The previous BMW 7 Series was the best-selling 7 Series yet. It was also widely considered to be the worst-looking BMW ever. When this ungainly sedan supplanted the timelessly elegant fourth-generation 7 Series in 2002, it was as if the clock had struck midnight and BMW's gilded stagecoach had been transformed into a lowly pumpkin. Happily, the brain trust in Bavaria has waved its magic wand over the all-new 2009 BMW 750i. With its imposing curbside presence, taut proportions and classic BMW styling cues, the 7 no longer has an exterior only a fairy godmother could love.
As much as we applaud the 7 Series' classy makeover, though, superior engineering may trump stately styling in this segment. For evidence, look no further than the outgoing 7 Series' strong sales — or the handsome Audi A8's lack thereof. Executive sedan shoppers want more than just a pretty face, and with prices starting around $80,000 and escalating quickly, we don't blame them. On this count, too, the news for the 750i is good. The eerily quiet twin-turbo V8 provides bullet-train acceleration, the Sport package gives the 750i the athletic character of a performance car, the interior reeks of quality and sophistication, and the technological features list is as long as an Oktoberfest beer queue. If there's a better all-around luxury sedan at our test car's $91,170 MSRP, we haven't driven it.
Indeed, the main challenge in assessing the 2009 BMW 750i is finding flaws. If you don't believe us, just look at our paltry "Cons" list. The throttle tip-in is legitimately annoying, but our other beefs are only noteworthy because everything else is so spot-on. We've yet to find the perfect car, but the new 7 Series is awfully close to being that mythical beast.
The 2009 BMW 750i is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 rated at 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, with the latter available from just 1,800 rpm. A six-speed automatic with manual control is the only available transmission. At the test track, we recorded a blistering 0-60-mph sprint of 5.2 seconds en route to a 13.5-second quarter-mile at nearly 104 mph. That puts the 750i only fractionally behind the fastest version of the previous-generation 7 Series, the Alpina B7, which stickered for $45,000 more than the 750i's base price. Notably, the 750i also runs neck-and-neck with the considerably pricier Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG. Braking performance was equally impressive — not many 4,599-pound sedans can stop themselves from 60 mph in 112 feet.
On the road, the twin-turbo V8 is notable for both its stunning power and its near-complete lack of aural feedback. Even with the go pedal pinned to the floor, there's only a muted hum to accompany the breastbone-bending acceleration. If the engine weren't so quiet, we probably wouldn't have noticed the unidentified powertrain whine around town that changes pitch depending on engine speed. While we're handing out demerits, that clumsy throttle tip-in has got to go — there's an initial delay when you depress the throttle from rest, and then, whomp! You're off to the races.
Nitpicks notwithstanding, the 750i is a pleasure to drive. It will even oblige your inner F1 driver in tight corners, provided you've selected Sport or Sport Plus from among the Driving Dynamics Control system's four driving modes (Normal and Comfort are the others). Explaining all the differences between Sport and Sport Plus isn't worth our time or yours, so here's what you need to know: They share the same maximally aggressive suspension, throttle and steering settings, and they enable the 750i to handle far better than a full-size luxury liner should. To wit, the 750i slithered through our slalom cones at 66.2 mph, a few tenths faster than a recently tested Audi A4 2.0T Quattro.
This athleticism owes much to the 750i's advanced adjustable suspension, which includes standard adaptive dampers and, on our Sport package-equipped test car, adaptive stabilizer bars (BMW's Active Roll Stabilization). It's worth noting that the Sport package's Integral Active Steering system isn't nearly as communicative as traditional BMW setups, but its responsiveness and precision are commendable for this segment (integral Active Steering became a stand-alone option for 2010). What makes it worthwhile is a trick rear-wheel steering feature that turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction at lower speeds to tighten the turning circle, and in the same direction at higher speeds to aid handling. Sure enough, our 750i executed remarkably tidy U-turns, and while we can't say we felt the rear wheels doing their thing during spirited driving, the car's cornering composure was, as noted, beyond reproach.
