2009 BMW 750i

Faster, Better-Looking and Easier to Use

2009 BMW 750i
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As I slid myself onto the soft premium leather seats of the all-new BMW 750i, I fearfully anticipated the embarrassment when I, a seasoned automotive journalist, might be forced to stare blankly at the dash of the new flagship Bimmer in technological confusion. Would the smiles on the faces of BMW’s PR folks turn to snickers, as I struggled to even begin to operate a car that over the years has become known more for its incomprehensible iDrive system than for premium luxury and performance?

Not at all.

FAST FACTS

1. The new 750i is powered by a twin-turbo 4.4L V8 with 400hp and 450 ft-lbs of torque. That’s 40 more ponies and 90 more ft-lbs than the last 7 Series.

2. The iDrive has been all-but eliminated with individual buttons for almost every system in the vehicle.

3. Technological highlights include a Head-Up display, Night Vision, Active Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning and an Active Cruise Control that even lets you keep a set distance in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

4. Integral Active Steering allows for three degrees of rear steering to increase stability and maneuverability.

With the key fob still in my hand I pushed the Start button and the twin-turbocharged V8 came to life in a civilized fashion. “That was easy,” I though.

The ease of use doesn’t end there either. BMW has vastly improved its iDrive system for the new 7 Series, making the many complex features on the luxury saloon simple to operate. BMW might like to call it “revised” but in actuality the system as it existed before has been all but eliminated.

Sure there’s still a screen, and a control knob and a few buttons, but the only systems you need that control knob for are the navigation and the audio system, and even then almost every aspect of the stereo can be controlled from buttons on the center stack. You can surf through channels, set presets and switch between AM and FM using the dash buttons. Only if you are looking for more access to the Satellite radio, or more complex things, like audio balance and treble or bass settings, need you get into the iDrive control.

And just above the iDrive controller are several shortcut buttons, clearly marked for the Radio, CD, Navigation and Bluetooth operations, so you don’t have to search in the iDrive directory.

Not only is the reduced use of what iDrive controls brilliant, but so is how it works. It’s genuinely simple. The real amazing thing, however, might be that BMW managed to add all those buttons without making anything look cluttered.

The only thing I never did figure out how to do was to scroll through my channel presets.

PLENTY OF NEW TECH GADGETS

As for the more complex toys offered on the 7 Series, access to all of those is located just to the left of the steering wheel. There you can find buttons for things like the Head-Up Display, Active Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection and Night Vision.

Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Detection both come in a package, along with BMW’s High Beam Assist, which dims the headlights for oncoming traffic. I vastly preferred the lane departure system to many I have tried, as it alerts the driver by adding a small amount of vibration to the steering wheel – instead of any loud sounds.

The $1,300 Head-up Display is also fabulous, projecting the vehicle’s speed (and other info) onto the bottom of the windshield. By doing so, the driver doesn’t have to look far to check his speed.

As for the Active Cruise Control ($2,400), at first it seems like one of the most trivial gimmicks ever offered on a car, but it is anything but. Not only is it possible to set a following distance (up to a driver selected maximum speed) from a vehicle ahead while cruising on the highway, but it also works at low speeds in traffic. A driver can set the space between the 7 Series and the car in front and that space will be maintained, even bringing the vehicle to a complete stop or accelerating up to a driver-selected speed. Brilliant!

With the gas and brakes taken care of, all the 750 needs is a way to navigate. Then I could have hopped into the back to enjoy a movie on one of the two 8-inch LCD screen.

The only technological feature on the 750 I didn’t enjoy, or to be more accurate “didn’t see the need for,” was the Night Vision system. By pressing the Night Vision button, the center screen can display objects detected in front of the car. The only problem is, BMW’s impressive bi-xenon headlights, when combined with my eyes, can do exactly the same thing. Unless you live in an area that gets a lot of fog, I can’t see this feature being worth the added $2,600.

DRIVING DYNAMICS CONTROL GIVES DRIVER CHOICES

Of the other buttons on the 7 Series, I have yet to talk about what might just be the most important – the ones that control BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system. Located just to the left of the gear shifter on the center console are two buttons with arrows on them, and the words “Sport” and “Comfort.” To adjust the driving dynamics of the car, just scroll through the different preset categories as displayed on the dash.

The categories are Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. Each selection has its own preset settings for the throttle response, transmission shift characteristics, the level of power-steering assist and shock absorber firmness.

Personally I felt anything but Sport or Sport Plus offered a gas pedal feel that was completely vague and required you to push it half way down before the car responded at all. Sport Plus, however, was delightful. It’s also important to note that BMW’s Dynamic Damping Control suspension is constantly adjusting the shock settings to the road conditions no matter what setting you choose.

