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Spend an hour driving the BMW 7 Series sedan and you'll know what the fuss is about. This is a luxury sedan in the truest sense. It's a great way to travel, and it won't take long to be convinced.
For 2007, there are a few noteworthy changes to the 7 Series line, including the elimination of the 760i, or the short wheelbase model with a V12 engine. A new BMW Individual package adds 20-inch wheels, specially cured, extra-sumptuous leather and a suede-like Alcantara headliner, among other things. Yet the 7 Series remains essentially as it has been since it was introduced five years ago, and its impact has hardly diminished.
What to like? This big sedan is so smooth that full days at the wheel are never taxing, and it's a great refuge in commuter traffic. It's easy to drive the 7 Series well, even on winding mountain roads, and few luxury sedans can keep up with it at high speeds. Measured by its combination of acceleration, braking, handling and ride quality, it may be the best car in its class, which happens to include some of the best, most expensive cars in the world. The whisper-quiet interior is exceptionally comfortable, with every gizmo you can imagine. The 7 Series is stuffed with the latest technology, including the automotive equivalent of infra-red night-vision goggles and advanced safety features that make it an electronically protected, rolling cocoon.
There are intrusions, unfortunately, on all the speed and serenity, and some drivers may not like them. Some of that 7 Series technology can feel more like a distraction than an aid. The interface between driver and machine can be complex, and occasionally tiring. While the 7 Series was a landmark in automotive design when it was introduced, it was deemed so for good and bad reasons. You will either like the look or you won't.
Any of the three 7 Series models, starting with the standard wheelbase, V8-powered 750i, are big, smooth, fast and inspiring. All 7 Series have a responsive six-speed automatic transmission and awesomely powerful brakes. Advanced suspension and well-tuned electronic stability control systems mix magic-carpet ride quality with the ultimate in big-sedan control.
The 750Li and 760Li (L for long) increase the wheelbase nearly six inches, which means much more legroom in the back seat. If the 438-hp, V12-powered 760Li doesn't stir something inside you, you may as well call a cab. It's one of the quickest, nimblest 2.5-ton vehicles in the world.
Virtually everything inside is controlled through a single, mouse-like interface called iDrive: entertainment, navigation, climate, and myriad settings managing the car's suspension, lighting, ad infinitum. We find iDrive difficult to operate, distracting and annoying. Despite BMW's efforts to enhance, de-tune or re-package iDrive over the years, we still do not like it. Owners tell us they've learned their way around iDrive and like it.
The 750i ($71,800) is powered by a 4.8-liter V8 generating 360 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. Standard features include the expected in this class, and then some. Voice activated GPS navigation, a four-year subscription to BMW Assist emergency communications, adaptive headlights that turn with the car, BMW's Park Distance Control and a climate-controlled console box come standard. The 10-speaker audio system has a single CD player and auxiliary jack, and the standard wheels are 18 inches in diameter.
The 750Li ($78,100) is nearly six inches longer than the 750i between the wheels. The longer wheelbase translates into a nearly equal increase in rear seat legroom.
The 760Li ($121,400) features a 6.0-liter V12 with 438 horsepower and 444 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with nearly every luxury and convenience BMW offers, including soft-close doors that suck themselves shut, adjustable heated and ventilated rear seats, and power rear window and rear-side window sun shades. Polished ash with inlays replaces the standard walnut trim, and virtually every interior surface is covered with leather.
Most of what's offered on the 760Li is available on the 750i and 750Li. Eight major option packages include the popular Sport Package ($3,000), with firmer sport-tuned suspension and 20-inch wheels, and the Premium Sound Package ($1,800), with more wattage, digital sound processing, 13 speakers, subwoofers and a six-CD changer.
The many stand-alone options include Comfort Access keyless operation ($1,000), Night Vision ($2,200) infra-red camera with monitor, radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,200) and Sirius Satellite Radio ($595).
The BMW Individual package ($11,000) is new for 2007. It adds ultra-soft, ultra-durable Merino leather upholstery, a selection of BMW Individual interior trims, Alcantara headliner, 20-inch wheels with performance tires, illuminated BMW Individual doorsills, and storage nets in the passenger-side footwell. It can be matched with three multi-hue Xirallic exterior colors ($3,000).
