What would you call the perfect car? No we’re talking about the perfect sports car, GT, supercar or even sports sedan. We’re talking about a car that can do it all. Transport four comfortably, exude luxury and always have a little more performance than is actually necessary. A car that does all you ask without letting you know it can do a lot more. Of every car I’ve ever driven it’s the large German saloons that best live up to this ideal. Cars like the 70′s era Mercedes 300SEL with the mythical 6.3L V8 have demonstrated what a car could be without shouting. In the BMW world it was the first 750 in the late 80′s with BMW’s first V12 that one could argue set the tone for future 7 Series.
These cars have presence on the road that is hard to match. The 2009 750i carries on that tradition of effortless performance, subtle flamboyance and incredible technology. It also creates a unique on-road experience that makes you look at the act of automotive transportation a little differently. It makes other cars look inconsequential and SUVs look ridiculous.
In my mind there are four pillars that really encapsulate the 7 Series experience. The most dominate in the 750i is the 4.4L twin turbo V8. It’s an incredible engine not only in its packaging (both turbos somehow reside within the “V” of the engine) but also in it’s power and relative efficiency. In the city under relatively aggressive driving (transmission in SD mode) the 750i routinely returned just under 20 mpg. That number may not sound that impressive but considering the fact that the engine has to motivate 4564 lbs of car it’s actually quite good . The M3 sedan we tested last year barely got 19 mpg on the highway and didn’t get near 15 mpg in the city. Of course it’s hard to compare the two engines but the numbers are so close it’s too tempting to not. The 750i’s engine puts out a little less power (400 hp) but a whole lot more torque at 450 ft lbs (vs 295 ft lbs). And there are even reports that BMW is being quite conservative with those numbers. After spending a week with the car I’d believe it.
As you’d expect with the torque and the lower redline, the twin turbo found in the 7 makes a lot more sense for every day use. The torque makes the engine feel unbeatable and the turbos give it efficiency that the M3′s 4.0L V8 can’t touch. Maybe ///M has the right idea by basing future engines off of the 7′s V8 (known internally at BMW as the N63B44), but that’s a debate for another time.
The powerplant itself is just about as perfect as you could get for the job at hand. Admirable efficiency, loads of usable torque and a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds make it as well rounded as large engines get these days.
Yet it’s not just the engine that is the star of the show here. Another pillar of the experience (and one that truly makes this a BMW) is the way the car shrinks around you and become the surprisingly agile sports sedan. It’s the kind of thing the 7er has has historically been known for and it’s here despite the larger size and weight. The suspension comes with four settings (ranging from comfort to sport plus) that allows the driver to tailor the handling feel of the car to their own needs. Comfort and normal are what you’d expect. However what I didn’t expect was the level of difference sport plus gives you. Where some artificially weighted steering settings can feel, well artificial, the 750i’s set-up genuinely feels like you’ve made a mechanical change that has subtly altered the character of the car. Combined with more aggressive throttle mapping and a transmission that holds gears up to redline if needed, the result is essentially a button enabled sport package. Unsurprisingly, this is what BMW was aiming for and likely what most 7er buyers want.
When pushed into corners it allows the car to feel controllable and relatively chuck-able. Of course this isn’t an ///M car and thus BMW lawyers don’t need to worry, as it still has plenty of understeer at the limit. The 750i in sport plus mode feels smaller than 4500 lbs has a right to in spirited driving situations.
Another pillar of the 7 Series experience is technology. Over the years the stakes have been upped and new players have come into the field of luxury sports saloons. Yet the 7 Series has always held it’s own. In the F01 BMW has a vast array of technical goodies meant to lessen the blow of the everyday world and allow you to drive the car in the manner you prefer. Instead of going through this technology in detail here, we’re going to refer to our previous article on the F01 gadgets we published earlier this year. However we will give you some insight into what works and what could be left off of the spec sheet.
The single most impressive piece of kit comes standard – the new iDrive. There’s nothing here that wasn’t on our 335d tester we raved about last week but suffice to say, the same magic applies here. It’s night and day when compared to the old. In the 7 it receives some great additions such as auto detection of ambient lighting and the individual cars owners manual built in.
Front and rear mounted cameras: the rear proved to be essential in helping navigate out of tight confines – something that obviously happens more often in a 7 over a 3 for instance. The front/side cameras allow you to see around corners in tight urban areas – clearly a very specific task that not everyone would have use for. I managed to use them once within a week’s time but generally they were more a curiosity then anything else.
