The 7 Series is Back on Top
Sitting at an intersection in the new 2006 BMW 750i, we're hardly surprised when another new BMW 7 Series pulls up alongside us. We're in Pacific Palisades after all, home of the eight-figure house and the six-figure personal chef. In this area, a pair of $70,000 sedans at an intersection looks as natural as a nose job.
The guy looks like C. Everett Coop in a Zegna suit, and his smile says he's enjoying his $70K BMW. But what made him go for the new 750i? Was it the car's new look, its new more powerful V8, or the promise of an easier-to-use iDrive system that drew him to BMW's flagship over a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or an Audi A8?
Who are we kidding? He doesn't even know the BMW is new this year. He just saw it, drove it and fell in love with it.
After our two weeks in the 2006 BMW 750i, which takes the place of the 745i as the standard V8-powered 7 Series, we too have fallen under the car's spell.
The Makeover Makes it Better
The 7 Series of the last four years was designed to break the mold of traditional luxury-sedan design. This year's model was designed to repair it. The changes aren't drastic, but they are effective.
Gone are the odd-shaped headlights and their peculiar-looking "eyebrows." In their place are a set of standard adaptive bi-xenon headlamps with less prominent marker lights and clear turn-signal lenses. Instead of separating the headlights from the rest of the grille work, the new design integrates them into it. The inner edges mirror the shape of the wider twin-kidney grille, while the outer edges reflect the lines of the revised front air dam just below. The overall look is simple, symmetrical and less distracting.
Changes to the rear end are equally subtle. Although the trunk lid is slightly taller than before, its edges have been smoothed out for a less awkward look. The taillights that used to "float" on each side of the license plate have now been pushed to each side where they belong. A simple strip of chrome dresses it up a little and the effect works just well enough to make you forget what it looked like before.
Additional cosmetic changes include new wheel designs and a windshield that's almost an inch higher in relation to the hood, a change that allowed the designers to recline the glass further back for a sleeker profile.
New Engine, New Name
Other than the increase in displacement from 4.4 liters to 4.8 liters, the V8's only significant change compared to last year's engine is a two-stage intake manifold instead of a more complex infinitely variable design. BMW's engineers came to the conclusion that the wider power band of the larger engine made the variable design unnecessary.
With 360 horsepower and 360 pound feet of torque, the 4.8-liter V8 produces 10% more power and 9% more torque than the previous 4.4-liter. Solid improvements, but along with the extra power comes another 110 lbs. to carry around. The six-speed automatic transmission is carried over unchanged, but it's still maybe the best autobox around. Somehow it's always in the right gear. The manual shift buttons on the steering wheel seem superfluous.
You would expect the new 750 to be about as quick as the old one, yet we only managed a best 0-to-60 sprint of 6.4 seconds, with the transmission in sport mode. The last 745i we tested did it in six seconds flat. We can't fully explain this except to say two different cars on two different days at two different test facilities don't always produce the test numbers you expect.
The brakes shrug off the Beamer's extra weight, turning in consistent stops from 60 in just 117 feet.
More Than Numbers
Look at nothing but the numbers and the 750i might not appear to be much of an improvement. But spend some time behind the wheel and two things become obvious: the 7 Series was great before, and it's even better now.
The door swings open lightly yet thumps closed like it weighs twice as much. There's so much room you feel small until you fiddle with the perfectly shaped 20-way adjustable seats that now come standard with the sport package. Upgrade to the luxury seating package and you can lose your chiropractor's number as it adds heating, ventilation and massage functions.
Starting the engine still requires inserting the key fob followed by a push of the "start" button. It's an outdated setup compared to the keyless ignitions of most cars in this class, but you get used to the drill. The turn-signal-sized transmission lever also feels awkward at first, but quickly becomes second nature.
Ergonomic quirks are quickly forgotten with a press of the right pedal. The 750i moves out like a muscle car fresh out of charm school. The torque is immediate, the shifts quick and the noises just right. It feels like it could spin the rear tires even with the huge 275/40R19 meats that come with the sport package.
All 750s get an extra half inch of rear track for improved stability along with revised suspension bushings. Combined with perfectly-weighted steering, which has more feel than we remember (possibly due to the new bushings), the 4,486-pound BMW feels almost tossable. It's a big, heavy car, but it drives with an athleticism that's unique for its class.
If you're looking for a little more comfort, however, go with the Dynamic Drive suspension, which throws fewer jolts your way than the sport package does in day-to-day driving.
It Has its Faults
Unlike the exterior design revisions, the changes on the inside go unnoticed. Some of the climate-control knobs get a new finish and the selection of wood trim has changed. There's still soft-touch leather in all the right places, but if you look closely a few cheap-looking plastics are tucked away in the corners.
And if the iDrive system is easier to use, as BMW claims, we didn't notice. The control knob now has a soft leather top, something you're sure to appreciate the first time you pound it in frustration.
Back on Top
You don't have to be an investment banker in the Palisades to know the 750i is worth $70K. The good stuff is still there and the flaws have been fixed. Our faith in BMW has been renewed.
