2012 BMW 7-Series

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2009 BMW 7-Series: Review

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.2

Bottom Line:

Fully redesigned and packing a serious punch, the new 7-Series may be just what the doctor ordered.
Pros:
  • Incredible engine and acceleration
  • Comfortable seats, with or without Sport Package
  • Stunning graphics on display screens
Cons:
  • Significantly less enjoyable without the Sport Package
  • Mirrors produce excessive wind noise
  • Steering should be more responsive on a BMW

The 2009 BMW 7-Series is now in showrooms, redesigned from the ground up and sporting a brilliant new engine. While this fifth-generation model still doesn't exactly scream sex appeal, the appearance is undeniably less controversial than its predecessor. Despite the previous car being the best-selling 7 ever, the Bavarian automaker seems to have taken a step backward to move forward: This new generation seems to have evolved more from the 7-Series of the '90s than the model it replaces.

Model Lineup
The new 7-Series is arriving at dealerships in two trims, the 750i and long-wheelbase 750Li. Unlike previous generations, you won't have to wait for the 750Li, which will be available at launch. Predictably, both models share most of the same componentry, including the drivetrain — although opting for the long wheelbase adds a unique roofline and 5.5 inches of legroom for rear-seat passengers.

The list of standard equipment is impressive, including a two-stage brake light system, 3-D navigation, 4-zone climate control and countless other features. There are plenty of available extras as well, perhaps most importantly the Sport Package, which includes a clever new 4-wheel steering system. The 750Li model continues to offer fully adjustable rear seats with ventilation and massage functions.

Under the Hood
While the previous 750i/750Li had an impressive, naturally aspirated V8 engine, BMW is raising the bar for 2009. The new car is powered by a 4.4-liter V8 that is actually smaller than its predecessor by nearly half a liter. It makes up for its smaller size by adding direct injection and nestling a pair of turbochargers inside the "V" between the cylinder banks. This boosts horsepower up to an even 400 from 5500 to 6400 rpm, and torque skyrockets to 450 lb-ft in an even plateau from 1800 rpm up to 4500 rpm. This is quite an improvement over the previous V8. In fact, the new engine practically matches the output of the previous-generation V12. Despite the increase in power, BMW says the latest V8's fuel mileage has actually improved slightly over its forebear's.

The new engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox, the only transmission available. Thankfully, the E-Shift lever is now back on the center console, and can still be used to shift gears manually. The ride control system has been updated, and its settings control the firmness of the suspension, as well as throttle response, shifting patterns, steering assistance and DSC (stability/traction control) mode. Additionally, the new 7-Series has an updated suspension system that sends information from front to rear quickly enough to allow the rear shocks to react to the very same potholes and bumps registered by the front end.

Inner Space
The interior of the new 7-Series is every bit as luxurious and well-equipped as you'd expect from the car BMW touts as its flagship sedan. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and their controls are back in the traditional location between door and seat. The dashboard now features a black panel display, which creates an instrument cluster out of what is actually a high-resolution screen — there isn't a single traditional needle, gauge or dial to be found.

BMW's trademark iDrive control system is now in its fourth generation, and this latest iteration couldn't have come soon enough. When iDrive was introduced, it consolidated dozens of buttons into what was essentially one big button, and was said to be a leap forward in user friendliness. Several years and countless complaints later, the company says it has made the system much easier to use, thanks to the addition of some buttons. Irony aside, it's finally usable, and features a larger (10.2 inch) high-resolution display and 80 GB hard drive to store navigation maps and music files.

BMW Night Vision continues to be an option as well, and adds a new pedestrian-detection feature. By utilizing the far infrared spectrum rather than near infrared, the system nets a 1,600-foot range (as opposed to headlight range), giving it a considerable advantage over its competitors.

On the Road
BMW has a knack for producing cars that handle well and offer an enjoyable driving experience, regardless of size or heft. The 7-Series is no exception, when equipped with the Sport Package. Said package adds a meaty steering wheel, which actually acts on all four wheels, and creates a noticeable improvement in handling. The new 4-wheel steering is called Integral Active Steering, and it also makes for easier parking and a noticeably smaller turning radius. That said, the new 7 represents the first time in history that we've suggested a BMW could use a little more steering feel.

Forget that, though, because the story here is in the brutish effectiveness of BMW's new twin-turbocharged V8. In any gear, at any rpm, the engine rips to redline as though there were no friction in the drivetrain, and gravity is basically an afterthought. Thanks to the compactness of the turbochargers, there's no lag in uptake, and you'd never know the car was turbocharged. The transmission is a good match for both the car's upscale manners and explosive engine, and it helps the car feel lively and unburdened. The large luxury car is capable of a stunning 5.1-second blast from standstill to 60 mph (5.2 in the 750Li), and there's no "M" logo to be found anywhere.

The Driving Dynamics Control ride selection works well, although the "comfort" mode is floaty at highway speeds. In a sense, it's an unnecessary setting, since most buyers looking for that much softness would likely just opt for a Mercedes S-Class. When the Driving Dynamics Control is in any mode other than "sport," the throttle pedal is initially difficult to modulate, requiring strong inputs before eliciting a result. By the time it happens, the oomph is dramatic, causing the mothership to fling forward with the awesome V8's entire grunt.

Right for You?
Needless to say, a car like a 7-Series is not within the practical budget of most of the population. It's a flagship luxury vehicle, and a mighty impressive one. The long-wheelbase version is expected to account for about 80 percent of the model's U.S. sales, and will add just under $4,000 to the 750i's base price of $81,125. Luckily, the new 7-Series does a surprisingly good job of justifying its cost of entry. Loaded with features, luxury and performance, it is every bit the flagship sedan we've come to expect from BMW.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB04 - 9/17/2014 9:01:09 AM