First Drive Review: 2009 BMW 750i / 750Li
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2012.
A somewhat less honorable way to stand out is to purposely hold back at first and then impressively show huge improvement. Has BMW done just that with its 7-series?
Even though the new, fifth-generation 7-series follows suit as the technology pacesetter by adding a bunch of high-tech features including active suspension damping, rear-wheel steering, night vision with pedestrian detection, lane-change warning, and side-view cameras, the biggest news is BMW's backpedaling from some of the previous 7's, uh, "breakthroughs." Last time around, BMW rethought the whole business of ergonomics and moved the shifter from the center console to a somewhat confusing lever on the column. It has now been moved back. The seat controls on the previous 7 were moved to the center console and operated in a way that made them about 10 times more difficult to use. For '09 they're back on the outboard side of the seat and operate conventionally, as on every other BMW.
Has all of our complaining finally paid off? We're cautiously optimistic that BMW understands that complexity does not necessarily equate with sophistication.
Serious Chassis Complexity
A Twin-Turbo Shove
A new driver-adjustable system called "driving dynamics control" attempts to simplify things with four chassis settings: comfort, normal, sport, and sport plus. Heading from comfort toward sport plus causes the suspension and the steering effort to firm up, the transmission to shift later and more aggressively, and the stability control to back off. A fifth mode is simply switching off the stability control altogether. The various settings do provide tangible differences, with comfort yielding a softer ride than is BMW-typical, and sport and sport plus tailored toward aggressive drivers. On a wet handling course, the 7-series showed impressive balance and, with the stability control switched off, was eager to drift its rear end around when prodded. But even sport and sport+ plus modes allow moderate sideways action as long as steering and throttle inputs remain measured.
On sale in March 2009, the 7-series will be initially available in 750i or long-wheelbase 750Li guise. A little confusion: Despite retaining the "750" label, both models get a new engine — the direct-injection 400-hp, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 developing 450 pound-feet that recently debuted in the top-of-the-line X6. That's 40 more horsepower and a whopping 90 more pound-feet than the previous 750i's 4.8-liter V-8. In fact, BMW says the new 750i outperforms the old, 438-hp V-12 760i and fuel economy improves by 15 percent. Mashing the throttle certainly generates a torquey turbo shove, and we expect a quickest-in-class 0-to-60-mph time in the high-four-second range. The six-speed ZF automatic transmission carries over with small improvements in shift speed and efficiency, although a new eight-speed is rumored to be coming in another year or so. Compared with the outgoing 750i (15 mpg city/23 mpg highway), BMW says fuel economy has been improved by three percent. Models we won't get here — at least not initially — are the 740i/740Li, with a more powerful, 322-hp version of the twin-turbo 3.0-liter six, and the 735d, with a new 241-hp, 3.0-liter diesel.
BMW also appears to have remedied to some extent another shortcoming of the previous car: styling. Inside and out, the new car is far more conservative and evolutionary, although our first impression is that the interior doesn't seem to have the richness of an S-class. The exterior is spruced up with a strong crease that runs the length of the car as well as a far less bulbous trunklid, although in person, what most caught our attention was the nearly vertical and dramatically enlarged grille. The bumper-mounted exhaust tips appear to be a near copy of the Lexus LS460's and are a move away from the 7-series' traditional hidden pipes.
There's no question that the new 7-series is a technological powerhouse. It will be a dynamically strong competitor and, with much improved ergonomics, is now even easier to use. To say that it's more appealing than its predecessor is perhaps faint praise, but does it have what it takes to stand out in the impressive luxury flagship crowd?