The battle between premium German full-size sedans has intensified, with BMW’s latest 7-series sedan planting its flag at the forefront of a very elevated class. Mercedes-Benz’s S-class, Audi’s A8 and Porsche’s Panamera all fall a step behind BMW’s newest offering.
This segment generates many of the new technologies that we experience as drivers. With list prices that regularly climb to over $100,000 per copy, automakers have room to explore innovation and to create exciting interiors and make bold moves. Driving automation is sampled, comfort features are tested by well-heeled guests and owners, while the engineers can lavish all of their finest efforts on powertrains, chassis settings, and general packaging. These cars are ultimately test beds for virtually everything that reaches the masses.
So it is not surprising to see that BMW has pushed the envelope with the new 750i sedan. BMW has recently created the diminutive i3 all-electric car, the i8 electric-hybrid performance car, while announcing the expansion of its South Carolina crossover factory — the place that helps pay for all of the technologies on display in its other products. Without crossover and SUV sales, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes and Audi would be far less relevant in the marketplace than they are today, despite their legendary history.
On day one, the new 750i, with X-drive all-wheel drive, was an imposing, formidable automobile. Brimming with technologies and driving aids, the BMW took a solid 30 minutes of orientation just to feel comfortable with running the radio, let alone driving up the highway. I-Drive remains the central controlling system for audio, navigation and car controls, yet BMW has added Gesture control — with simple hand strokes to manage some devices — plus voice control, as well as several electronic operating aids that some buyers will never realize they needed.
Yet, eight days later the 750i had revealed its true character. It remains The Ultimate Driving Machine while packing a subtitle as the Ultimate Computer and Technology Machine. Tesla may be the media darling with its electric drive cars, however the Germans are not ready to cede driving passion to anyone just yet.
Layered with optional packages, most notable being the Executive Lounge Package, our Gray Metallic sedan was primarily a four-passenger luxury/performance sedan. A huge center console bisects the cabin, creating four very distinct seating positions complemented by massage action, heating and cooling in each seat, as well as power adjustments in the rear along with memory settings up front. Even the armrests and console lid can be heated.
Atop the rear portion of this console rests a Samsung iPad used by rear occupants to control the car’s audio and climate systems, the power rear window shades as well as the dual sunroofs. Passengers can also manipulate the BMW’s Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities to stream videos and entertainment into the dual rear screens. The optional Bowers and Wilkins audio system featured here was outstanding.
With elongated rear doors, BMW will only bring the long-wheelbase version to the States. This new 7-series is roomier and certainly more luxurious in this space than ever before.
While this edition of the 7-series dramatically highlighted the chauffeuring potential of the sedan for buyers in China, the Middle East, or Tinseltown, USA, the new 7-series remains focused on the driving experience too.
Power comes from a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 here, making a stout 445 hp and 480 pound/feet of peak torque running through a sweet eight-speed automatic transmission that features paddle shifters and launch control. Acceleration is swift, in all contexts, and this 4,600-pound car can outmuscle a Mustang GT in any contest of speed you want to create. Toggle between comfort, touring, Sport and Sport+ modes for the chassis and engine settings and you can delight or antagonize invited rear seat guests with your driving acumen — or not. Cruising at 70 mph requires just 1,500 revolutions of the tomb-like V-8, which is 300-rpms under the torque peak. This car hauls the proverbial donkey’s butt.
Standard power in the rear drive 740i is a twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine making 320 hp, while a turbocharged four-cylinder/hybrid package is slated to arrive later this year. BMW also plans to import a turbo-diesel option as well as the V-12 engined 760 at a later date.
With far too many marketers and engineers excited about autonomous driving, the 7-series has a litany of driving aids that bring us much closer to driver-less operation. Accessing these “conveniences” requires one to explore the myriad menu’s and options in the 10.2-inch high-resolution screen atop the central dash via the familiar I-drive controller, as well as numerous switches and controls that are otherwise employed for customary driving — or used to be anyways.
Standard items include the brilliant LED forward lamps that we have come to expect from German automakers, with hidden washers included, plus rain-sensing wipers and even rain-sensing power windows and sunroofs that close automatically even if you are not with the car. Dynamic Stability brings automatic braking and other virtues to the X-drive components.
But then, ladling on the options packages brings extra cost (obviously) but also a host of technologies that transform the 7-series.
Driver Assistance Plus, $1,900, adds surround view 3D camera with selectable viewing — including an overhead perspective that tells you of your complete surroundings, even if there is room to open the doors. When parking, you get a forward camera to aid the process, or, you can employ the automatic Parking Assistant to handle this chore for you. One vendor is producing a Bump Assist program that can use the BMW’s cameras to take instant pictures of anyone that might impact your car, giving you video evidence of a parking collision or vandalism.
If you have also selected the Autobahn Package, $4,100, you gain Active Steering and Active Driving Assist, a whole series of driving aids that includes Traffic Jam Assist where the car can automatically follow the lane markings and the vehicles ahead — without driver involvement, at low speeds.
At road speeds, the BMW will also find its way between lane markings and allow temporary hands-free operation, but the steering wheel sensors detect even tiny finger pressure and requires some adult supervision to maintain a forward path. Forget to signal your intentions, however, for a lane change, and the car’s Lane Keeping Assist will vibrate the steering wheel and actually create tension to resist moving out of your current lane, fighting your efforts. Good for dozing drivers, not so good for low volume traffic environments. There is an off button.
Include Dynamic Cruise — with automatic braking and accelerating, as well as warnings in the HID-heads-up display that a car is blocking your path and impeding your selected pace — and the BMW proves that there is a lot more brain power on display here than what may occupy the driver’s chair. This is good, or bad, depending on your outlook about driving.
The 7-series offers selectable cabin scents, wireless phone charging, plus multiple cabin interior ambience lighting that runs throughout the interior and through the moonroofs. You can wave your foot at the trunk to open it, while the Active Dampers in the adjustable suspension read the road ahead to automatically smooth the ride. With extensive aluminum and structural carbon-fiber construction, the 7-series is quieter, stronger and lighter than the previous edition.
On our last day together, the BMW is unwinding the on-ramp onto I-93 southbound into Boston with two very large black livery sedans ahead. I start pacing the two cars as they move urgently through early Saturday morning metro traffic. I have to draw closer as these sedans are quite unusual looking — they are six-door stretch Cadillac XTS sedans. By South Boston, it is clear that these guys are experienced urban drivers and they are on a mission looking for passengers. At the turn-off for Cape Cod, I pull alongside, nod and give a thumbs-up to the older driver — in his wool chapeau and looking like he could be Tony Soprano’s personal escort — and he replies in kind. My dark BMW could be filling the same role he has for the day — but with more verve.
If the BMW 3-series is a great BMW — and it is — then every successive BMW model must be greater, or better, in some way right? The new 7-series certainly can make that claim; it performs like a BMW is required to, while exuding the luxury and technology that is also expected today.
Pricing for the 7-series starts at $82,295 for rear drive, 740i six-cylinder models. The 750i with X-drive begins at $97,400. As shown, $129,245.
EPA mileage estimates are 16/25/19-mpg for the 750i.
The new 7 is the largest version offered here, measuring 207 inches long on a 126-inch wheelbase.