The BMW 7 Series cars uphold a tradition of building some of the most dynamic and exhilarating large luxury sedans in the world.
Completely redesigned for 2009, the fifth-generation 7 Series line expands for 2010. For the first time, the BMW 750i and BMW 750Li xDrive models bring all-wheel drive to BMW's largest sedan. The new V12-powered BMW 760Li can be considered the ultimate 7 Series, measured by both performance and luxury. All 2010 BMW 7 Series models add BMW's Brake Energy Regeneration system, which captures some of the energy lost as the car slows to a stop and uses it to charge the battery.
The 2010 7 Series sedan comes in standard and long versions, designated by an L in the numeric nomenclature. The 750Li and 760Li have a wheelbase that's 5.5 inches longer than the 750i. They're a little harder to parallel park, but they offer a ride that's even more luxurious due to the longer wheelbase along with considerably more rear-seat leg room.
The 750Li and 750i feature a new-generation V8 engine, with direct fuel injection and twin turbocharging. This 4.4-liter V8 makes 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, awesome numbers for an engine its size, while using less fuel than its predecessor to get occupants around town. It's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Optional all-wheel drive adds all-climate capability without ruining the 7 Series' sporty handling characteristics. The 760Li ups the ante with a 535-hp V12 and an eight-speed automatic.
Weight-efficient construction and innovative chassis technology contribute to the lively driving dynamics that many expect from a BMW, especially high-end models like the 7 Series. Crash protection has been enhanced, despite the use of lighter chassis materials, though most models have gained a bit of weight compared to their predecessors, thanks to more standard equipment and comfort-related features.
The long-wheelbase cars have their 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-five thousand bucks (roughly the base price), or one-hundred thirty-seven thousand, in the case of the 760Li.
The 7 Series interior is classy and luxurious, as buyers should expect. It's like a roomy, richly appointed cocoon protecting occupants from an ornery world, though some of the controls and features can be overly complicated. Just about every safety, comfort or convenience feature invented to date for the automobile is available on the 7 Series. Yet what really distinguishes these cars is their dynamic verve: a combination of response, acceleration, smooth ride and sharp handling that few if any large sedans can match.
Beyond its expansion of the 7 Series line for 2010, BMW has already tipped its hand with three more models expected to reach showrooms by late spring. The 2011 740i and 740Li will be powered by BMW's 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged inline-6 engine. The 2011 Alpina B7 will be a hot rod 7 Series created with the help of German aftermarket tuner Alpina.
All of BMW's 7 Series sedans look sleek and expensive, and for the price they certainly should. What's better, one year after a complete re-styling, is this: virtually all of the odd, sometimes awkward design cues from the previous-generation 7 are gone.
The V12-powered 760Li, new for 2010, has several discrete styling appointments to distinguish it from the 750Li and 750i. Its kidney shaped grille is trimmed with a wider chrome surround that is slightly concave. The 760's side gills, located where the doors meet the front fenders, have a chrome finish and V12 badges.
In front, the vertical bars in all 7 Series grilles are spaced wider than those on other BMWs, for distinction, though we're not sure it's very distinguishing. It doesn't make a car look more stylish by increasing the gap between its teeth. From the driver's seat you don't see that, anyway. What you see is a really nice power bulge on the hood, subtle and sweet.
The 7 Series looks best from the side or front three-quarter view. The hood is long but front overhang is short. The sheet metal 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 for attention. The fenders are chiseled upward, nicely. This 7 Series has the maturity and sophistication appropriate to a car of its stature.
The long-wheelbase L models have their own roofline, creating a different profile from that of the shorter 750i. The L roof 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 shape that also creates a tad more headroom than what's available in the 750i.
Another thing that's beautiful are the standard 14-spoke alloy wheels. Curiously, frustratingly, many lovely cars don't have wheels that meet the aesthetic standard set by the rest of the design. BMW pays attention.
From the rear, there's little to tell the world that the 750s are remarkable luxury cars. The back end looks like any other car on the highway, with big taillights and a horizontal chrome strip. A small lip on the trunk lid only adds accent to the car's lines when viewed from the side.
