2009 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
All-new, with brilliant twin-turbo V8, new suspension.
The 2009 BMW 7 Series is a complete redesign, marking the beginning of the fifth generation of this legendary marque's flagship sedan. The 2009 7 Series comes in 750i and 750Li versions. The BMW 750Li has a longer wheelbase, extended by 5.5 inches over the 750i, offering a ride that's even more luxurious, hard as that might be to fathom.
The 2009 BMW 750Li and 750i feature a new generation of V8 engine, with direct injection and twin turbocharging. This 4.4-liter V8 makes 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, awesome numbers for an engine that small, thanks to the turbos. It comes with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. Weight-efficient construction and innovative chassis technology contribute to superior driving dynamics that have come to be expected from a BMW, especially the high end models like the 7 Series. However, despite the use of lighter chassis materials, the 750Li gains 86 pounds, on account of more equipment, such as driver assistance systems and comfort related features.
Both the exterior and interior have been redesigned for 2009. The 750Li has its 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 thousand dollars (roughly the base price), if not one hundred and ten, the total price of our 750Li test model. The interior is as classy and luxurious as you should expect.
The 2009 BMW 7 Series comes in BMW 750i ($80,300) and long-wheelbase BMW 750Li ($84,200) models.
Standard equipment includes Nappa leather and wood grain interior trim, navigation system, HD radio, dynamic cruise control, halogen fog lights, xenon adaptive headlights with auto leveling and cornering movement, adaptive brake lights.
Options include Active Roll Stabilization ($1800); alloy wheels with performance tires ($1300); instrument panel with leather trim ($1200); power rear sunshade and manual rear door sunshades ($1000); ceramic controls ($650); active cruise control ($2400); head-up display $1300); and night vision with pedestrian detection ($2600). Option packages include Convenience ($1700); Cold Weather ($800); Camera ($750); Driver Assistance ($1350); Luxury Seating ($2500); Premium Sound ($2000); Rear Entertainment ($2200); and Sport ($4900).
Safety equipment includes an integrated ABS with Dynamic Stability Control including Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, and Brake Stand-by features, with Dynamic Traction Control and Dynamic Brake Control. There is also BMW's Advanced Safety System with front airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, and front and rear Head Protection System; and finally a tire pressure monitor. Active Blind Spot Detection and Lane Departure Warning is part of the optional Driver Assistance Package.
Redesigned for 2009, the BMW 7 Series cars look sleek and expensive. The 750Li has its own roofline, giving it a different profile from that of the shorter 750i.
The roofline of the 750Li 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 roofline. The 750Li roofline is longer to provide room in the rear passenger compartment. The 750Li offers more headroom than the 750i.
Another thing that's beautiful are the 14-spoke alloy wheels. Curiously, frustratingly, many lovely cars don't have wheels that meet the aesthetic standard of the rest of the design. BMW pays attention.
The 750Li looks best from the side or three-quarters view. The hood is long but front overhang is short; that long wheelbase does that. The sheetmetal 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, now. The contours have the maturity and sophistication appropriate to a car like this. The fenders are chiseled upward, nicely.
From the rear, there's little to say that this is a remarkable luxury car; it looks like any other car on the highway with its horizontal chrome strip and big taillights. A small lip on the trunk lid only adds accent to the car's lines when viewed from the side.
In front, the vertical bars on the kidney grille are spaced wider than those on other BMWs, for distinction, but that doesn't really work. It doesn't make a car look more stylish by increasing the gap between its teeth. But from the driver's compartment, you don't see that. What you see is a really nice power bulge on the hood, subtle and sweet.
Comfort, whether in the front seat or rear seat, is superb in the 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 750Li. The 7 Series has a massive trunk, measuring 17.7 cubic inches for both models.
First, the good. Great interior lighting. World's best backup video camera, including sideview camera. Luxurious leather and woodgrain trim: three choices of interior wood trim, and four Nappa leather colors. The doors open way wide, for easy entry and exit. The dash is low, thin and lovely in black woodgrain, with a great instrument panel having a clean 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. Perfect leather-wrapped steering wheel, but it ought to be, as part of the $4900 Sport Package on our 750Li.
But too many surprising and significant inconveniences. 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 $110,000 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.
Steering wheel audio controls, but no mute button. The standard climate control offers four 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 you can barely reach the notch in the armrest to pull them in. The electric seatbelt pretensioner annoyingly pretensioned us when we just needed to lean forward for visibility when pulling onto the highway.
BMW has re-invented the position of Park with its transmission control on the center console, putting it where Reverse is on other cars. We never did figure 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. So many options we never knew we needed or wanted, all with strange names that didn't describe any function we know of. Ditto with icons.
This is the fourth generation of iDrive, in what? five years? It would be more accurate to say this is the fourth attempt to get it right. BMW boasts repeatedly in its press kit 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 they like it. But we give iDrive the big thumbs down.
BMW, in the 7 Series at least, seems to suffer from a problem of ambition. The engine is brilliant, incredible. All that horsepower, torque and smoothness, and we got 19.0 miles per gallon overall. Can't say enough good things about the engine. It is flawless. Not just the 400 horsepower, but 450 pound-feet of torque at 1800 rpm.
The suspension is nearly as flawless as the engine, whether cruising in a straight line on a rough road, or tossing the big Beemer through curves. BMWs are known for that. The front suspension is all new for 2009, the first double-wishbone suspension ever in a BMW passenger car, believe it or not. The rear multi-link suspension is redesigned for 2009, with an innovated vertical link that BMW calls the Integral System. The 750Li comes standard with electronically self-leveling air springs.
The 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. The Sport Package also included the gorgeous 19-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, and Active Steering to tighten the aggressive cornering.
The six-speed automatic transmission seems over-engineered, or at least over-programmed. It insists on doing far too many things for the driver, in Normal mode and with the DDC in Normal. 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 downshifts. Basically, the transmission won't let the car glide. Around town, it feels like the emergency brake is on. Back of 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 redlight, intending to coast there, and it downshifts so eagerly that you have to get back on the gas to get there. 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 our less steep hill, one-half mile at 25 mph, it downshifted three times and upshifted twice. All in the name of keeping the car in the optimum gear. It's like since there are six gears, the car has to use them. With all that torque, it makes no sense. Four hundred and fifty foot-pounds at 1800 rpm, and the transmission won't allow it to be used. What's more, the kickdowns 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 it won't 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 xenon headlights may be the best in the world, adding greatly to safe nighttime driving.
The BMW 750Li may be the ultimate luxury car. The 750i has a shorter wheelbase. The 2009 7 Series is a redesign, the fifth generation, featuring a brilliant new twin-turbocharged V8 engine that makes 400 horsepower yet is still EPA rated at 14 to 22 mpg (we got 19). The ride and handling are flawless, featuring a double-wishbone front suspension, and the comfort is superior.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the BMW 750iL in the Northwest's Columbia River Valley.
BMW 750i ($81,125); 750Li ($85,025).
Options As Tested
Camera Package ($750), Convenience Package ($1700); Driver Assistance Package ($1350); Luxury Seating Package ($2500); Premium Sound Package ($2000); Rear Entertainment Package ($2200); Sport Package ($4900); Leather Instrument Panel ($1200); Ceramic Controls ($650); Active Cruise Control ($2400); Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection ($2600); Head-up Display ($1300); satellite radio ($595).
BMW 750Li ($84,200).
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