2004 745New Car Test Drive
Few mainstream automobiles in the past 20 years have captured the world's attention or stirred controversy to the extent that BMW's ambitious 7 Series has. Yes, the 7 Series still sparks debate two years after it was introduced, but we can assure you this: BMW's largest car is a luxury sedan in the truest sense, and it's impressive to drive. Its responsive engine and six-speed automatic transmission, its magic-carpet ride quality, excellent handling and awesomely powerful brakes deliver the ultimate in big-sedan driver control.
Whichever 7 Series you choose, starting with the standard 745i, you'll get a sedan that's big, smooth, fast and inspiring. It's also equipped with the latest safety technology. No matter where you sit, you'll experience a cabin that's beautiful and wonderfully comfortable. The 745Li, for Long, offers even greater legroom in the back seats. If the recently launched, V12-powered 760Li doesn't stir something inside you, you may as well call a cab.
All the 7 Series models are exceptionally powerful and responsive. The level of technology borders on overkill. There are silent, hidden fans and heating elements to cool or warm your rear end, or your soft drink; microchips to instantaneously account for a skidding tire or apply the brakes full force just in case you don't; power-deployed shades to keep the sun off your rear passengers' brows. A single, mouse-like interface, BMW's controversial iDrive, controls virtually everything in the cabin, from the heater to the radio to the navigation system. To be sure, these systems can require serious commitment to master, but most are genuinely useful. The 7 Series has the best-sounding stereo we've experienced in a car. The whisper-quiet cabin is a great place for quiet conversation, ripping electric guitar solos, Mozart concertos, or magnificent solitude.
Known for brilliant high-performance sedans with conservative styling and straightforward interiors, BMW stepped out of the box with this design. The two years since the 7 Series launch have tempered controversy over its stunning styling only a little. Like it or not, the design is based on rational objectives, and we are growing to appreciate it.
BMW filled out the 7 Series line in 2003 with launch of the 438-hp 760Li, but it didn't sit still for 2004. This year, the iDrive has been simplified, er, improved, er, ummm, changed. The already sophisticated climate control has been improved with precise humidity management, and the side mirrors fold in at the touch of a button to squeeze this big sedan into tight parking spots. Adaptive headlights that turn with the car and a Sirius satellite radio receiver are now optional.
This car pushes the limits of driving technology over the horizon. Never mind the density of the owner's manuals (that's plural); owners may get tired of teaching valets how to start the car and put it in gear, to say nothing of the electronic parking brake. Once that's accomplished, however, driving the 7 Series cars is easy and quite satisfying. It will achieve your wishes quickly and efficiently, occasionally bending the laws of physics in the process. BMW says its goal with the 7 Series was building 'the safest car in the world,: and we don't find much to quibble with there. Comparably equipped, the 7 Series even costs less than its primary competitor, the Mercedes S-Class.
As big luxury sedans go, the BMW 7 Series is indeed the ultimate driving machine.
Three 7 Series models are available for 2004. The 745i ($68,500) and long-wheelbase 745Li ($72,500) are powered by a 4.4-liter V8 with 325 horsepower, gobs of torque and a six-speed automatic transmission. The 760Li ($115,800) shares its transmission and most of its engine technology with the 745 models, but gets a 438-horsepower V12 engine. It's one of the quickest, fastest, normally aspirated 2.5-ton automobiles in the world.
The 745i rides on a 117.7-inch wheelbase, while the 745Li and 760Li stretch that measurement to 123.5 inches. The long-wheelbase Li models are 5.5 inches longer bumper to bumper, and virtually all of that translates into more rear-seat legroom.
Not surprisingly, all 7 Series sedans come standard with a long list of luxury features, including interiors trimmed in a choice of rich leathers and woods. The 745i has dual-zone automatic climate control with activated-charcoal microfilter ventilation, matte-finish black cherry wood trim, BMW Assist emergency and informational communications, 14-way power seats, a power moonroof, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a climate-controlled front console compartment, and single-CD audio with 10 speakers. The 745Li adds 20-way power front Comfort Seats with articulated upper backrests, passenger-seat memory and active head restraints. Both 745 models come standard with V-speed-rated 245/50VR18 tires on 18-inch alloy wheels; 19-inch wheels with performance tires (245/45 front, 275/40 rear) are optional ($1,300).
The 760Li has most everything BMW offers, including a government-imposed gas-guzzler tax ($1,300). The base price covers a choice of light or dark high-gloss Ash trim with inlays, and leather on virtually all interior surfaces except the dash, headliner and floor. It includes soft-touch door-closing assists, heated and ventilated seats front and rear, Park Distance Control to keep track of those hard-to-see obstacles and power privacy shades. The only options available on the 760Li are radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,200), Adaptive Headlights ($300) that aim around corners when you turn the steering wheel, rear climate control with a cool box ($1,800), and satellite radio prep ($75). Why go to a five-star resort if you're driving one of these? Just stay in the car.
Most of what's offered on the 760Li is available on the 745i and 745Li through individual options or packages. The six option packages for the V8s include: the Sport Package ($3,200) adding 19-inch wheels and tires, sport-tuned suspension, more aggressively bolstered sport seating and specific exterior and interior trim; an Adaptive Ride Package ($1900), with a self-leveling rear suspension and Electronic Damping Control that automatically adjusts shock damping according to conditions; a Cold Weather Package ($1100) that adds a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and a ski bag; the Convenience Package ($1000), which includes soft-close doors that suck themselves shut and power trunk-lid operation; a Luxury Seating Package ($2500 for the 745i, $1600, for the 745Li) that adds 20-way adjustment to the 745i, front and rear seat heating, fans to blow air through the seating surfaces and an automatic massager; and finally, the Premium Sound Package ($1800) with increased audio power, two subwoofers, Digital Sound Processing and six-CD changer.
BMW's iDrive interface system is standard on all 7 Series models, and can operate virtually everything in the car, from stereo to climate controls to telephone to navigation, with a single mouse-like control.
Ten airbags are available. The standard array includes two frontal airbags, two front passenger side-impact airbags and BMW's Head Protection System, which amounts to a full-length, tube-shaped curtain on both sides of the cabin for front and rear head protection in a side impact. Also standard is BMW's Active Knee Protection, unique inflatable airbags that protect front passengers' knees.