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.
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.
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