2013 BMW 7-Series

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First Drive Review: 2009 BMW 750i / 750Li

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2014.

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.

Easier-to-Use iDrive
Furthermore, the 7-series' most controversial piece of technology, iDrive, with its multifunctional central control knob that has been copied to varying degrees by Mercedes, Audi, and Honda, has been completely revamped and rethought. In fact, continuing to call it iDrive is almost an insult to the new system's vastly improved menu structure and control strategy. There's no more convoluted nudging of the iDrive knob in one of eight directions to choose a submenu; now you simply scroll through a straightforward list and click the knob to select it. Nudging the knob to the left always takes you back one menu. Also, there are a number of shortcut buttons around the knob's periphery to ease the learning process, and the climate controls have been removed from iDrive's clutches altogether and are now more easily operated by buttons and knobs on the dash.

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
But that's not to say the latest 7-series isn't complex. In what must be a tuning nightmare for chassis engineers, the new car features standard active dampers that vary compression and rebound characteristics independently in an attempt to maximize handling without sacrificing ride, in addition to the active front and rear anti-roll bars that are a part of the Sport package. Also new is rear-wheel steering, which is bundled with the optional active steering that varies the steering ratio. The new car features an unequal-length control-arm front suspension — a first for a BMW sedan — as well as a redesigned multilink rear.

A Twin-Turbo Shove
At speeds up to 37 mph, the rear wheels turn by as many as three degrees in the opposite direction from the fronts, which reduces the turning circle by more than two feet. At higher speeds, the rears turn in the same direction as the fronts to improve responsiveness. If the stability-control system decides things are getting out of hand, the rears can be called on to countersteer. From a brief drive in prototypes with all these available goodies at BMW's Miramas, France, proving ground, the new 7-series certainly felt capable and willing, with lighter steering effort more in line with that of a 3-series, helping it feel much smaller from behind the wheel. The 7-series was already strong dynamically, and it's safe to say that it will continue to be among the best in its class; this is a luxury sedan that doesn't shy away from hustling when called on.

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.

Better-Looking?
Weight-saving measures include an aluminum roof and doors. The hood, the front fenders, and much of the suspension remain aluminum, as with the previous 7-series. BMW says torsional rigidity is up 20 percent and the overall weight gain is roughly 80 pounds, putting the 750i just shy of 4600.

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?

Content provided byCar and Driver.
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BB06 - 7/14/2014 12:30:09 AM