When BMW designer Chris Bangle first unleashed his version of venerable 7-Series in '02, the oddly angular "flame-surfacing" inflicted upon the plutocrats pride and joy was roundly criticized for not being round enough. At the same time, the overly-complex iDrive mouse controller iDrove customers nuts. Although Bimmer's brand cachet helped maintain the 7-Series' showroom momentum, the new, "refreshed" 7-Series was designed to right those wrongs and restore the natural order.
And so the Seven's sheet metal has returned to slab-sided safety. Gone too are the peculiar Dame Edna wraparound headlights and the gi-normous, protruding back end bustle. The hood has been re-sculpted as well, giving the car's nose a somewhat flatter, more balanced appearance. Otherwise, Bangle's art school over-indulgence has been replaced by, of all things, blingery. Xzibit A, B and C: the larger kidney grill at the front, the concave seven-spoke wheels and the more tightly gathered rear bumper (designed to show off the 7's wider rear track). The overall effect is extremely color-sensitive and a bit schizo: Bad Boyz meets Bavarian burghers.
While the 7's new look is a noticeable improvement, the iDrive debacle continues. BMW's boffins have simplified the software, but the basics are still far from basic. When you have to pull over to find a way to tune-in your favorite AM radio station, you know you've been stranded deep in RTFM territory. The little adhesive sticker next to the iDrive controller remains, pointing the way towards the HVAC screen. It's the ultimate ergonomic indictment.
Fortunately, the 750 is still the ultimate driving machine– for people who like to drive big comfy cars like they stole them. The 4.8-liter V8 (Bimmer's rounding its model designations upwards these days) provides 30 more ponies to play with, and 30 more of those entirely useful foot pounds of torque. To say that this 4552lbs. sedan is quick off the mark is like saying that an Olympic sprinter is a good choice if you need someone to nip down to the post office before it closes. The sprint from zero to sixty takes an entirely ridiculous 5.8 seconds. One can only imagine the programmer's dismay when he typed in the numbers that restrict the 750i's engine management computer to 150mph.
If only the 7-Series was as good at imperious wafting. In this case, BMW's trick Double-VANOS variable valve timing can't compensate for the rush of acceleration provided by the powerplant at higher revs. Power increases arithmetically: wooooOOOOSH! In sport mode, forward progress is even more manic. Button shifting is the best way to keep things smooth and reliable, but who can be bothered? Best to just set the radar detector for stun and go with the flow– or is that torrent?
As always, the 7 (with the optional $3200 sports package) has the handling chops to cope with high-class hooliganism. The 750i's chassis control is exemplary; the enthusiastic driver has nothing to fear but the police themselves. Even when cornering at high velocity down a reverse camber road with a broken surface, severe undulations and metal expansion joints, the 750i maintained perfect composure– albeit with the traction control flashing "slow down" in Morse code. Yes, it's a barge, but as far as barges go, this one goes there just about as fast as you could want.
Provided you spend five grand or so on option packs, the toy count is also maxxed-out. The 7-Series faithful will be delighted to learn that BMW has finally capitulated to the unavoidable convenience known as Bluetooth, allowing non-BMW phones to integrate with the dangerously distracting slide-out keypad. The voice recognition system has also improved beyond measure, although the computer still can't understand my step-daughter's Shrek impersonation. (To be fair, it might be pissed-off at being called "Donkey".) The cabin materials are first rate, except for the grey headliner felt, which wouldn't seem out of place in a Kia Sorento.
The 750i is a bit like a newly retired boxer; it's not quite as sharp as it was, but it's still a Hell of a lot sharper than anyone but world heavyweight contenders. BMW needs to recognize what the brand's supposed to be and build a Club Sport 7-Series– if only to prove a point. (Remember: ultimate driving came first, luxury clocked-in later.) The Boys from Bavaria should lower the 7's suspension, fatten-up those wheels, slot in a six-speed manual, lose the iDrive, ditch the sound deadening, amp-up the exhaust and away we go.
Did I hear someone say M7? Yes please. Meanwhile, if you're looking for a thrashable luxury car, well, you could do worse, and it's hard to know where you could do better– at least until the new Mercedes S500 rolls into town.