The night vision system isn't as useful as that found in the Mercedes-Benz S550. Whereas the S550 places the forward display on the instrument cluster, BMW puts its night vision display on its LCD, which isn't as convenient for a quick glance while driving on dark roads. The pedestrian detection was somewhat successful, identifying individual people on the screen. But it doesn't identify groups of people or bicyclists.
As we cruise in the 750Li, we take advantage of its audio system, which features enough audio sources to keep us happy. The music source we rely on the most is the iPod connector, which easily connects to an iPhone we've already paired to the car's Bluetooth phone system. The new iDrive makes it very easy to locate albums or artists using the car's big LCD. We could also plug a USB drive with MP3 tracks into the same port used for the iPod cable, or use the car's six disc changer. There is also the option of ripping CDs to the car's hard drive, which has 12 of its 80 gigabytes reserved for music. If we lacked stored music, the car is equipped with HD and satellite radio.
With 16 speakers, including center channel and subwoofer, and a nine channel amp putting out 825 watts of peak power, the music playing from our iPhone should sound very good. And it does, in general, although not as good as we would like. It's a very nice sound, balanced so as not to favor either highs or lows, but the midrange sounds just a little muddier than high-end systems in competitor's cars. Worse, some tracks actually produce hum in the door speakers, which shows a lack of thorough testing. BMW is one of the few automakers to provide a seven-band equalizer in its stereo system, though, so you can fine-tune the audio to a great degree.
BMW's phone system is excellent, as we've seen in previous models. It quickly ingests a phone's contact list, making it easy to find the names of people you want to call. Our only complaint about this system is the lack of an obvious way to end a call.
Because this car is a BMW, we take it into some serious mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, to get drive time on deserted highways winding through valleys and up the sides of cliffs. Here, the sport setting on both the overall car dynamics and transmission, a six-speed automatic with manual-shift capability, proves its worth.
Although the car does show a little bit of lean, it remains untroubled at high speeds through long, sweeping turns. The transmission doesn't aggressively downshift as we brake before the turns, but it doesn't need to, as the engine's huge horsepower and torque keep the gas pedal responsive.
That same power gives confidence for passing slower traffic. Catching up to sightseers, we wait for an opening, then stomp the gas. Again, there is that brief hesitation before the 750Li lets loose its dogs, building up tremendous speed. The car gets moving so quickly that we come close to doubling the speed limit before reining it in. On public roads, it's difficult to tap all the 750Li's potential. The Sport Plus setting suggests that it could serve as a track day car, although we can't imagine anyone who would buy a 7-series putting it on the track.
BMW's decision to use its twin-turbo system on the 7-series reflects a desire to improve fuel economy while retaining a big horsepower number, something turbochargers can do. But the 750Li, with fuel economy at 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, doesn't escape the gas guzzler tax. During our time with the car, which involved plenty of freeway driving, it never got above 20 mpg, ending up with an average of 17.4 mpg.
With its driver aid technology and updated cabin gadgets, the 2009 BMW 750Li is an impressive tech barge. Add to that its different settings for ride and power-train response and the new twin-turbo V-8, and there's almost too much going on with this car on the tech front. But we can never get enough tech, so the 750Li leaves us awestruck.
Rating the 750Li, its electronic driver aids help push the cabin tech score near the top. The only thing we would like to see are more external data sources integrated with the navigation system. Its performance score is also way up there due to the ingenious engineering of power train and suspension, but its poor fuel economy keeps it from topping this category. Its weakest point is design. Although we like the new iDrive, there are still some quirks about how the various applications are organized. And as for the body style of the car, it doesn't stand out as particularly unique.
|Model||2009 BMW 750Li|
|Power train||Twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||14 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.4 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard drive-based with live traffic standard|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Six disc changer, MP3 compatible|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive port, satellite radio, HD radio, internal hard drive|
|Audio system||825-watt amplifier, 16 speakers|
|Driver aids||Blind spot warning, lane departure warning, night vision with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, collision warning, rear-view camera with guidelines, parking sensors, head-up display, split-view forward camera|
|Price as tested||$110,170|