Road Test: 2009 BMW 750Li
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2012.
By John Lamm of Road & Track
Many argue there's no need to spend more than $25,000-$30,000 for an automobile and they are correct. There are plenty of good wheels out there for less than 30 thou; sound transportation we admire.
Just as undeniably, there is something quite grand about gliding along in a big luxury sedan. Sealed in against the normal travails of life, storms both meteorological and financial, settled into leather seats that coddle and, in some cases, massage.
Let's be honest, who doesn't enjoy a little coddling?
It does require some foreign intervention, as many of the best of these coddlers are Japanese, Italian or German, whether it's the vault-like silence of a Lexus, the leather-wrapped sportiness of a Maserati or, in the case of this road test, a Bavarian BMW 750Li.
This is the fifth-generation 7 Series and our test car happened to be the 205.3-in.-long L, the long-wheelbase version, so we got to stretch our legs in the back seat during this road test. Other than rear seat leg room, our thoughts apply equally to the 750i, which is 5.5 in. shorter in overall length and wheelbase, though only 76 lb. lighter.
With the fifth generation of the big Bimmer comes the sort of same-only-different elegant restyling one expects in high-dollar luxury cars. It's rare to find revolutionary design in these machines because they are their companies' flagships and, as such, prestige leaders...and you want your flagship to be a QE2, not a Titanic.
Naturally the 750Li leads with the traditional BMW grilles, though they have morphed from kidneys into the flaring nostrils of a ticked-off bull. Nice touch, a bit of chic aggression to lead off the elegance that follows as you flow back to the 7 Series' tail.
To many minds, the departure of the "Bangle butt" from BMW's big sedans is a welcomed change after that rare bit of revolution in luxury car design.
And yet, while the 2009 750Li is a smooth, stylish bit of sculpture aft of the grille, it has taken on a Lexus LS look. Like it or not, the Bangle butt made big Bimmers nicely distinctive with a bit of "follow me," which several automakers did with subsequent designs of their cars.
While on the subject of controversy, let's get inside the 7 Series and deal with iDrive. Googling the word brings 682,000 results ranging from slavish praise to angry derision. We settle in the middle, liking the concept but not the execution in the first three iterations.
iDrive has been around about as long as the iPod, which is a similar approach to user interface. But while the iPod went through many and frequent modifications to make it evermore user-friendly and a consumer "must have," iDrive did not...until now. This fourth-generation iDrive has been Audi "MMI-ized," forsaking the wheel and two minor buttons for a more positive-feeling "joyknob" and seven buttons, giving immediate access to CD, RADIO, NAV, TEL, plus MENU, OPTION and the savior selection: BACK.
There are also eight handy memory keys programmable to your favorite functions, like an oft-used navi destination or a sound system setting your wife (or husband) doesn't appreciate when she (he) is in the car.
Matched to a 10.2-in. wide-screen display, this iDrive is a step forward...just as Audi announces its next-generation MMI system. Both, incidentally, leave Mercedes' COMAND system in the dust.
BMW does keep controls a bit unsettled with its oddball E-Shift automatic transmission lever, but the remainder of the electronic attractions and the interior in general are what we expect in a European luxury car. You can also option such tricks as lane departure control, blind spot detection, head-up display, the odd-but-enticing side-view cameras and an excellent night-vision system.
We wish we could remove the 750Li's seats and put them in our living room. They are the first line of coddling, offering superb comfort and support. The ride in back is also excellent, even when the driver is making tracks on a twisty road and fiddling with the ride/handling control system. Makes you feel like a diplomat or the CEO of something.
Nor would we mind equipping our living room with the 7's sound system and its hard drive-based entertainment system, which allots 12 gigs to music storage space.
All this is quite nice, given the 7 Series' slot in the pantheon of luxury cars, but the 750Li is a BMW and as such needs to perform. Which it does.
How about 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds? Knock off 0.1 sec. for the normal 750i. Or the quarter mile in 13.4 sec. at 106.0 mph? These numbers sandwich it a few ticks down on the Mercedes-Benz S600 and Audi S8 and a similar amount quicker than the Lexus LS 600h L, Maserati Quattroporte and two more long-wheelbase luxury rides we need to consider, Mercedes' S550 and Jaguar's XJ8 L. A tip of the hat also to the Cadillac STS-V, only slightly smaller but past 60 mph in 4.7 sec.
And you can match any of those numbers with ease with not a moment's drama, as befits a luxury car.
While BMW once preferred V-12s for the top 7 Series model, it now opts for a turbocharged V-8. And not surprisingly for the Munich automaker, it's unusual. Remember turbo lag? Okay, now forget it, thanks to the V-8's unique layout. By putting the intake valves and direct injection on the outside of the 4.4-liter V-8's vee, BMW could locate a pair of low-inertia turbos in the vee, just off the exhaust valves. The result is not only 400 bhp from 5500-6400 rpm, but also 450 lb.-ft. of torque from 1800-4500 rpm, up from the previous 7 Series' 4.8-liter V-8 with 360 bhp and 360 lb.-ft.
The 4.4 turbo is mated to the 6-speed E-Shift automatic with Normal, Sport and Manual modes.
It says a lot about BMW that the controls of the new iDrive are to the right of the E-Shift lever and the buttons for the less-used Driving Dynamics Control are closer to the driver. Push these buttons to swap among Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus settings, the last minimizing traction control for track driving.
Affected by the modes are shift performance, throttle response, power steering assist and Dynamic Stability Control, plus the shock settings on the new double A-arm front and evolved multilink rear suspension.
Interesting stuff but, frankly, overkill. Normal is already comfortable enough — you could probably thread a needle over a rough road on this setting — and if you're into track days, why didn't you buy an M5? It's the same price.
We would consider adding the 750Li's Sport option (it costs $4900) to get Integral Active Steering, the rear wheels turning up to 3 degrees counter-phase at low speeds to aid turning, but steering in the same direction as the front wheels at higher speeds for added stability.
Around the skidpad in Sport Plus — okay, we used it — the big BMW managed 0.87g, besting the S600 (0.82g) and Lexus (0.83g). It also handily outran that pair and the Quattroporte in the slalom.
Naturally, the 750Li is smooth on freeways. For Southern California mountain roads — twisting but not serpentine — we opted for the Normal or Sport setting, with surprisingly little difference in ride. As you hustle this 2-plus-ton sedan over those roads with great ease and speed, the sensation that keeps coming back is that, as always, there is something impressively smooth and fluid yet athletic about the way a BMW gets the job done.
Prices? How about $84,200 for openers with an option list that can drive it over $110,000...the cost of, to use today's most overused term, extreme coddling.