By on August 13, 2010

With its 2011 redesign the BMW 5-Series is now much more closely related to the 7-Series. It’s smoother, quieter, and–both for better and for worse–has the feel of a larger car. So, why would someone spend roughly $18,000 more for the 7?  (Add another $3,900 for the extended wheelbase Li, and another $3,000 for AWD.) To find out, I took a 750Li xDrive for a spin after driving the new 550i.

Unlike the many manufacturers who slavishly copied its most distinctive details, most notably the humped up trunk with its droopy cutline, I was never a fan of the previous generation, E65 7-Series. The latest 7, the F01 (F02 in Li form, if you want to get picky about it), appears much slimmer and cleaner. It’s certainly a handsome car. There are no unusual, potentially off-putting details like the quad fog lights on a Mercedes E-Class or the RX-8-like fender bulges on the S-Class. If the exterior design errs, it is in being too soft, too conservative, and too much like an enlarged 3. Can a design be too timeless? This one could just as easily have been from the 1990s.

More of a problem for many people, if not for me personally: the main thing differentiating the new 7’s exterior styling from that of the new 5 is its length. Compared to the 2011 5-Series, the 750i has four additional inches of wheelbase and nearly seven additional inches of overall length. The 750Li adds another 5.5 inches, all of it in the rear passenger compartment. While Audi has similarly readopted the “same sausage, different lengths” philosophy with the new A8, no one will mistake a Mercedes E-Class for an S-Class.

Comparing interiors, F10 5-Series even more strongly resembles the F01 7-Series. The instrument panels are nearly identical, though the 7 benefits from some additional brightwork around the vents and the lack of a horizontal divider in the center stack. In both cars the nav screen, though enlarged, is much more cleanly integrated into the instrument panel. A wider, shorter center stack angled six degrees towards the driver visually connects the instrument panel with the center console rather than visually separating the two. In the 7, the shifter has returned to the center console, proof that the new car is much more driver-oriented. The car tested had the optional leather-upholstered instrument panel upper. This option costs $1,200 but adds at least four times this amount to the perceived price of the car. If you want a 7, you want this option.

Major gains have also been made in ergonomics and usability. There are more buttons, so the much-improved iDrive doesn’t have to be used for as many things, but these buttons are logically grouped and located. On the 7, the seat controls have been moved from the sides of the center armrest to a more conventional location on the sides of the seats. They’re no longer visible in the new location, yet are much easier to operate. Trial and error is no longer an inevitable part of the adjustment process. One idea worth stealing from the new Audi A8: displaying adjustments on the screen as they are made. One ergonomic slip: the door pull on the 7 is hidden and mounted too high up on the door. I knew it was there when I thought about it, but locating a door pull shouldn’t require any thought.

BMW’s multicontour seats, excellent for both long distance highway treks and the curviest hill country byways, are optional in the new six-cylinder 740i (not tested) but are standard in the 750. Unlike in the new 5-Series, these seats continue to include power-adjustable side bolsters.  Because 7-Series owners are more likely to take corners aggressively? Typical of a large German sedan, the beltline is moderately high, and there’s clearly a lot of car around you, but not to the point that visibility is impeded or driver confidence is impaired. From the driver’s seat, the 7 feels much like the 5, just a touch larger. The tape measure backs up this impression: there’s less than an inch of additional front shoulder room in the larger car.

For an obviously different car, move to the rear seat. Even in the regular wheelbase 750i you’ll find three inches of additional shoulder room (artificially constricted in the 5?) and over two inches of additional legroom. Where the 5 provides adequate room and comfort for adults, the 7 does noticeably better on both counts. With the 750Li, rear legroom grows another 5.5 inches, for a total of 44.3. Unless people think “center forward” when they see you, your feet won’t be occupying the extra inches. The new 5’s trunk is actually a little larger than the 7’s, and a folding rear seat is only optional in the midsize car. So cargo capacity isn’t going to justify the jump.

The 550i and 750Li share BMW’s twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, good for a virtually lag-free 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. Even when tasked with motivating the 750Li xDrive’s quite considerable 4,861 pounds this powerplant provides the sort of effortless acceleration that used to require a V12. Though the V8’s soundtrack is suitability refined, others are either quieter or more inspiring.

While the F10 received a new eight-speed automatic capable of downshifting from top gear to second in a single bound, the F01 continues to employ the old six-speed. It’s not a bad transmission, but it’s not as smooth, as quick to shift, as flexible, or as efficient as ZF’s latest and greatest.

Another F10 innovation not present in the F01, at least not yet: electric power steering. The usual anti-EPS rhetoric aside, steering feel isn’t dissimilar in the two cars—when comparing the 750Li with its standard suspension to a 550i with the Sport Package. Comparing the 750Li to a 535i with the standard suspension, the larger car’s steering feels better weighted and more precise. Aided by optional active stabilizer bars, roll in turns is minimal. Despite its many extra inches and pounds, the 750Li is a car that can be intuitively placed right where you want it. It feels about a half-ton lighter than the scales suggest it ought to.

