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BMW sparked debate four years ago with the introduction of its radically redesigned and heavily computerized 7 Series sedans. Critics assailed the styling and some drivers did not like the iDrive controls. While the company has toned down the styling and backed away from some of the more convoluted electronics, the car still sparks debate. However, we can assure you this: This is a luxury sedan in the truest sense and it is impressive to drive.
Its responsive engines and six-speed automatic transmission, its magic-carpet ride quality, its excellent handling, its awesomely powerful brakes, and its well-tuned electronic stability control systems deliver the ultimate in big-sedan river control. This car flat flies. The 760 models are two of the quickest, fastest, normally aspirated 2.5-ton vehicles in the world.
Whichever 7 Series you choose, starting with the standard 750i, you'll get a sedan that's big, smooth, fast and inspiring. It'll also be equipped with the latest safety technology. No matter where you sit, you'll experience a cabin that's beautiful and wonderfully comfortable. The 750Li and 760Li (L for long) offer even greater legroom in the back seats. All the 7 Series models are exceptionally powerful and responsive, and if the V12-powered 760i and 760Li don't stir something inside you, you may as well call a cab.
Virtually everything in the cabin is controlled through a single mouse-like interface called iDrive. It controls the entertainment system, the navigation system and myriad settings managing the car's suspension, lighting and driver/car interface, and it demands some study to master. Once that's accomplished, however, driving the 7 Series cars is easy and quite satisfying.
The whisper-quiet cabin is a great place for quiet conversation or magnificent solitude. The 7 Series has a superb stereo, so it's an insulated sound studio where you can hear Mozart concertos, crystal clear vocals or crisp acoustic guitar notes. The level of technology the 7 Series offers is mind boggling, and a negative in the minds of some. Almost-silent, hidden fans and heating elements cool or warm your rear end or your soft drink; microchips stand by to instantaneously detect and restrain a skidding tire or to apply the brakes full force just in case you were distracted by a phone call; power sunshades keep the sun off your rear passengers. Adaptive headlights turn with the car.
There's more, much more, but the point is made. Among the big luxury sedans, the 2006 BMW 7 Series retains its status as the ultimate driving machine.
The 2006 BMW 7 Series models offer a freshened appearance with a redesigned grille, hood and headlamps. The lower grille opening now looks like it's smiling, rather than frowning. The V8 engine on the 750i and 750Li has been revised for 2006 and delivers siginficantly more power. And the iDrive system has been revised on 2006 models for improved graphics and easier operation.
The 7 Series sedans come standard with a long list of luxury features with interiors trimmed in a choice of rich leathers and woods. The 750i has dual-zone, automatic climate control with activated-charcoal microfilter ventilation and pollution/odor-triggered recirculation; American walnut wood trim; BMW Assist emergency and information communications; 14-way, power driver and 12-way, power front passenger seats; power tilt/telescoping steering wheel; two-setting memory for driver seat, steering wheel and mirror settings; a power moonroof; a climate-controlled front console compartment; and single-CD audio with 10 speakers. The 750Li adds 20-way, power, front Comfort Seats with articulated upper backrests and passenger-seat memory. Both 750 models come standard with V-speed-rated, 245/50VR18, all-season tires on 18-inch alloy wheels; 19-inch wheels with performance tires (245/45 front, 275/40 rear) are optional ($1,300). Park Distance Control comes standard, helping the driver track hard-to-see obstacles. Adaptive headlights, which aim around corners as the steering wheel is turned, come standard on 2006 models.
The 760i and 760Li have almost everything BMW offers. The base price covers high-gloss, Ash trim with inlays plus leather on virtually all interior surfaces (except the dash). The V12 models include soft-close doors that suck themselves shut and heated and ventilated seats front and rear. Power rear window and rear side window shades are standard on the 760Li, optional on the other three ($750), as is the heated steering wheel ($150). The 760i comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels and performance tires (245/40R20 front, 275/35R20 rear). The 760Li can be ordered with rear climate control with a cool box ($1,800). The V12 models earn the government-imposed gas-guzzler tax ($1,300).