Perhaps BMW feels the same way, as the 2010 760Li has also been spiced-up a bit in back. An additional chrome bar connects unique dual tailpipes below the bumper line. The 760Li's quad tailpipe tips are rectangular, and integrated in the rear air dam. The V12 model also comes standard with 19-inch light-alloy wheels, as opposed to 18-inch rims for the 750s.
The BMW 7 Series interior offers the best contemporary automobile craftsmanship and technology have to offer. Unfortunately, it also offers some of the worst. Whether the good outweighs the bad depends on personal taste and predilection.
First, the good: Great interior lighting, and the world's best backup video camera, including those that incorporate side view. The doors open way wide, for easy entry and exit. The dash is low, thin and lovely, with a great instrument cluster featuring a clean, crisp 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. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is just about perfect, and some drivers will find its audio controls close to salvation.
Any 7 Series model delivers the luxurious feeling cars in this class are supposed to create. Comfort, whether in the front seat or rear seat, is superb in the 760Li and 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 Li models. There's still enough space for people up to about 5' 10?.
More good: Luxurious leather, even in the base Nappa trim grade, and genuine polished wood available in several choices. We absolutely loved the stitched leather dashboard, which is optional on the 750s and standard on the V12-powered 760Li. Other amenities exclusive to the 760 include stainless-steel door entry trim with an illuminated V12 sill, Alcantara roof lining and sun visors, and individual inlays of exclusive burled walnut.
We'll start the bad with the worst. The 7 Series has the fourth generation of BMW's point-and-click iDrive control, and it's accurate to call it the fourth attempt to get it right. BMW boasts repeatedly 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 some like it.
We give iDrive the big thumbs down. We never figured 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. There are loads of options we never knew we needed or wanted, all with strange names that didn't describe any function we know of. Ditto with icons.
BMW's redesigned, console mounted gear selector isn't much better. It looks like the joystick for a flight-simulation video game, and company engineers have re-invented the Park position, putting it where Reverse is on other cars.
Generally, there are a lot of surprising and significant inconveniences inside the 7 Series. The seatbelt pretensioner annoyingly pretensioned us when we just needed to lean forward for visibility when pulling onto the highway. The standard climate control system offers up to four separate temperature 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 without the optional soft-touch feature you can barely reach the notch in the armrest to pull them in.
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 $100,000 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.
The 7 Series isn't the greatest for hauling big things, either. Its trunk is large compared to the typical compact sedan, but not compared to the full-size luxury competition. With 14.0 cubic feet of space, the 7 Series trunk is smaller than competitors like the Audi A8, Lexus LS or Mercedes S-Class.
Despite some overly complicated interior features, there's little to complain about when it comes to driving the BMW 7 Series. About 90 percent of the time, any 2010 7 Series model is a truly satisfying machine to operate: both amazingly comfortable and quiet, and impressively quick and agile for a sedan of its size and weight.
That last ten percent is a gray area, to be sure, and in that zone the driving can get a little annoying. Perhaps BMW, with the 7 Series, suffers from a problem of ambition. It's as if the engineers and designers have attempted to raise the bar in virtually every respect, and in doing so have made simple things, like the gimmicky gear selector and even the electronic turn signals, way more cumbersome or complicated than they need to be.
The V8 engine in the 750i and 750Li models is brilliant, even incredible. It's all turbocharged horsepower, torque and smoothness, and it delivers decent mileage, in our opinion. We can't say enough good things about the 4.4-liter V8. Not just the 400 horsepower, but the 450 pound-feet of torque at a very low 1800 rpm. It is flawless. BMW claims that the 750i will shoot from zero to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, on par with sports cars like the standard Porsche 911, and we don't doubt it for a second.
The V12-powered 760Li, new for 2010, raises the acceleration bar even further. It's powered by a 6.0-liter turbocharged V12 that's turbine smooth, and it bumps output to 535 horsepower and 550 lb-ft at just 1500 rpm. BMW reports a zero-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds.
The 7 Series suspension is nearly as flawless as its engines, whether cruising in a straight line on a rough road, or tossing the big Beemer through curves. The 7 has the first double-wishbone front suspension ever in a BMW passenger car, believe it or not, and the package delivers what might be the best blend of ride comfort and handling response available in a large luxury sedan.