Although I live in Michigan, I’m wary of the dulling effect all-wheel-drive tends to have on a car’s feel. With BMW’s system this isn’t an issue. The 750Li xDrive feels so much like a rear-wheel-drive car in moderately aggressive driving that I had to recheck the “xDrive” badges on the front doors. Power is shunted to the front wheels only when the rears lose traction, and the rears don’t lose traction readily. Easily controllable throttle-induced oversteer remains a very real possibility.

The new 5 feels so smooth and quiet, I wondered what could be gained by stepping up to the 7. Quite a bit, it turns out. Within the first 50 feet it’s evident that the 7 possesses the sort of silky smoothness and insulated quietness that Lexus brought to the table. Your ears and the seat of your pants will attest that the larger car is a substantial step up from the 5. It sounds and feels like the $100,000 car it is.

And this, in the end, is what justifies the 7 even more than the additional rear seat room: compared to the 5, it simply looks, sounds, and feels more upscale and luxurious. With the F01, BMW has somehow managed to combine the silent smoothness of a Lexus with the handling for which its cars are known. Sure, the driving experience is more insulated than in a 5, but it’s not overly insulated for this class of car. It feels far better on a curvy road than any car pushing 5,000 pounds has a right to. Now is it worth the extra cost? For people seeking the highest level of luxury in a driver-oriented car, yes, it is. Perhaps the 7’s additional luxuriousness and rear seat room isn’t worth $18,000+ to you? Then spend “only” $67,000 or so on a perfomance-optioned 550i and perhaps feel like you’re getting a bargain.

Michael Kraesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of vehicle reliability and pricing data

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39 Comments on “Review: 2010 BMW 750Li xDrive...”

  • avatar

    This car isn’t beautiful, but it looks okay. It lacks the style and presence of an S-class or A8.

    I don’t understand why it is difficult for BMW to use their design language and design a beautiful car. I think the E38 is by far one of the best looking sedans ever made, and yet both of it’s successors have not been able to come close to the elegance and aggressiveness that car had.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that the E38 was a great looking car. If you want timelessness, that’s the 7 to get. And yes, both successors have been pretty underwhelming in comparison, stylistically speaking. The current S-Class is the best looking of the bunch, I think. It’s not stunning, but it’s not bad by any means.

    • 0 avatar

      I actually find the E32 the most attractive 7. The E38 had less edge to it, and the thick black rockers always looked heavy to me.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll add my vote for the E32 as well. It has the classic BMW look, I suspect some of it Claus Luthe influence, and with only minor updates would still look modern today.

    • 0 avatar
      barney rubble

      Having owned a few mercedes vehicles in the last few years I would say anyone who owns one is a sucker.   There is indeed a sucker born every minute.   I only buy Audis or BMWs now, currently I own a A8L and like it.   Mercedes will cheat the living heck out of you at the dealer, warranty, service, and any dealing you may have with the corporation.   They are just milking a name, knowing people believe whatever they hear like lemmings.   Look at the banking crisis- all lemmings heading off a cliff.   

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder. Personally this car and the LS are quietly statesman-like and elegent. The S-class is clownish and the A8 boring.

    Now if the S-class could adopt the E-class language…..

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, but, try as I might, I just can’t envision Jason Stratham driving one of these.

  • avatar

    For the benefit of non-fanboys: the ‘F10’ mentioned a couple times above is the latest generation of the 5-series. Might be worth an edit.

  • avatar

    So the 5 is slightly less driver focused than the last version and the 7 is slightly more? Interesting.

  • avatar

    New 7 and 5 series are both very handsome designs, understated but with character. Mercedes too lumpy/busy. Audi is just getting boring.

  • avatar

    Isn’t it Bimmer were slow in putting the X drive into these Bavarian Yacht?
    As Merc did put AWD in their s 500,600 for a few yrs already.
    Another thing wonder why Merc didn’t have AWD in their Maybach?

    I suppose most folks who own one of these would have another X 5,6 3, ML etcs.
    But weather can change in a sudden when u dont have AWD u kind of stuck.
    Mind u I had been in the worse snow storm in Vancouver which is not known for these inclement weather, but my loaded 126 with snow tire and another time with almost Kojak looked tired did managed to gimp home across some hill top. I need the traction from the side wall rubbing the curb. I thought I had to walk home , thank God I made it.

  • avatar

    It’s an execucruiser, and it’s an old man’s car. That’s not a bad thing – old corporate guys need cars too – and this year’s edition completely confirms my longstanding interpretation of the role the 7-series plays.

    As for the styling, I think the understated elegance of the lines suit the car well. I was never in sympathy with the urge to make non-sporting, pinnacle cars look or drive “hot”. Why would anyone who had arrived – or wanted to look like they had – drive something that gives off a nouveau, mid-life-crisis vibe?

  • avatar

    The design looks a bit bland, but blandness rarely hurts sales.

