Large luxury sedans have a long history of rear-wheel drive layouts. From the 1920s V16 Cadillac to the 1960s Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL 6.9 to the original 1980s BMW 7-Series, they all followed the same template. Only one automaker decided to try something different, and for years, the Audi V8/A8 was the only true executive car to send power to all four wheels. The others claimed that their engineering superiority and technological advancements like traction and stability control meant that they wouldn’t have to ‘corrupt’ the feel of their range-topping models.
|1. For the first time ever in 2010, BMW offers the 7 Series with all-wheel drive on both standard and long-wheelbase models.
2. All 750i and Li models are powered by an incredibly potent twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 with 400-hp and 450 ft-lbs of torque.
3. Pricing starts at $85,000 for the standard 750i xDrive and $88,900 for the 750Li xDrive long wheelbase model.
Slowly but surely, the mighty began to relent. First, Mercedes-Benz adopted its 4MATIC all-wheel drive system into the S-Class sedan in the late ‘90s, and then Lexus added all-wheel drive to its LS when the hybrid 600 h model was launched in 2006. Only BMW persisted.
Now that the new 7-Series is here, however, the company has finally relented to both consumers and its dealer network that were all clamoring for an all-wheel drive model to tame the car’s ferocious power in snowier climes.
Our tester was also the first we’ve driven in the longer chassis of the stretched 750Li, with xDrive all-wheel drive being the real game-changer. The extra few inches of length are added completely between the axles to give limo-quality rear seat comfort and space. The L is more likely to be the chauffer-driven choice, but at least the hired help will enjoy the results.
NEW TWIN-TURBO V8 DOESN’T EVEN TAKE NOTICE OF THE LARGER VEHICLE, OR INCREASED WEIGHT
Mechanically, the 750Li xDrive uses the same twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that’s found in a number of other BMW models, and in this tune produces 400 hp and 450 ft-lbs of torque. Power is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission through the complex all-wheel drive system. The 7 does without the trick torque-vectoring centre differential that makes the X6 so entertaining, but it does retain the standard Driving Dynamics Control and Dynamic Damping Control of the regular models. Those two systems give ridiculous amounts of tweaking from the throttle response and steering effort. Combined with the Active Roll Control, the big 750Li can either mimic American boats of old – pitching and wallowing over bumps – or a modern German sports car with zero suspension travel.
The xDrive all-wheel drive gives an extra amount of security for when you light the 450-ft-lb wick on a damp road, and other than a minor weight increase (to 4,861 lb.) and a slightly higher stance, there is no apparent down-side to choosing the option. The 0-60 mph sprint takes only 5.1 seconds (vs. five flat) and the 750Li xDrive will chug along up to its limited top speed of 150 mph. It even uses the same 245/50/18 run-flat all-season tires on the same 18-inch wheels. Only the small plate on the front fender gives any indication that you’ve selected the all-wheel drive model. It’s all very subtle.
However, the Bimmer gets seriously expensive fuel bills thanks to a thirst for premium unleaded. The EPA mileage estimates are 14/20 mpg (city/why), which means a total estimated highway range of only 434 miles given the car’s small 21.7-gallon tank.
I-DRIVE NO LONGER A REASON NOT TO BUY
Open the cabin door and you’ll be greeted by the now-familiar 7 Series cabin, which rates very highly amongst its rivals. It’s a real throwback to the driver-oriented cabins of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and everything falls right to hand. The standard third-generation iDrive system is the best yet, finally answering all the complaints that drivers have railed against for years. It’s intuitive, quick and generally hassle-free, especially since there are more secondary controls that can be accessed through more than one control.
INCREIBLE LUXURY OPTIONS, INCLUDING TWO REAR EXECUTIVE CHAIRS
And optionally, you can turn the five-seater into a four-seater with a large console separating the individual rear chairs that sprouts another iDrive controller. Two screens integrated in the front seat-backs allow captains of industry to control every detail of their trip, including what route they take to their destination.
Like every other luxury halo model, the $88,900 750Li xDrive offers an amazing array of standard and optional comfort and entertainment equipment. Some of the best include the 20-way multi-contour front seats with adjustable everything and Nappa leather coverings. Options from the Luxury Seating Package ($2,800), the Premium Sound Package ($2,000) and the Driver Assistance Package, which includes blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, are reasonably priced. The $6,500 M Sport Package with 19-inch wheels, black headliner, a sport steering wheel and exterior aerodynamic body kit seems extreme. Outright performance wouldn’t be increased that much, and the 750Li is already a handsome shape. You could just buy the 19-inch wheels and high-performance tires alone for $1,300, which is a much better deal.
Smartly optioned, you could easily keep this executive limo well equipped and personalized to your tastes for under six-figures. The outgoing Audi A8L 4.2 quattro and Lexus LS 460L AWD offer less performance, but similar size and features and better range and fuel economy for between $10,000 and $14,000 less than the BMW. However, to get to the holy-grail – the Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC – requires at least another six thousand dollars minimum. But the Benz is definitely not for those who enjoy driving, while the 750Li xDrive certainly is. For those who live in snowier climes, the xDrive will easily become the default option since it requires so few compromises for the extra stability and poor-weather performance.