BMW 750Li – love the drive but save us from iDrive

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.

After a week behind the wheel of the flagship Bimmer, a stretched 750Li outfitted with a potent V-8 engine, we had barely scratched through the surface layer of gizmos and gadgets available to the owner of one of these amazing German sedans.

The driving experience is wonderful. But learning BMW’s complicated iDrive system and discovering the myriad of innovations available is still disheartening and will surely be a daunting task to most new owners, especially those with little patience and at or near retirement age. And those are the people who are likely to buy this $90,000 car.

The new BMW is a Sherlock Holmes’ mystery to the computer-challenged, and a complicated maze of commands that require 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.

If it seems like we are beating a dead horse, the iDrive has earned the wrath.

It’s a shame that German technology has to be so perplexing. It’s impossible to beat simplicity, something that BMW has been slow to learn considering the beating they have taken in the media about iDrive. On the other hand the all-new Lexus LS 460 is proof that technology can be wrapped up in an intuitive package. BMW aficionados will cringe at the comparison but it seems that Lexus understands the acronym of “kiss.”

To be fair BMW has moved ever so slightly in the direction of user friendliness in its 2007 iteration allowing all the necessary climate controls to be adjusted without activating the iDrive screen. One small step for man.

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. And nothing good comes of distractions.

The heart of the BMW is iDrive, a system that combines nearly 700 functions, is activated on a computer screen by a large round aluminum “joystick” located in approximately the same location as the traditional transmission shifter. 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 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 and push up to get reverse. Pull 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. Its point and shoot and you will hit the target every time.

Optional low-profile 20-inch tires grip the road and together with BMW’s Active Roll Stabilization system give the big 750Li a sports car feel on challenging twists and turns. It was one of best handling large 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 750 because of its vault-like interior. Road and wind noise are well muted. 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 power seats — 20-way up front — and a high-gloss wood. In one word the interior is classy.

The 7-Series comes in two distinct classifications, the 750 with a 4.8-liter 360-horsepower V-8 and the 760 with a 6.0-liter 438-horsepower V-12. Both trim levels are offered in short and long wheelbase configurations designated by “i” and “Li.” We drove the V-12 a couple years back and experienced its massive performance. But the muscular V-8, mated to a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, as found in the 750 provides all the urgency any car needs, measured at 5.7 seconds in 0-to-60 runs and 14.2 seconds at 103 miles per hour in a full-launch quarter-mile run.

Considering the big V-8 is tasked to move nearly 4,600 pounds its advertised gas mileage of 17 in the city and 25 out on the highway is exemplary.

Technology and sophistication do not come without a price. In the case of the 7-Series, it’s a rather hefty price. The 750i starts at $76,575 including destination charge and the 750Li begins at $79,675. But here’s the kicker. Move to the 760Li and you face a premium price of $123,375 for starters.

Our 750Li test car, with stretch-out leg room in back measuring an astounding 43 inches, came in at $94,370 when a long list of options was added. They included navigation, 20-inch wheels, night vision, adaptive cruise control, premium sound and luxury seating.

Controversial styling was part of the deal when the current iteration 7-Series was introduced in 2002. BMW was assailed for the car’s hiked-up rear end that included a trunk lid that looked like an add-on.

BMW has apparently conceded that the critics had some valid concerns. The newest edition 7-Series features a smoothed-out rear, and the funny-looking eyebrows over the headlights have been replaced with less prominent marker lights and clear lens turn signals. All-in-all, a nicer and more luxurious look.

The 7-Series may be the best all-around luxury sedan in the world from its driving dynamics, wonderful interior accommodations and technological gadgetry. However 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 drive of the 7-Series.


Base price: $79,675; as driven, $94,370
Engine: 4.8-liter V-8
Horsepower: 360 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 360 foot-pounds @ 3,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: rear wheels
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 123.2 inches
Length: 203.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,552 pounds
Turning circle: 41.3 feet
Luggage capacity: 18 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 23.3 gallons
EPA rating: 25 highway, 17 city (premium)
0-60: 5.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Lexus LS 460L, Audi A8L Quattro, Mercedes S550

The Good:
• Outstanding driving dynamics for big luxury sedan
• Wonderfully outfitted interior
• Cutting-edge technology

The Bad:
• Mastering the cutting-edge technology is a tedious experience

The Ugly:
• The iDrive system may drive you nuts