Most of what's offered on the 760i and 760Li is available on the 750i and 750Li through individual options or packages. The six option packages for the 750i and 750Li include: the Sport Package ($3,200) with 19-inch wheels and tires, sport-tuned suspension, 20-way Comfort front seats (more aggressively bolstered sport seating is a no-cost option) and specific exterior and interior trim; the Adaptive Ride Package ($1,900) with a self-leveling rear suspension and Electronic Damping Control that automatically adjusts shock damping according to conditions; the Cold Weather Package ($1,100) with a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and a ski bag; the Convenience Package ($1,000) with the soft-touch, door-closing doors and power trunk-lid operation; the Luxury Seating Package that adds 20-way adjustment, front and rear seat heating, fans to blow air through the seating surfaces and an automatic massager; and the Premium Sound Package ($1,800) with increased audio power, two subwoofers, Digital Sound Processing and six-CD changer.
Other options offered across the line include Comfort Access ($1000), which provides keyless entry and engine start; radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2200); Sirius Satellite Radio, with a one-year subscription ($595); high-definition radio ($500); and a Rear Entertainment Package ($2200) with rear-seat monitor and iDrive control, dual earphone jacks and trunk-mounted, six-DVD changer.
Safety features include dual frontal airbags, driver and 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. BMW claims these
Body style and computerized interfaces aside, when it comes to driving dynamics, there's no controversy. BMW's 7 Series has been widely lauded for its outstanding performance and ride, and almost everything about the 2006 BMW 7 Series is top notch.
Heading the list is the car's wonderful, magic-carpet ride. The high-tech suspension smoothes out bumps, even speed bumps, to a point of astonishment. It's incredibly comfortable, yet the driver does not feel completely isolated from the road. It senses when it's being driven hard, instantaneously re-tuning itself appropriately for improved handling, and then adjusting the other way when the going gets easy and relaxed on long, inter-city trips.
BMW's Active Roll Stabilization uses computer-controlled, two-piece anti-roll bars to increase roll resistance in hard cornering and keep the body flat in turns. It's as if on entering a turn, the inside tires lift to keep the car level, which is, in effect, what actually happens. 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. Several factors are at work here: a near-perfect weight distribution of 50 percent front to rear (helped by lightweight aluminum hood and front fenders), which means neither end of the car is more prone to slide than the other; a highly rigid chassis that allows precise suspension tuning; and minimal unsprung weight, thanks to lightweight aluminum wheels, brake calipers and aluminum suspension components.
Remember, weighing more than 4900 pounds, depending on equipment, the 7 Series is not a small, lightweight car. But in some respects it feels smaller than it is. The electronic stability control makes adjustments to maintain handling balance whenever grip is lost to any one tire. By applying braking force to individual wheels and, when absolutely necessary, reducing engine speed, it almost seems to bend the laws of physics. Just steer this thing where you want to go and the 7 Series takes you there. We felt this on a fast, greasy corner, flat-out over a crest that unweighted the suspension. All four wheels lost grip, but we simply motored around the corner, drifting just slightly wide of the intended line, never lifting off the accelerator pedal or making any adjustments in the steering. No special action was needed. The car did all of it. The anti-skid system is transparent, in that you can't feel it kick in and out. BMW's system is less obtrusive and more performance-oriented than similar systems found in Mercedes and Lexus automobiles.
Steering a 7 Series sedan is a joy. The rack-and-pinion steering is super sharp and precise. It's very light at low speeds for parking lots, 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, which means that the more you turn the wheel, the faster the car responds. With this steering system, it's easy to drive with extreme precision on winding roads at high speeds, placing the tires exactly where you want them. When hitting bumps, there's little or no kickback to the steering. Our only reservation about this system, and it's a minor point, is that it's so sensitive to road speed that accelerating in the midst of a tight turn occasionally catches it out, leaving the front wheels more sharply angled than optimal.
The V8 and V12 drivetrains are absolutely silky when cruising around. The six-speed automatic is extremely smooth, yet it's among the most responsive we have ever experienced. Hit the accelerator pedal and the transmission drops a gear or two without any of that hesitation found in so many automatics. The additional gearing of the six-speed allows a lower first gear for quicker performance off the line, closer ratios in the middle gears for better mid-range response, and taller t
The BMW 7 Series is so smooth that full days behind the wheel are not taxing, and it's very comfortable in heavy commuter traffic. It's easy to drive this car well, even on winding mountain roads, and few luxury sedans can keep up with it at high speeds. The interior is sumptuous. And these cars are stuffed with the latest technology. Dynamically, this may be the best car in the class. That's no small feat, given that the competition includes some of the best, most expensive cars in the world. But some of the technology sometimes seems to be more of a distraction than an aid.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Sacramento, California, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and San Antonio.
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