March 29, 2009
Basically, what we do here at Inside Line — after the powerslides, of course — is give advice. We drive and evaluate hundreds of cars each year and funnel our condensed experience and expertise to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen. We're huge hits at parties. Trouble is, advice is easier to give than receive. For years now, we've been advising friends and family alike to forgo their gas-guzzling, overweight SUVs for large sedans or wagons, even as we've added SUV after SUV to the Inside Line fleet of long-term test cars. And it almost happened again.
When our long-term 2008 BMW X5 finished its tour of duty (and with our evaluations of a 2002 BMW M3 and 2008 BMW 135i due to wrap up shortly), we wanted to replace it with another BMW. Maybe a BMW with the all-new, twin-turbo, 400-horsepower 4.4-liter V8 and the fully revised iDrive control system? And so a 2009 BMW X6 5.0i seemed to be screaming our name. The twin-turbo X6 would certainly have made a fine road-trip toy, and would make for interesting comparisons of utility (or uselessness, take your pick) with our Infiniti FX50. But it was time to take our own advice. Instead of replacing our luxury SUV with a less useful version of essentially the same thing, we chose BMW's newest version of its flagship luxury sedan, the 2009 BMW 750i.
What We Got
While a V12-powered 760 is most likely in the works, the U.S.-spec 2009 7 Series (F01 is BMW's internal engineering code for the car) is currently available only with a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission. This new engine effectively matches the performance of the V12 in the previous-generation 760Li, yet is less expensive and more environmentally friendly. The all-new power plant is rated at 400 hp at 5,500 rpm and 450 pound-feet of torque at only 1,800 rpm.
The EPA rates this drivetrain at 22 mpg highway, which is kind of impressive. Of course, if you stand on it, the speedometer needle will sweep to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds without a whir, buzz or roar, pressing you deep into the backrest of the massive, thronelike seats. It's then you're thankful that this big car has appropriately superb brakes attached to 19-inch wheels which are wrapped in turn by surprisingly sticky Michelin Excellence tires — 245/40R19s in front and 275/40R19s in the back. Together it's a combination that hauls the behemoth down from 60 mph in only 112 feet. Kind of impressive when you remember that the 2009 BMW 750i weighs 4,599 pounds.
iDrive has previously turned even the most tech-savvy automotive journalist into a version of cranky old television commentator Andy Rooney. Frustration with this all-singing, all-dancing control interface for a BMW's entertainment, navigation, ventilation and mechanical calibration has produced countless rants urging a return to paper maps and suspension settings that can be changed only with a toolbox. Thankfully BMW got the message (finally). The F01 7 Series also sports a fully retooled iDrive system that includes not just new shortcut buttons to back up the rotary controller plus a large 10.2-inch screen, but also new, more logical software. You can't evaluate such a system in a day, though, so a long-term experience to find its assets and liabilities clearly seemed in order.
The twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 is standard equipment for the new 2009 BMW 750i. It's a whole lot of motor, so it's only right that to keep it on the road we chose the Sport package ($4,900) which adds 19-inch wheels, active roll stabilization and a sport steering wheel (really, have you ever seen a BMW that didn't have the Sport package?). Other options on our new long-termer include a Luxury Seating package ($2,500), satellite radio ($595) and a nifty Camera package ($750) that shows rearview and front sideview monitors for avoiding those tricky curbs that will leap up and bite your fancy sport wheels if you're not careful.
Do the math and all this works out to a lofty total — yet not far from the norm in this class — of $89,870.
Why We Got It
Although we knew that the time was right for us to stray from the usual lifestyle SUV, it's still not an easy emotional decision. What if we need that third row of seats? Or the cargo hatch? Or the extra ground clearance? Or all-wheel drive? A spoonful of sugar, they say, helps the medicine go down. And, well, at almost $90,000 BMW's new flagship is one helluva helping of sugar.
The new forced-induction V8 represents another step in BMW's evolution toward slightly more responsible performance. It's a direction the company is taking seriously, as it's considering reducing engine displacement across the whole range of models — even in the M division cars — and further replacing normally aspirated engines with smaller-displacement turbocharged ones. Maybe there is a replacement for displacement after all.
At the same time, the forced-induction engine in our long-term 2008 BMW 135i has received mixed reviews during its time with us. While no one doubts the power, its soul and presence is in question, as is its real-world fuel economy. As far as the 7 Series is concerned, a luxury sedan is all about presence, so we wonder whether this turbocharged V8 can fill the spiritual gap left by a similarly powerful V12?
The Price of Entry
So, $90 grand? That's a house, or at least a cottage on a lake. Here in SoCal, of course, it wouldn't get you a driveway, and as far as cars go, $90,000 worth of metal ain't even getting a prime spot at the valet. And yet the 2009 BMW 750i might be different.
Those of us who have driven this car have been surprised that the price tag is below six figures instead of above. It's that good. But such impressions are not really the point of our long-term tests, though; we knew it was good after the 750i first drive. Now we've got 12 months to put 20,000 miles on our new 2009 BMW 750i and really evaluate what we get for $90,000.
Will we miss our cheaper, larger, yet less luxurious luxury SUV? Will the new 7 be able to handle real road trips with real families? Will Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds take it on his now-famous annual family vacation to Oregon? Will we, at the end of the day, question the sanity of purchasing such a vehicle as it sits in our long-term garage door-to-door with a 2009 Hyundai Genesis Sedan that's almost the same size and retails for only $40,000?
Stay tuned to the long-term blogs for real-world driving impressions of the 2009 BMW 750i.
Current Odometer: 3,953
Best Fuel Economy: N/A
Worst Fuel Economy: N/A
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 14.4 mpg
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.