Safety features match the class benchmark: front-impact airbags, front occupant knee-protection and side-impact airbags, and BMW's Head Protection System, which amounts to a full-length, tube-shaped curtain on both sides of the cabin. Rear passenger side impact airbags ($385) are optional. BMW Assist works like GM's more familiar OnStar system. It automatically reports airbag deployment, and can summon emergency help or provide concierge services. All 7 Series models come with electronic stability control, traction control, a tire pressure monitor and one of the most sophisticated anti-lock brake systems (ABS) available.
The BMW 7 Series has evolved significantly since the current generation was launched in 2002, but the evolution is in the details rather than the basic shape. This big sedan was a milestone in automotive design, and a lightning rod for both praise and criticism. It looks more agile and muscular than previous 7 Series cars, but it isn't necessarily pretty. The trademark twin-kidney grille and long hood remain, but this 7 Series is a dramatic departure from past BMWs.
It is hard to deny its impact or presence, whether you like it or not. On one hand, BMW claims customers love it, and other luxury manufacturers, including Acura and Lexus, have adopted design cues introduced on the 7 Series. On the other, BMW began changing it almost the year after it was introduced.
The now-familiar side view is no less striking than it's ever been. The 7 Series hood flows into the nicely proportioned glasshouse, where BMW's familiar dogleg in the rear side window may be the longest-running, brand-specific styling cue in the industry. The door sills and rocker panels are full and pronounced, giving character to slab sides that are featureless, except for an understated line creasing the doors beneath flush-mounted door handles. All models feature exterior mirrors that retract inward with the touch of a button, reducing the parking width by more than a foot. It's a great convenience in crowded city garages, or for drivers with narrow garage doors.
Most of the changes have come front and rear: tucking, tweaking and softening. The grille has grown larger, and is now consistent on both V8 and V12 models. The hood has been re-contoured, losing some height, with a less prominent power bulge, and sloping more quickly to the new grille and headlight housings. The headlights are still topped by the turn signals, which give the impression of eyebrows on a hawk. The extractor vent at the end of the hood looks better suited to a sports car than a stately luxury sedan.
The 7 Series rear view has been most frequently criticized, so it may be no accident that the rear has gotten most of the massaging since the car's introduction. The changes, including new tail light clusters and a thicker, spoiler-like lip across the trailing edge of the trunk lid, seem to flatten and widen the rear end.
Even with the styling changes, the 7 Series retains its slick .29 drag coefficient, which allows it to slice through the air more quietly and efficiently than most sedans. And it's still offered in two lengths: the standard wheelbase 750i is geared more toward personal transportation; the CEO-class 750Li and 760Li are aimed at those who are driven. An extra 5.5 inches of length between the wheels translates directly into rear seat legroom, giving the long cars a few inches more legroom in back than in front.
Factory-installed wheels range from 18 to 20 inches in diameter, with 21-inchers available from BMW dealerships. For 2007, BMW also offers three special Xirallic paints that create a multi-tone effect. Microscopic pigmentation generates impressive depth and nuances that change with shifting light. It looks more expensive than it is, and at $3,000 the Xirallic paint isn't cheap.
The double-bubble, multi-step instrument panel in the BMW 7 Series was bashed by critics almost as frequently as the exterior styling when the car was introduced, but the interior design has worn very well. High-quality materials and elegant finish make the 2007 7 Series cabin a pleasant, luxurious and exceedingly comfortable place in which to conduct the business of driving.
The dash looks particularly clean because the iDrive system eliminates so many switches and knobs. Buttery leather is used throughout, with a loosely draped (as opposed to pulled-taut) look. Wood trim is spread tastefully on the dash, center console and armrests. We prefer the oiled-look walnut over the polished elm, and particularly over the light Elm, but you may not. In any case, a variety of materials adds interest without making the interior look busy. The standard roof liner in the 750i reminds us of fine suit material; the 760Li's roof is lined with suede-like Alcantara.