CLASICALLY-BMW: LUXURIOUS YET SIMPLE INTERIOR

As for the rest of the cabin it is luxurious and yet simple in a classically-BMW sort of way. There is, of course, leather everywhere, including on the dash-top and a massive (23.6”x36.2”) moonroof brings plenty of light into the cabin.

There’s a four-way climate control system and the front seats feature gazillion-way adjustability with lumbar, heating and ventilation. There’s more rear-seat legroom thanks to a wheelbase that is 5.5-inches longer than the previous 7, and headroom has also been increased.

One stand-out option on the car are the soft-close doors, which suck themselves closed if you just get the door to touch the frame.

If you’ve read anything on the new 7 Series it most likely mentioned the black-panel that is used instead of traditional gauges. That’s only half-true though, as the gauge surrounds and needles are actually static pieces and it’s just the speedometer and tachometer numbers, (as well as a few other details), that are electronically displayed on the screen.

If I really have any complaint about the interior though, it would be that the audio system didn’t quite have the volume I expected it to.

KISS THAT BANGLE-BUTT GOODBYE

When it comes to the exterior design of the new 7 Series, it is as much improved as the iDrive system. Gone is the Bangle-Butt, and in it’s place is a stunning physique with nice flowing taillights and exhaust finishers that are integrated into the bumpers, while up front there are two simply massive kidney-shaped grilles that give the car a look reminiscent of the Concept CS.

Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, but BMW offers several upgrades, from 19- to 21-inch rollers. Our test vehicle came on 20s and looked stunning, svelte and sophisticated.

GOBS MORE POWER FROM TWIN-TURBO V8

Like with the iDrive and the exterior design, BMW has made simply massive strides with an all-new powerplant for the 7 Series. Gone is the old 4.8-liter V8 in favor of a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter unit.

Output is 400hp at 5000 rpm and 450 ft-lbs of torque from 1750 rpm to 4500 rpm. The previous model had just 360 of each and this new engine delivers power across a wider range. And despite the use of turbos, there’s no noticeable lag. That torque number is particularly impressive as it’s actually 6 ft-lbs more than the torque offered in the previous V12-powered 760.

Put all this power together and BMW says the 750i can hit 62 mph in 5.2 seconds. Better yet, keep the pedal down and the surge of silky smooth power just keeps on coming.

As for fuel-economy, there are no EPA ratings yet for the vehicle (not that owners will care all that much), but in my experience the boosted V8 drank petrol to a slower degree than expected.

The engine is quiet under almost any operation but at wide-open throttle and at higher rpms it does begin to sing. I did, however, notice that the engine’s idle was a low 500 rpm and when sitting still a mild shudder was evident.

SAFETY INNOVATIONS INCLUDE ACTIVE REAR STEERING

In the safety department, the 7 Series has all of the usual airbags and braking systems, but as expected on a vehicle of this caliber, it also has some impressive extras.

The world’s first Integral Active Steering system combines BMW’s variable front steering with speed-sensitive active rear steering, which can adjust the angle of the rear wheels by as much as three percent. At high-speeds the wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels to increase vehicle stability, while at low speeds they turn in the opposite direction to help maneuverability. Three degrees may seem small but the turning circle of the 750 is far smaller than expected, making urban driving pleasant and tight parking garages easy to navigate.

And for those rare occasions when you don’t know what’s wrong with your vehicle, BMW has loaded the entire owner’s manual into the vehicle hard drive, which can be accessed through the now simple-to-use iDrive system.

Of course the new 7 comes standard with Park Distance Control sensors that beep to let you know how close you are to objects. I prefer this more rudimentary system to the backup camera, so I wouldn’t tick that option box, but if a backup camera is for you then you’re sure to appreciate the side cameras as well. Besides, it’s only a $750.

One other safety feature worth noting are the brake lights which illuminate to a higher degree when under the hardest braking to make sure vehicles behind you are aware of the change in speed.

THE VERDICT

The price of entry is $80,300 (104,900 CDN) but as expected all those extra features really add up, bringing the total on our tester to $102,125 (128,000 CDN). You’ll have a tough choice trying to do without any of these toys, however, and we do insist you opt for a big set of wheels and tires.

Sure there’s new sheet metal, plenty of added power and new technological innovations, but on a flagship vehicle like the 750i, buyers expect no less. The new 7 delivers in those two areas and does a lot more. It simplifies the operating experience while at the same time adding technological advances – a refreshing change.

PLUS

Simple to use iDrive system New look and no Bangle-Butt Powerful twin-turbo V8 engine

MINUS

Unimpressive audio system Engine “shudder” at idle Lack of personalization for “dynamic” settings

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