The fact that the government slaps the 2009 BMW 750i with a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax should tell you all you need to know about its fuel economy. Against EPA estimates of 15 mpg city and 22 highway, we averaged 14.4 mpg.
In typical BMW fashion, the front seats are superb, with excellent all-around support for long trips, power-adjustable side bolsters for aggressive driving and the 7 Series' trademark independently adjustable upper seatbacks. The armrests could use more padding, however, particularly those on the doors.
The contoured rear seat will easily accommodate two adults, but the cushion is a bit too low for longer legs, and legroom isn't overly impressive given the car's substantial footprint. Rear passengers are treated to four separate climate vents — one on each B-pillar and a pair on the rear console — as well as individual climate-control settings and heated seats.
Even in Comfort driving mode, where the ride quality borders on floaty, the 750i doesn't cushion impacts like the S-Class. Nonetheless, the BMW should prove plenty supple unless nothing short of a magic carpet ride will do. The suspension firms up noticeably in the transition from Normal to Sport, yet it remains adequately compliant over broken pavement. As drivers, we tended to leave it in Sport; as dignified rear-seat passengers, we'd probably request Comfort.
At speed, our 750i was plagued by a persistent whistling noise from the exterior mirrors. There was also excessive wind noise with the sunroof open above 45 mph. Overall, though, the 7 is one of the quietest and most cosseting vehicles we've driven. Watch yourself on the highway, as felonious velocities feel little different from legal ones.
Like everything else inside the 2009 BMW 7 Series, the instrument panel is new, and its lower half consists of a slickly integrated digital display, enabling standard readouts like the odometer and fuel economy gauge to be replaced temporarily by visual navigation directions or a convenient pop-up music track menu. BMW has also revised its much-maligned iDrive multimedia interface, and we're pleased to report that we no longer fantasize about bashing the iDrive knob to bits with a baseball bat.
The seven separate physical buttons — CD, Radio, Nav, Menu, Tel(ephone), Back and Options — simplify matters greatly, and the enormous 10.2-inch display screen, also new, provides stunning graphics as well as plenty of space for useful split-screen operation. On the downside, the nav button is hidden behind the iDrive knob from the driver's perspective, and the distinction between the menu and options functions is not always clear.
Additional interior highlights include user-friendly climate controls (though there's still no "off" button) and the optional Camera package, which provides a crisp back-up camera as well as novel sideview cameras in the front fenders that enhance lateral visibility when exiting parking garages and the like.
Like most BMW sedans, the 750i is short on storage bins and cubbies. Other than the twin cupholders located in front of the shifter, the only center console storage you'll find is underneath the armrest, where a shallow bin resides. Speaking of the cupholders, their rickety plastic construction is the only memorably cheap element in the 750i's rich cabin — they feel like an afterthought, and given the general German disdain for sipping while driving, they probably were.
In our real-world functionality tests, the 750i's trunk proved far more capacious than its official 14-cubic-foot rating would suggest. We had no trouble fitting our standard rollaway suitcase and golf bag back there, though the latter had to be positioned longitudinally rather than across its width. As expected, installing our child safety seat was a cinch in the 750i's commodious rear compartment.
Design/Fit and Finish
BMW's stylists went off the reservation with the previous model, but the new 750i's body represents a welcome return to classic 7 Series form. If anything, we're even bigger fans of the interior design — the center stack is canted toward the driver, as in BMWs of old, and the dashboard is defined by organic curves and top-notch materials quality. We also appreciate that the new iDrive display screen is artfully integrated, as opposed to the previous-generation 7 Series' unsightly iDrive hump. Our 2009 BMW 750i test car felt hewn from granite, with the exception of a squeaky center armrest lid on the driver side.
Who should consider this vehicle
Executive sedan shoppers who want Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG acceleration and BMW handling and engineering at a bargain price.
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