BMW’s 2005 760i is a dream car for the well-heeled

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If you had to name one production car that is loaded with more technology, performance and luxury than anything else on the road you could make an excellent argument for the BMW 7-Series and, more specifically, the 760i.

After a week behind the wheel of the flagship Bimmer, outfitted with a potent V-12 engine, we had barely scratched through the first layer of gizmos and gadgets available to the owner of one of these amazing German sedans.

The driving experience is wonderful, if the iDrive doesn’t drive you crazy.

Learning BMW’s complicated iDrive system and discovering the myriad of innovations built into the car will surely be a daunting  task to most new owners, especially those at or near retirement age. And those are the people who are likely to buy this six-figure car.
The new BMW is a Sherlock Holmes’ mystery to the computer-challenged, and a complicated maze of commands that require a couple hours of book learning for most of the rest of us.

Only those people who live and die with a computer mouse in hand will find the 7-Series operations center a welcome experience on first meeting.

The typical Lincoln Town car owner who decides to step inside a BMW store just to see what German luxury is all about, will quickly retreat to the familiar confines of his American-made luxo-cruiser when he discovers the learning curve necessary to master the intricacies of the 7-Series.

It’s a shame that German technology has to be so perplexing. It’s impossible to beat simplicity, and even at the level reached by the BMW 7-Series, a simpler system surely is possible. One of the big problems, even if you have mastered most of the programs, is that there is the need from time to time to take your eyes off the road to view the information screen.

The heart of the BMW is iDrive, a system that combines nearly 700 functions activated on a computer screen by a large round aluminum “joystick” located in approximately the same place as the traditional transmission shifter.

In fairness to BMW, most people who decide to take the plunge will find it relatively easy, with a few days of practice, to access the basic functions with the “joystick.” And BMW has provided traditional knobs for the most used switchgear such as pre-programmed radio station tuning, stereo volume and climate controls. A step-up from the first version.

A study of the owner’s manual is essential for getting around in each of the major classifications. There are also tricks unique to the BMW for starting the car, shifting gears and turning it off. After a few times out those tasks become second nature.

There’s no key to turn. A rectangular fob is placed into a slot in the dash, the brake is engaged and a big button is pushed to start the engine.

Likewise, the brake must be engaged to stop the engine using the same button.
The gearshift is a short lever on the right of the steering column, similar to a wiper stalk on other cars. Pull out and push up to get reverse. Pull out and push down for drive. Neutral and park are in the middle.

Down shifting can be manually accomplished by pushing one of two buttons on the steering wheel. But it is not possible to up-shift. To regain a higher gear the driver must return to “drive.”

The big Bimmer is rock steady. The speed-sensitive variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering is perfection; point and shoot and you will hit the target every time. Grippy optional low-profile 20-inch tires together with BMW’s Active Roll Stabilization system give the 760i a sports car feel on the twists and turns of back road and mountain driving. It was one of best handling sedans we’ve encountered.
The new technology employs active two-piece anti-roll bars, each hydraulically twisted in opposite directions to counter body roll. The system works so well that when roll reaches a certain point, the system slackens somewhat to remind the driver that it is impossible to overcome the laws of physics.
Speed is deceptive in the 760 because of its vault-like interior. Road and wind noise are well muted. Think Lexus. But more impressive is the way the BMW isolates the driver from his outside environment. Passing cars go by in silence. Even motorcycles are just a distant rumble. It’s an uncanny feeling. BMW has reached a new standard for interior solitude.

The interior is a wonderful place to reside with outstanding leather-clad seats and a high-gloss wood. In one word the interior is classy.

The 7-Series comes in two distinct classifications, the 745 and the 760. Both are now offered in short and long wheelbase configurations designated by ‘I’ and ‘Li.’ The big differences between the two cars are the engine and the price, although the 760 enjoys a few unique amenities.

The 745i and 745Li are powered by a 4.4-liter V-8 generating 325 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. Propelling the 760i and 760Li is an all-aluminum 438-horsepower 6.0-liter V-12 with 48 valves and four overhead camshafts.
It is the first V-12 engine with direct injection in which gas is directly injected into the cylinders, leading to improved performance and better gas mileage.
Until the 2004 model year, only the long-wheelbase 760 was available in the United States. The short-wheelbase version was introduced in 2004 and BMW dubbed it the “ultimate performance” 7-Series sedan.

You will find little argument here. Bury the accelerator and the big 4,800-pound beast variably leaps into action surging to 60 miles per hour in a breath-taking 5.4 seconds. This is accomplished with nearly imperceptible shifts of the flawlessly engineered advanced STEPTRONIC 6-speed automatic transmission.

Like many things on the 760, the transmission has a few features unique to the BMW including a ‘Standby Control’ designed to reduce fuel consumption and the tendency to creep during idling in gear.

760 features that are either optional or not available on the 745 include self-leveling rear suspension, electronic damping control and 20-way power front seats with active support and active ventilation.

As we noted earlier this sedan is loaded with innovations. Some of the more interesting include: Windshield wipers that move automatically every few days to keep the blades from getting permanently set in one position; Lighted outside door handles; A tachometer redline that changes, lower when the engine is cold and higher when it is warmed up, and an orange warning ring in the tachometer that begins at 4,000 rpm and slowly recedes and then disappears as the engine warms up to operating speed on cold mornings; Adaptive taillights that light up more intensely when the brakes are applied aggressively; Programmable cruise control that allows the driver to store up to six desired speeds that can be selected as needed to assist the driver to quickly adapt vehicle speed to specific road conditions and changes in speed limits; Soft-close automatic doors in which doors left slightly ajar will be sucked into a shut position.
Technology and sophistication do not come without a price. In the case of the 7-Series it’s a rather hefty price. The 745i starts at $70,595. But here’s the kicker. Move to the 760i and you face a price premium of $41,300. The 760 starts at $111,895 including a $1,300 gas guzzler tax.

Our test car with only a few options listed for a breath-taking $116,270.

We have left the controversial styling until last because it’s a minor part of this well-executed car in our opinion. BMW has been assailed for the 7-Series’ hiked-up rear-end. And we are also put off by the trunk lid which looks as if it was added as an afterthought.
But after looking at the design for three years now, it seems more on target than it did in 2002. Some of the more obvious styling cues will change in 2006 or 2007 noted some BMW sources.
Our test car’s 20-inch wheels gave the big Bimmer a more aggressive stance and agreeable appearance.

We still think the iDrive is an ill-conceived system - too complicated, time-consuming and distracting. But we’ll swallow the iDrive like a big dose of cod liver oil for the opportunity to experience the wonderful driving dynamics of the 760i.