The optional M 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 (how much the stability control will allow the car to slide before it engages). The Sport Package also adds 19-inch alloy wheels to the 750i and 750Li, with extra-sticky performance tires.
The 750i and 750Li xDrive, also new for 2010, are the first 7 Series cars with all-wheel drive. While the AWD is similar to that used in vehicles like BMW's X5 SUV, it's tuned more to enhance performance than to optimize traction on low-friction surfaces (though it can do that, too). The 7 Series xDrive more thoroughly integrates all-wheel-drive management with other electronic systems, like stability control and the 7's Active Roll Stabilization anti-sway bars.
Like other all-wheel-drive BMWs, the 750i and 750Li start at a 40 front/60 rear default power split. But when its driver applies gas more aggressively, especially through bends, the xDrive 7 adjusts torque distribution to maintain the sporting handling dynamics of rear-wheel drive. Through a hard bend, its control system seeks a steady power split of 20/80 to optimize handling.
On dry roads, regardless of drive type, the 7 Series is remarkably balanced for a car of its heft. Standard, xDrive, it's almost a toss up. With xDrive, the steering feels heavier than that in rear-drive cars with BMW's active front/rear steering system, and we like that. But once the driver gets used to its lighter steering touch, the rear-drive 7 Series is livelier. It almost feels like a smaller car.
Distinctions are easier to find on a closed course, or in sloppy road conditions. Even with the anti-skid electronics switched off, the 750i xDrive does a lot more of the car-control work for the driver than the rear-drive 750i, balancing itself more readily with less need to be really delicate or active with the gas pedal. The rear-drive 7 Series requires a lot more work, and it asks more of its driver. While that may be exactly what enthusiast drivers want for track day, it's probably not the preferred set-up in a blizzard. We wouldn't guess many 7 Series owners take their car to track day, anyway.
The gray area of 7 Series satisfaction and performance sits largely in the transmission. The six-speed automatic in the 750 models seems over-engineered, or at least over-programmed. It insists on doing too many things for the driver, in Normal mode. 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 automatic downshifts.
Basically, the transmission won't let the car glide. Around town, it almost feels like the emergency brake is on. Back off 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 red light, intending to coast there, and it downshifts so eagerly that you have to get back on the gas to get to the light. 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 a less-steep hill, one-half mile at 25 mph, it downshifted three times and up-shifted twice. All in the name of keeping the car in the optimum gear. It's like the transmission is compelled to use all six of its gears as often as possible. With all that engine torque, it makes no sense. What's more, the kick-down shifts 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 the 7 Series can be unwilling to 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 7 Series' xenon headlights may be the best in the world, greatly enhancing safety during nighttime driving.
While every 7 Series model carries a gas guzzler tax, ranging from $1,000 to $2,100, we averaged at least 19 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving during a couple of test stints in the 750Li. That, in our view, is at least acceptable for a car of the 7's size and performance. BMW is nonetheless aware of perceptions about efficiency, and to that end it has added something called Brake Energy Regeneration to all 2010 7 Series models.
Brake Energy Regeneration captures some of the energy lost as a car slows to a halt, much as the typical hybrid vehicle does. In the case of the 7 Series, that energy is used to turn the alternator, which charges the battery and supplies electrical power. In most gasoline-engine cars, the alternator operates when the car is under power, taking energy that could otherwise be used to move the car along.
In the 7 Series, the alternator only turns when the car is slowing, and the engine is essentially idling. When the 7 is accelerating or cruising, the alternator freewheels, so it draws no power from the engine.
Luxury, solidity, safety, impressive performance and a lot of sometimes complicated stuff. That's the brief on BMW's 7 Series sedan. It offers brilliant, twin-turbocharged V8 and V12 engines with a minimum 400 horsepower and up to 22 mpg, according to the EPA. It's available in short or long wheelbase variants, with optional all-wheel drive. It's balance of smooth ride and sharp handling borders on amazing. Whether one prefers to drive the ultimate luxury car or luxuriate in the ultimate driving machine, the BMW 7 Series flies at the tip of the spear.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the BMW 750iL in the Northwest's Columbia River Valley. J.P. Vettraino reported on the xDrive all-wheel-drive system from Detroit.
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