Night vision was another fascinating piece of kit that I didn’t ever learn to rely on. In less urban environments I could see this becoming more helpful, but when your entire street and surrounding sidewalks are brightly lit there’s little need for it. However it is a cool party trick when you have friends in the car.
The Blind spot detection was surprisingly useful in both highway and city driving. It’s a must in my opinion on a car this size.
The Lane departure system was something I found suited solely for long stretches of highway driving but obviously nothing more.
Ability to manipulate the passengers seat from the driver seat controls – Why is this not on every car.
Driver seat massage. I have to confess I had this one way more than I should of. But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t really see this as an important part of the 7 Series experience. And the massage wasn’t that great.
Automatic trunk opening and closing. A nice touch that seems excessive. However at the very least we can confirm it won’t crush a hand when closing. Instead it detects an object in the way and opens back up… don’t ask.
Vented front seats. I’ve felt better systems on cars half the price if I’m honest.
Touch sensitive radio control. What a fantastic idea this is. In fact I didn’t even know about it until I stumbled onto the effect. Here’s how it works, you simply place your finger on one of the eight radio buttons (don’t push down) and a bar slides down from the top of the iDrive monitor giving you details of not only the station you have your finger on but all the other presets as well. It’s a small detail but one that makes this car feel so perfect.
Rear window shades – essential for parents or for anyone who want to feel important.
The tech aspect of this car can’t be overstated. For many buyers this is more important than that wonderful drivetrain or even the dynamics. In fact pulling up to a Merc S63 at a light (which clearly was faster than the 750i) I pondered the nature of a stoplight race in a car like this. In this case I knew I couldn’t win in outright speed but I could clearly out gun him with the kit on the 7er. So he looked at me, I looked at him and then raised the intricate and complex rear shade system. The fact that he noticed was probably more priceless than any win at a stoplight. The light changed and I pulled modestly away with a distinct feeling of satisfaction.
The design of the 7 Series has been a hit topic ever since that fateful summer day in 2001 at the Frankfurt Motorshow when Chris Bangle introduced the Adrian Van Hooydonk designed E65 7 Series. Since that time BMW’s avante garde design aesthetic has drawn both praise and critic from all corners of the automotive and design community, not to mention automotive enthusiasts. With the F01 Mr. Bangle’s team sought to take the 7er to a much more conservative place in creating shapes, angles and areas of tension that were easy to digest. The outcome is a car that has presence but perhaps less character than the previous 7. However it’s easy to look at this car as a design success. From the rear quarter specifically the F01 has a hint of elegance while feeling purposeful and vaguely taut and athletic. It may be from another design era but its result is closer to the E32 7 Series than the E65.
Inside is more of a resounding success in my eyes. Gone is the overarching feeling of modern furniture with little automotive sensibilities and in it’s place is a smartly designed space that provides a sense of occasion while remaining true to BMW’s historic germanic subtleness. Particularly successful is the center console and iDrive screen housing – the latter which seems to be gently placed in a nest of wood and leather. The affect is one of both old-world craftsmanship and high technology that is often missing from automotive interiors. Our test car also came with the $650 optional ceramic controls which create the look of dark chrome. It’s a dramatic touch but one that doesn’t extend to enough of the metal finishes to be worth the money in my opinion.
In many areas the 7 feels so much more bespoke and well thought-out than a 3 (as it should be for the price delta). From the feel of the controls to the way the sunroof operates, there has clearly been a lot of thought put into every detail of this car. It feels less idiot proof and therefore smarter because (presumably) it’s owners demand just that. Because of this the 7 feels so much more special than most BMWs let alone mass produced cars.
The F01 7 Series ushers in a new era at BMW much like the E65 before it. The interior interfaces and the exterior design are the most easily spotted. However it’s the details that never fail to disappoint. Sure there are small issues; the eerily electronic sound the car makes at low speed, the excessive wind noise at high speed just to name two. No the new 7 is not the perfect car. Yet it’s as close to perfection as a BMW 7 Series has come in a very long time. And as BMW enthusiasts we must applaud that. After all, the design, technology and ideas behind this car will make up the future 1, 3, 5 series that most of us will eventually be lusting after.
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