BMW 750Li — Learning to love iDrive

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We wrote in the spring of 2002 that the all-new iDrive system in the 2002 BMW 7-Series was a “Sherlock Holmes mystery” decipherable by only the most computer-savvy people.

And we opined that the typical over-50 customer was probably too technology-challenged and would be forced into hours of reading the manual to access the many available features on the new car.

To say that iDrive arrived before its time is not we feel an exaggeration. Operating the joystick-driven iDrive took concentration away from the actual driving. You think texting is too distracting to be allowed in a vehicle, spend some time with the first edition of iDrive.

Bugs were many and we have talked to more than one person who drove loaner cars more than their 7-Series while waiting for their BMW to emerge from the shop. One person we know gave up on the 7 after six months and purchased another luxury brand.

But perhaps what has finally solidified our conclusion that iDrive was released too soon, was a recent 2,500-mile trip in a 2010 750Li.

For those who have heard the iDrive horror stories (many written by us), and have been “put off” of a BMW purchase, fear no more. We say head to your nearest BMW store and let a salesman give you an iDrive test drive. You will be impressed and amazed. We are.

The infamous iDrive multipurpose knob is still there, but surrounding the knob on the center console are several clearly marked menu select buttons that take you right to the radio, navigation and other features. You simply use the knob for scrolling and selecting.
The newest version is the epitome of advanced technology for the masses. It is what the first version was not — user friendly. We can’t attest to reliability, but in eight days and more than 2,500 miles the car and its interfaces performed flawlessly.

We must add a quick disclaimer here. There are so many high-tech features available aside from the obvious that it will require an occasional reading of the owner’s manual to become informed as to what they are and how to access them.

But, the bottom line is that for daily driving such things as the audio pre-sets and the climate control system can be operated from the center console like most cars.

Gaining entry to audio controls, for example, is as simple as pushing the button marked “radio.” Same for selecting the navigation system. From there, grab the joystick and BMW takes you through the myriad of features in an orderly and easy to decipher manner.

We were delighted to learn that a BMW 7-Series was coming our way for the trip, but at the same time we were petrified at the thought of programming the navigation system.
We would have much preferred a Lexus or an Acura.

That was then. Now we say without exaggeration that we have never encountered a navigation system as easy to operate as the one found in the BMW. No matter your destination, it never takes longer than 60 seconds to program. And once programmed, the system is as accurate and instructive as any we’ve encountered.

Our BMW came with a head-up display (as good and as readable as some jets we’ve been in), and BMW has put driving instructions on the windshield along with speed and cruise control information. There was never need to look down at the navigation screen. Turns were displayed seven miles out and clear follow-up instructions were issued by the navigation voice within a mile of the turn.

If you drive a lot and use navigation, we recommend the $1,300 head-up display and we also recommend the $2,400 active cruise control. Again, we have not encountered a better system. We literally drove 200 interstate miles without ever using the accelerator or brake with cruise engaged.

But unquestionably more important than any of these high-tech driving aids is the actual driving experience. You won’t be disappointed.

The 7-Series has the athletic character of a 3-Series and the performance of a muscle car. Its ride can be changed with the push of a button from plush to sporty. And it will stop with the best of them.

Both the 750i and the stretched 750Li come with a 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 that makes 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. The engine is strong and silent with power sent through a six-speed automatic transmission. It provides quick performance measured from 0-to-60 mph in 5.2 seconds and with a quarter-mile time of 13.5 seconds reaching 104 mph. The nearly 5,000-pound 750Li can be stopped from 60 in about 115 feet.

We moved ahead of oncoming traffic with ease. We quickly and safely eradicated ourselves from a couple of traffic snarls and we never had to fear safely passing in close quarters.

There is a downside, measured at 14 mpg city and 21 mpg highway with premium gas. True to the EPA estimate, we averaged exactly 21 mpg for 2,500 miles. While we gloomily forked over big bucks for gas, we assume that for most people who own this car filling the tank will be of little concern.

While driving was amazingly stress-free, the passenger compartment was equally rewarding for our riders. It is one of the better places to spend seven or eight hours a day on the road.

One rear-seat passenger enjoyed a movie on DVD watching on a screen mounted to the front seatback and listening through headphones. If so desired, a second passenger good have watched a different movie on the other screen, the DVDs playing through a six-disc changer located under the glovebox. That’s a $2,200 option.

The seats in all four corners were magnificent. The rear seats are molded like buckets for comfort, and leg room in the stretched L version was ample. We rode a third person in back for a couple of short jaunts, but as big as the 750Li is, it best used as a four-passenger vehicle.

This very enticing luxury comes with a rather hefty price. The standard 750i carries a base of $82,125 including destination charge and a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. The slightly larger Li starts at $86,025. Be advised, however, that there are numerous pricey options that will gain your attention. Pick and choose wisely. Our test car came with numerous extras, some we enjoyed and others we could have done without including the automatic trunk opener for $1,700. The bottom line was $110,170.

There’s an old adage – “you get what you pay for,” so if you can afford it – get it!

Base price: $86,180; as driven, $110,170
Engine: 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8
Horsepower: 400 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 450 foot-pounds @ 1,800 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 126.4 inches
Length: 205.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,641 pounds
Turning circle: 41.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 14 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21.7 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 21 mpg highway, 14 mpg city
0-60: 5.2 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Lexus LS 460, Mercedes S-Class, Jaguar XJ

The Good:
• Powerful V-8 engine
• Great seats, inviting luxurious interior
• Outstanding navigation system

The Bad:
• Break out the books to learn the vehicle's technology offerings and operations

The Ugly:
• It might not matter to owners, but gas mileage is anemic