The front seats are supportive and comfortable, with adjustment in 20 directions. Some adjustments are automatic, including the headrests, which change height according to the position of the seat. Active Seat Ventilation cools the seats in the summer by blowing air through micro-perforations in the leather, and the system includes a vibrating feature.
All 7 Series sedans feature dual-zone temperature and airflow adjustment for the front passengers. The 760Li adds separate temperature adjustments for each side of the rear seat. Shutter-like slats seal off vents if desired. An automatic humidity control maintains relative humidity near an optimal 40 percent. Rain-sensing wipers detect misting on the windshield and automatically wipe it off.
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable. The long-wheelbase L models provide as much rear legroom as you'll find this side of a stretch limo. Waterfall LED atmosphere lighting inside the rear roof pillars adds to the evening elegance of the rear seats. For bright days, the 760Li includes power sunshades for the rear and rear side windows. Comfort Seats for the rear come standard on the 760Li and are available for the 750Li, along with moveable, floor-mount footrests. These rear seats are heated and ventilated, and adjust 14 ways, with a control that allows rear-seat passengers to move the front passenger seat forward.
When in full power, the 7 Series cabin remains whisper quiet. Ambient noise is wonderfully deadened inside, making conversation easy and pleasant. The only outside sound we could hear while driving the 750i was the low-profile tires whacking over expansion joints or humming across grooved concrete. We could, however, detect hums, clicks and buzzes, generated in the background by assorted motors, switches and pumps in support of all the creature comforts.
The quiet cabin provides a perfect environment for a superb stereo, which delivers crisp highs, sharp bass and clear mid-range tones. BMW's Premium Sound Package 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. The package delivers seven channels of surround sound through 13 speakers, including a pair of subwoofers ingeniously integrated into the chassis, and it includes a CD changer. We'd spring for the optional Sirius Satellite Radio, which offers mostly commercial-free music, news, sports and talk. We're not so sure about BMW's HD radio option.
HD radio works, with a caveat. When it locks on a signal the clarity and fidelity is amazing, especially on the AM band. The problem is, depending on where you're driving, the radio can fluctuate from HD to standard broadcast as signal strength changes, the same way a conventional FM radio can switch from stereo to mono when the signal weakens. It can happen several times a mile, and become a bigger annoyance than it's worth.
Technology abounds inside the 7 Series. Working the mult
When it comes to the driving, there's no hedging. The BMW 7 Series is one of the best sedans in the world. Measured by ride, handling, braking and engine/transmission performance, and more importantly how those elements are blended into a smooth, satisfying whole, the 7 Series is almost without peer.
It starts with the wonderful, magic-carpet ride quality, which is more remarkable given how agile the 7 Series really is. Its 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. The 7 Series senses when it's being driven hard, instantaneously re-tuning itself for improved handling, and then adjusting the other way again when the going gets easy or the road gets bumpy.
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 surface. 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, with weight exceeding 4,480 pounds for all models, 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 at any one tire. By applying braking force to individual wheels and, when absolutely necessary, reducing engine power, 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 unloaded the suspension and threw the car's mass upwards. 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. The car did all of it, and 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 the 7 Series is a joy. Its variable-assist rack-and-pinion system is super sharp and precise. The steering is 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 the more you turn the wheel, the faster the car responds. With this steering system, it's easy to drive precisely on winding roads at high speeds, placing the tires exactly where you want them. There's little or no kickback to the steering when the 7 Series whacks a bump. Our only reservation, and it's a minor point, is that the steering is 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.
Both the V8 and V12 engines are smooth when cruising around. The six-speed automatic is smooth, too, 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 the hesitation found in so many automatics. The six-speed allows a lower first gear for quicker acceleration off the line, closer rat
The BMW 7 Series is one of the finest sedans in the world: remarkably smooth, quiet and roomy. Its interior is impeccably finished. It offers extraordinary handling with a magic carpet ride. The six-speed automatic transmission is one of the best in autodom, and both the V8 and V12 engines are silky smooth and impressively powerful. The layers of technology can seem more like a hindrance than a help, however, and the interface between driver and machine can be complex and demanding. At best it's cumbersome, and at worst it's overwhelming.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Sacramento, California, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and San Antonio.
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