. To adjust the seats, press one of the metaphoric buttons on the side of the center console telling the system what you want to adjust, then move a separate knob to adjust it. Optional Active Seat Ventilation cools the seats in the summer by blowing air through micro-perforations; leather trim in other areas of the car is perforated to complement this option.
The rear seats of the 745i are comfortable and roomy. Waterfall LED atmosphere lighting inside the C-pillars adds to the elegance of the rear seats. Rear Comfort Seats are available for the 745Li that offer 14-way power adjustments; the front passenger's seat can be adjusted from the right rear seat's power controls. Power rear and side sunshades are available. An rear-seat iDrive system controller will be available in later models.
When underway, the cabin is whisper quiet. The only sound we could hear while driving the 745i over San Antonio's busy freeways was the tires whacking over expansion joints or humming across grooved concrete. Sound is wonderfully deadened inside, making conversation easy and pleasant.
The quiet cabin provides a perfect environment for a superb stereo that delivers crisp highs, sharp bass, and clear mid-range tones. BMW's optional Logic 7 Premium Sound Package ($1800), developed by Harman Kardon's Lexicon, is truly sensational. Unless you have a state-of-the-art stereo at home, you'll hear things in your favorite songs you've barely noticed before, crisp snare drum beats, sparkling vocals. An in-dash CD player and a multi-disc CD changer are provided. It offers seven channels of sound with a multitude of speakers including a pair of subwoofers BMW ingeniously integrated into the chassis itself.
The 7 Series provides multiple compartments for storing things. The center console is split down the middle to create a pair of leather access lids. Ours was filled with CD storage, a cellular telephone and the owner's manual, and we couldn't help thinking it would be preferable to eliminate the CD storage and put the owner's manual someplace else. Likewise, much of the space in the elegantly designed glove box was taken up with the CD changer. I'd almost prefer putting the CD changer in the trunk or eliminating it altogether in favor of more storage. The single in-dash CD player doesn't add much to the otherwise beautiful 7 Series interior and the volume knob is on the small side, but it works well and sounds great.
Cellular telephones, an important part of our daily lives nowadays, are brilliantly integrated into the 7 Series. Simply pull your cellphone out of your jacket pocket or purse, plug it into the pre-wired coiled phone cord in the center console and the 7 Series will re-charge its battery. B.
It's hard to write volumes about a vehicle that drives so flawlessly. After showering it with accolades, we end up having to describe why it's so flawless. There are only so many ways you can say great. The thing is, the BMW 745i does everything extremely well.
The first thing we noticed about the 745i was its wonderful magic carpet ride. This car smoothes out bumps. It's incredibly comfortable. We were astonished at how well it handled a speed bump.
Yet the driver does not feel completely isolated from the road. And the car senses when being driven hard, retuning the suspension appropriately for optimum handling. BMW's Active Roll Stabilization, computer-controlled active anti-roll bars, stiffens roll resistance in hard cornering keeping the car flat in turns. At the same time, the system maintains enough suspension compliance to keep the tires planted on the road. Bumps in the middle of a high-speed corner do not upset the handling balance one whit. Part of this is due to the low unsprung weight weight, a benefit of lightweight aluminum wheels and brake calipers, the lightweight aluminum suspension components, and the highly rigid chassis that allows precise suspension tuning.
Anti-skid technology makes adjustments to maintain handling balance whenever grip is lost to any one tire. By applying braking force to individual wheels it can bend the laws of physics. Just steer this thing where you want to go and the 7 Series takes you there. I explored this on a fast, greasy corner over a crest that un-weighted the suspension. All four wheels lost grip, but we simply motored around the corner, drifting just slightly wide of the intended line. I never lifted my foot off the accelerator pedal nor made any adjustments in the steering. No special action on my part was needed; the 745i did all of that for me. The anti-skid system is transparent; you can't feel it kick in and out. BMW's system is far less obtrusive and more performance-oriented than similar systems found in Mercedes-Benz and Lexus automobiles.
Steering the 745i is a joy. The rack-and-pinion steering is super sharp and precise. It's very light at low speeds for parking lot work, but firms up at higher speeds for improved driver feel. It also steps up response by 10 percent as the wheel is turned off center. With this new rack-and-pinion steering system, it's easy to drive the 7 Series with extreme precision on winding roads at very high speeds, placing the tires exactly where you want them. When hitting bumps, there's little or no kick back in the steering.
The drive train is absolutely silky when cruising around. The new six-speed automatic transmission is extremely smooth, yet it's the most responsive I have ever experienced. Those are usually mutually exclusive benefits. Hit the accelerator pedal and the transmission drops a gear or two without any of that hesitation found in so many automatics. BMW's new six-speed automatic is smaller and lighter than the previous five-speed automatic. The additional gearing with re-mapped ratios gives it quicker performance off the line with a lower first gear, better response in the mid range with ratios that are closer together, and improved fuel economy with taller top gears. The 745i does offer a feature allowing the driver to downshift manually using a pair of buttons on the steering wheel, but I found that feature to be superfluous. BMW promises it will be executed more fully next year on selected models and will allow the driver to manually shift up and down. But frankly, with a transmission as responsive as this one, manual shifting seems more of a toy than anything else.
The all-new 4.4-liter V8 engine is superb. It's very smooth when cruising. Combine the smooth drive train with the smooth ride and the 745i feels deceptively slow. While rolling out of a jerkwater town in the Hill Country outside of San Antonio, I was preparing to put press the accelerator pedal down to gain speed as we were cr.
After spending 350 high-speed miles in a BMW 745i, we were ready to take it home. It's so smooth that spending days behind the wheel are not taxing. It's very comfortable in heavy traffic. The interior is sumptuous. Few luxury sedans can keep up at high speeds. And it's easy to drive this car well.
Loaded with technology, there is a learning curve to operating some of the secondary features, however, so owners may find themselves reading the owner's manuals. They may also find themselves explaining basic operation of the car to other people who drive it. Is this car a little ahead of its time? With those caveats, we think this may be the best car in its class, an impressive statement given that the competition includes the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
745i ($67,850); 745Li ($71,850).
Options As Tested
rear door-mounted side-impact airbags w/ Head Protection System ($550); Logic 7 audio system w/ 13 speakers, DSP, 6-disc in-dash CD changer, 2 subwoofers, and all features of standard system ($1800); Front Comfort Seats ($1400) includes 20-way power adjustments, articulated upper backrests, passenger-seat memory, active head restraints with adjustable side support; Park Distance Control w/ graphic display ($700); 19-inch alloy wheels ($1300).
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