  • avatar

    I just drove one of these F01’s the other day and after getting back in my 2 year old E66 750Li I greatly preferred its drive to the new one. Setting aside the styling issues, which are there in the Bangle cars, the new cars BMW is producing have less character, less road feel and more refinement- like a cross between Lexus and Merc. I told the salesman if I wanted that kind of car I would just get another Lexus and dispense with the reliability issues of BMW – which have been greatly dogging my E66. The E66 car feels better to my traditional BMW taste. I think what’s happening is that BMW is catering more and more to Asian tastes, which run soft and Lexus-like. The new tech layers like 4 wheel steering and the new multi-link air suspension isolate you from the road too much in my view. (…wait for the new M5?)

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, I also agree BMW is becoming somewhat soft and feminine. Japanese like almost.

    • 0 avatar

      sandmed, what issues were you having with the E66? I’m imagining electrical niggles, but I am curious.

    • 0 avatar

      My E66 car is not a disaster but it has a bad hesitation when you step on the gas (only after the engine warms up). The dealer tried their best to fix it – kept the car 10 days and upgraded all the software but the problem persists. The theory is it’s carbon deposits and I’m waiting for the dealer to get a carbon blaster. In addition it had a bad fuel level sensor, and it’s given a transmission failure warning which the dealer said was a false alarm.

      This car has valvetronic which BMW has since quit for direct injection. That could make it more sensitive to carbon build-up. Last week an independent shop told me the E66 car is so expensive to fix I should sell it and lease the F01 before it goes out of warranty. That’s probably good general advice for all big German cars since they depreciate so fast!

      I’ve heard the direct injection engines are giving everyone fits in the US because of our poor quality gas. There are severe carbon build-up problems showing up in BMW’s and mini’s, probably in Porsche’s and Audi’s, too.

  • avatar

    Do buyers of the 7 series care about driving dynamics? How many are chauffeured? Does this car have more/less tech than Audi/Merc?

    When you have that much money, the decision comes down to which badge you want, doesn’t it?

  • avatar

    Side view makes me think of a Mopar car.

    Is that bad?

    Modern Mopar.

    Not a Superbird or Duster or Dart or any other older Mopar… just to keep things clear, yah’ know.

    Not that I got anything against Corinthian leather et. al.

  • avatar

    750li x-drive touring with 6mt anyone? Ooooh Ohh 7**LId x-drive touring!

    Things we will never see.

  • avatar

    Something-something-Jaguar XJL-and-Hyundai Equus.

  • avatar

    Hyundai Genesis looks classier.

  • avatar

    The long wheelbase 7 has gone from a little too long to being comically long. It’s very bland as well both in and out. Blah

    Combine the proportions of the E38 with the exterior details of the E65 and the powertrains of the F01… vinnar

  • avatar

    I’d rather have an S-Class instead.

  • avatar

    I like the looks, though it continues a 7-Series of theme of strange tail/trunk styling.

  • avatar

    Best car I’v ever driven. But, I’ll never give up my Sclass for a BMW. That’s just treachery.

    The 750 suffered from several problems:

    #1 There was turbo lag
    #2 the front is cramped
    #3 the options are ridiculously priced
    #4 too much road noise
    #5 not enough isolation from the road

  • avatar

    It looks fat and toad-like.

    Anyway, I’m sure they’ll sell a lot of them in China.

  • avatar

    Who care’s look what Jag have just unveiled at Pebble beach:

  • avatar

    Nice lines actually. I like it. But seriously, a shark fin antenna on a car with a six-figure price tag? Maybe six years ago. Surely BMW can find a way to make that disappear and salvage that otherwise nice profile.

    Memo to luxobarge designers: understatement, understatement, understatement.

    What I really look forward to is the manufacturer who can rediscover the truly beautiful colors–I am really tired of silver and that metallic turd color sometimes called champagne. I bet 90% of the new 7-series will be one of those two colors. Please bring back midnight blue that almost looks black; oxblood dark, dark, red; sky blue, and so on. Black and white are still good. How about a true red or a true BRG? That greenish tan color like the underside of an olive leaf? This will probably mean a shift back to non-metallic paints, but there is serious potential there. A new color palette would make a huge difference. Look at the colors of luxury cars in the 1930s, 1940s, and even 1950s. And what do we get: silver.

    • 0 avatar
      cole carrera

      I saw one of these in a pretty special shade of brown not long ago. Different than an equally nice brown e60 I saw before that but still nice and I doubt either were custom. The cool colors do exist but most won’t want them so why bother? At least Porsche cares

      Nice review Michael. I would think to ask if it feels faster than the v8 5 but perhaps just as fast is good enough. (At least BMW has a modern V12… (that doesn’t sound like a compacted air conditioner at idle))

    • 0 avatar

      This thing looks like a Chinese knock-off of a BMW. The exterior design is bland and generic in the extreme and does not suit BMW’s flagship vehicle whatsoever.

  • avatar

    How many gears does an automatic need? I thought there was no performance or economy benefit beyond seven, but now we’re seeing eight-speed autos in luxury cars.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Yawn… do people still buy these?

  • avatar

    Too bad GM killed the Corvair. BMW clearly needs a new one to copy styling from.

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