The 2009 750i is the car I was expecting from BMW back in 2002. That 7 turned out to be the poster child for automotive arrogance. It introduced flame surfacing (including the Bangle butt) and iDrive. Its controls were impossible to decipher, the ergonomics were infuriating and it was truly ugly. The 2002 7-Series drove me right into the arms of Mercedes. In the face of the criticism, BMW countered that their customers were too backwards to comprehend the brilliance and innovation inherent in the design. Sales continued—until they didn’t. The new 750i is a mechanical admission of corporate guilt that offers redemption for lovers of the pre-Bangle 7-Series.
The exterior of this new model is handsome. But it’s also dull and derivative. The new 7′s sheet-metal cribs from many of its elements of BMW’s own 3-Series, with a bit too much Lexus L-Finesse mixed in (which, ironically, borrowed heavily from the outgoing 7′s design). The Bimmer’s exterior is less polarizing and more anonymous, without offering compensatory classicism. It slides just over the line separating elegant from insipid.
The BMW 750i’s interior is more suave and user friendly than before but also somewhat cold and aloof. Anything would have been an improvement over the previous 7, with its abysmal mélange of plastics. Now, there is greater use of natural materials (e.g., the leather covered dash) and the ergonomics are greatly improved. I especially appreciated the hold button, which lets the driver rest their brake foot at traffic lights.
The BMW 750i’s chairs are outstandingly comfortable, even without the not-quite-massaging “active seat” function found in the Luxury Seating package (for $2500). Sixteen-way seating adjustments offer more potential positions than the Kama Sutra, but the cabin’s let down by chintzy headliner (rectified by the $7K “Individual” package) and an uncharacteristically skinny steering wheel (remedied by the $4900 sport package). The transmission lever has morphed from 3+3 on the tree to My Favorite Martian’s cell phone; someone in Munich doesn’t understand that a joke doesn’t get any funnier the more you repeat it.
Of course, there are more ways to spend your money to impress your friends: heads-up display, active roll stabilization, night vision, soft closing automatic doors, active blind spot detection and the rest. Although we’ve seen these features elsewhere, the 750i isn’t about to surrender an inch of ground in the luxobarge techno toy wars.
The 750i’s navigation screen is enormous, yet, strangely, provides too little specific detailed street information. The iDrive wart is still present, but I’m used to it by now and tired of complaining about it. My favorite playthings: radar cruise control (which operates in stop and go traffic) and the side cameras (which allow enhanced visibility approaching intersections). Ticking all the package boxes costs an additional $16,600, lifting the BMW 750i’s price above $100K. With the demise of factory sub vented residuals, the 750i will depreciate faster than your portfolio of bank stocks.
Never mind. The 7-Series has always been about driving. Right?
The new 750i is powered by an “authoritative” 4.4-liter, 32 valve, 400 horsepower (at 5500-6400 rpm) twin turbo V8. With 450 lb·ft of torque available at 1800-4500 rpm, the 4564 lb German luxobarge can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 5.1 seconds. The syrupy throttle tip-in creates an impression of turbo lag. But then I discovered that the normal suspension mode orders the car to save fuel by starting out in second gear (a trick also practiced by the Porsche Cayenne). Once I discovered the sport mode, I was more impressed with forward thrust.
I first sampled a long wheelbase 750i without the sport package. Despite the brittle ride quality imparted by the 19 inch optional wheels, the handling was mushy. The overall driving dynamic was more Lexus than BMW. The short wheelbase car with the sport package was more to my liking, but my wife complained about the throbbing tire noise (in an otherwise tomb-like cabin). Yup. Run-flats which eliminate the weighty spare tire but rob the sedan of its traditional luxury gestalt.
The 750i isn’t a vehicle you can jump in and drive; it takes some patient fiddling to find all the settings that suit your style. I eventually found my sweet spot: short wheelbase, sport package, sport setting, minus the Mrs. At that point, the 750i proved a highly determined sports sedan, carving corners with confidence—while sucking fuel at a rate in the very low teens.
This is the biggest problem with the 750i: times have changed. Say what you will about the “hypocrisy” of the hybrid Lexus LS600h L, but the Japanese automaker has read the writing on the wall. The 2009 750i was BMW’s opportunity to help usher in a new technological era, using light weight materials and alternative power. Instead, BMW offers us another bloated and inefficient automobile. While I respect the 750i’s engineering, craftsmanship and athleticism, piggish mpgs or hydrogen ain’t it. I’m hoping a diesel-electric version lies just over the horizon..