2006 BMW 750i
System Score: 9.0
Components: Our test car was equipped with the Premium sound package, an $1,800 option that adds the top-of-the-line Logic 7 audio system. That hefty chunk of change gets you an array of 13 speakers along with a six-disc glovebox-mounted CD changer to supplement the single-disc in-dash unit that comes standard. Our system also had the $595 Sirius Satellite Radio option. The individual speaker components include tweeters in both the front A-pillars and rear parcel shelf, a 4-inch midrange driver in each door, three 4-inch woofers in the rear parcel shelf, another 4-inch driver in the dashboard and two 8-inch subwoofers beneath the front seats. New for 2006 are hard buttons on the dash for mode changes. There's also a volume knob and two seek buttons next to the in-dash CD player, but the majority of the system's functions are still located within the iDrive vehicle control system.
Performance: According to BMW, the Logic 7 system is the first of its kind in any automobile (other than its own 7 Series sedan) and was designed to recreate original recordings in the most precise manner possible through its digital audio signal processing software. The explanation is long and complex, but the results are nothing short of spectacular as this system is easily one of the best currently available. We found it nearly impossible to find a genre of music that didn't sound great when running through this system. The soundstage created by the well-placed tweeters, center-channel driver and door speakers sounds just right, not too far out in front but never muddled together either. You can crank up this system to tectonic levels with minimal distortion and the deep bass produced by the under-seat woofers is second to none.
If there's any drawback here it would have to be the iDrive interface as it can present something of a challenge if you don't know exactly what you want. Although improved over the original system, there are still elements of this interface that make day-to-day operation tedious. Once you get the hang of its push-and-play operation there's a lot of functionality built into it (a full-range equalizer, for example), but for anyone just looking to toss in a CD or grab the local traffic report, the iDrive system is still complicated.
Best Feature: Superb sound quality at any volume with any music.
Worst Feature: iDrive interface still lacks everyday functionality.
Conclusion: Easily one of the best systems you can get from a manufacturer, but be prepared to put in some time to figure out how to use it. — Ed Hellwig
Executive Editor Rich Homan says:
If all automakers could make autos with driving dynamics that mirrored those of the BMW 750i, I'd be out of a job.
The V8 engine is sublime, understressed elegance with the on-cam personality of a thunderstorm. The suspension allows sinister playfulness through corners, and endows the big BMW sedan with a smooth ride that puts whipped butter to shame. The brakes are yawnfully secure in their performance and feel. The steering precision is absolute.
Fortunately for me, there's only one BMW. And even better for me, that BMW is not perfect.
The exterior styling of the 7 Series still scares some young children and aging enthusiasts (you may have gotten used to it, but I just can't). And the spectre of iDrive still haunts the interior. As a sidebar issue, I wonder: If iDrive is so cool, why does the 7 Series have redundant controls for the audio and climate control? Huh? Well?
Copycat complication in luxury cars is rampant...and counterintuitive: Mercedes-Benz copies BMW, BMW copies Mercedes. Some people just want to drive in peace.
That rant ranted, the BMW 750i does its best to spoil you for any other car. And while the Audi A8 L and the forthcoming S500 promise to give the 750i a run for its money, this BMW's performance deserves a spirited run for yours.
Senior Editor Scott Oldham says:
Since the fugly version of this car was launched in 2002, I've stalked the local BMW dealers waiting for the right 2001 740iL with the sport package to land on one of their certified pre-owned lots. The right car would be silver and in my price range.
But the new 750i has me questioning my devotion to its predecessor's predecessor. I drove this car for two days and two nights and would have committed all seven deadly sins to get a third. It's fast, awesomely comfortable and constructed with artful precision. I'm even getting the hang of iDrive, another 6 or 7 years and I'll have that thing wired.
For most it was the Beamer's bizarre behind that caused violent retching, but for me it was those droopy headlights that defined hideous. Doesn't matter much now, they're both gone. BMW also widened the rear track a smidge for a tougher stance, and I swear the new suspension bushings have improved the steering feel.
After five long years, the BMW 7 Series is fugly no more, and it is once again one of my favorite cars.
"I was a fan of the 745 styling but I am even happier with the new look. The overall package seems better blended. It is a lovely car and in all senses better than the MB, Audi, or Jag. The build quality is rock solid and it gets decent mileage on the freeway. I am amazed with the acceleration of such a heavy car. My wife loves the performance. She is giddy after driving the car and testing its performance." Bimmer boy, 7/8/05.
"The minute I sat in this car at the dealership I was sold. I didn't even have to drive it. I love the new refined look of the 2006 model. They made some very subtle but nice changes to the exterior. Being in this car is like being in the cockpit of an airplane, and BMW spared no expense when it comes to comfort. This is by far the most comfortable car I have ever had the pleasure of being in. It drives like a dream, smooth yet extremely powerful and quiet. And the features on this car are endless, and so much fun to use. You feel like a king every time you get in and drive. By far the best car on the market, and in a league of its own. Awesome Job BMW!" Bret T., 6/26/05
"This car is awesome all the way around! Makes my 60-minute commute more enjoyable. The responsiveness and handling are incredible (and should be for the price). I'm 6'9" tall and the interior room is incredible...more driver's headroom than my wife's Suburban. There's so much room in the back seat that my kids can actually get in the car without climbing all over the seats. I read numerous negative reviews on the iDrive. Don't listen to the critics. This thing is so easy to use. I mastered it in a couple of hours." Mike A., 5/31/05.