– Looks better than before
– Powerful and efficient engine
– Feature-filled spacious cabin
– A bit too long
– A bit too expensive
– A bit limited in the boot area
BMW’s long-running 7-Series flagship has always been an elegant and classy luxury sedan, right until they unleashed the bloated previous-generation mutant back in 2002. Fast-forward to 2009, and the German manufacturer seems to have rectified their gaffe, turning the 7-Series back into what it originally was — a svelte supercruiser.
Most noticeable is the successful execution of a new front end featuring wider nostrils and angry headlights, although the front bumper is cluttered with random lines that are thankfully missing on the rest of the car’s body. Generous use of LEDs for the front indicators and the huge rear tail lamps make for a briefly-interesting light show at night. Use of chrome is limited to small trim bits, along with some shiny exhaust tips integrated into the rear bumper. And the use of 20-inch alloy wheels made our long-wheelbase 750Li tester look smaller than it really is.
The interior design will be familiar to anyone who has spent time inside any other recent BMW, although new touches made things a bit more interesting. Unique to the 7-Series are inner door handles mounted at shoulder-level, making it easier to pull in the doors, while being cleanly integrated within the wood trim. The iDrive computer itself was also new, controlled using the ubiquitous rotary dial, but now featuring a slew of extra shortcut buttons and a completely new graphical interface on the LCD display. Also fresh were the dual optional DVD screens mounted behind the front seat-backs, large enough to rival some laptops, and also displaying navigation and entertainment options, controllable via a separate rotary dial for rear passengers.
Other notable features include full leather upholstery, including on the dashboard and doors, complemented by soft-touch materials on every inch of the cabin, broken only by some smoked-wood and matte-metal trim. The beige leather in complimented by black cloth headliner and tan floor carpeting, none of which will be easy to keep clean.
There is no shortage of space in the extended-length 750Li. The extra wheelbase is made obvious by the long rear doors, along with the immense amount of rear legroom. All the seats are extra-wide, and even the rear ones recline slightly. While appearing to be a strict four-seater at first glance, a third person can even slip into the rear by folding away the central divider. Unfortunately the boot luggage space under the motorised lid, while cavernous thanks to the lack of a spare wheel, is reduced by random blocks and bulges that possibly house the electronics for devices within the cabin.
The cabin is also brimming with technology, such as the unique-to-BMW joystick shifter, power sunshades for all rear windows, digital a/c with controls for both front and rear passengers, a kicking CD stereo with USB port, a Bluetooth phone that works without issues, a complicated but workable navigation system, power front seats with a weirdly-pokey massage feature, rear-seat vanity mirrors and footrests, heads-up display on the windshield, turning HID headlights, tons of airbags, hideaway cup-holders and a regular sunroof. As with other large BMWs we’ve tested, the a/c takes a good while to cool down the cabin. The LCD display within the gauge cluster showed that the first service was due at 22,000 km, which is BMW’s definition of “low maintenance.”
There was a time when a BMW’s model name denoted its engine size, but the 750Li comes with a turbocharged 4.4-litre V8. Apparently the badge implies that the new turbo engine has as much power as a conventional 5.0-litre motor V12, which would be true. It comes with 407 hp at 5500 rpm and a solid 600 Nm of torque at only 1800 rpm. We recorded a 0-100 kph time of 6.5 seconds in ‘Sport’ mode during our summer test, although the car is supposed to be quicker. It certainly feels quicker on the street, with an abundance of brutal power for highway passing, all delivered with the refinement of a German butler. We even managed a respectable 16.2 litres per 100 km of fuel consumption, with a fair bit of highway driving.
The engine is so muffled that it barely hums at full throttle, making for serenely quiet journeys, but making high-speed corners a bit disconcerting. We approached more than a few corners at excessive speeds, misled by the cocooned cabin that makes speeds seem lower than they really are. The 7-Series cabin is easily among the quietest places to be on the road, made even more surprising by the fact that it rolls on traditionally-noisy runflat tyres on 20-inch rims. There is only a whiff of wind noise at 120 kph and very mild jitteriness on some rough-surfaced roads, if left in ‘Comfort’ mode.
The air suspension and the smooth 6-speed auto gearbox have various settings, adjustable via four electronic modes — namely Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. The most obvious change is in the Sport mode, as the ride becomes firmer and the revs are held for longer before upshifts. While body roll is always minimal and the throttle response is always instant, the manual mode of the tiptronic gearbox has slightly delayed responses and there are no shifter paddles. The steering is ever-so-slightly firm and has a bit of feedback, while the big disc brakes are very strong, and all quick stops are straight and without drama, even when the ABS goes off. And the grip never failed from the 245/40 front and 275/35 rear tyres in moderately-quick driving, although leaving it in ‘Sport’ mode meant that the stability control subtly limited the speed when going around sharper curves. For those with too much faith, the ‘Sport Plus’ mode is there to suppress all electronic nannies.
However, the sporting side of the 7-Series is just a compromise, as the focus is on luxury. The rear camera has guiding lines and the ‘active’ steering system shortens the ratio so that only a flick of the wrist is needed to slip the car into a parking space. The adaptive cruise control means that the brakes are applied automatically if there is a slower car in front during highway cruising. The blind-spot monitoring sensors light up and even vibrate the steering wheel a bit if there are cars in the next lane. The electronic parking brake can be set to automatically engage when waiting at traffic lights. And there are cameras on either side of the front bumper to watch out for cross-traffic when coming out of a tight junction or a gated compound.
With features like those, combined with a relatively efficient and powerful engine, as well as distinct comfort and sport modes, the new-for-2009 BMW 7-Series is easily the most advanced luxury sedan we’ve ever driven.
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