BMW could streamline access to all these audio sources. It splits Radio and Media into two distinct areas. And I had to go into the Media menu, then choose another menu item called External Devices to access anything I plugged into the USB port. Putting all the sources on a top-level audio menu, as Ford does, would be a better solution.
As rich as the electronic features of the 750Li were, the car's driving character vied equally for my attention. As it did with the X6 M, BMW performs a minor miracle in using engineering to conquer physics. The 750Li includes active dampers, and ours also came with BMW's Integral Active Steering, which turns the rear wheels slightly during cornering.
The results of these two technologies are nothing short of amazing. The 750Li does not belie its 4,660-pound weight; it feels like a big, heavy car. But tossing it through my favorite mountain road featuring miles of quick right and left turns, I found it easy to set the car for each, even when they came one right after another. The 750Li did not wallow, and I could feel the extra help from the steering technology as it brought the rear end of the car around in quicker rotation than the 10-and-a-half-foot wheelbase would normally allow.
Of course, it only performed this well while I had it in its Sport plus setting, one of five driving modes. Dialing it down to Sport, the stability control kept the back of the car from sliding out as much, but it still performed admirably, especially on public roads. These Sport settings not only affect the suspension, but make a big difference when it comes to accelerator response.
Dialing it down one step further, to Comfort, it felt like an Airstream trailer suddenly got attached to the car. That setting immediately took much of the life out of the throttle. However, it did not affect the suspension. The Comfort plus setting added more travel, letting the car roll and wallow, but also more smoothly handling bumps and potholes in the road.
The eight-speed automatic transmission included Sport and manual shift modes, although there were no paddles on the steering wheel. In Sport mode, the transmission behaved well, keeping the revs up when I drove hard. But I had to drive very hard, flooring it on the straights, jamming the brakes hard before the turns, then getting back on the gas quick. Anything less, and Sport mode let the higher gears take over and the engine slow down.
Manual mode delivered shifts that felt very solid for an automatic, but the lack of paddles made it difficult to use consistently. Over my mountain course, I found that third gear worked most of the time, with drops down to second for particularly tight turns. Third gear shows off an incredibly wide power band, going from about 20 mph to over 80.
With the revs kept high, I had no problems getting acceleration when I wanted it, but in standard driving conditions the engine's attention seems to wander. The turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 makes 445 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, which BMW says takes the long 750Li to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.
When I stomped on the accelerator from a stop, the car took a moment to marshal all that power. It began to move forward, then leaped. The 750Li does not simply accelerate, it surges.
In any mode other than Sport or Sport plus, the acceleration felt unpredictable. Driving around town, taking off from a light or trying to make a quick dive into an open spot in traffic, the car hesitated, then shot forward. I had to be ready on the brakes to keep from plowing into the cars ahead.
The uneven acceleration aside, the 750Li showed itself an exceedingly comfortable cruiser, especially on the freeway. At speed, the steering wheel assumed a nice heft, making it easy to keep the car in line over hundreds of miles. Sound insulation kept the cabin nice and quiet, so that I could hear every nuance from the Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Beyond the Sport and Comfort modes, the 750Li includes a mode called EcoPro, which optimizes fuel economy. The accelerator felt slightly more detuned from the Comfort mode, but it still flowed along nicely on the freeway. The EcoPro settings showed a top speed governed at 75 mph, which was adjustable. I noted that EcoPro would not let me accelerate over 75 mph, but it did not keep the car from coasting over that limit.
EcoPro also engaged a coasting mode, which decoupled the engine from the transmission when I took my foot off the gas pedal. This feature let the 750Li roll along, losing speed very slowly on flat roads.
Fuel-saving technologies independent of the EcoPro mode include braking regeneration and idle stop. The former has become a common feature on BMW cars, a trick taken from hybrid vehicles, which captures kinetic energy during braking and stores it as electricity. Braking regeneration makes it so the engine does not have to serve as the sole generator for the car's electricity needs, as in other cars, resulting in better fuel economy.
Idle stop actually shut down the engine when I stopped for traffic lights. I could feel the big V-8 stop and fire up, but the car's big frame damped out most of the harshness. The engine started up pretty fast as soon as I lifted off the brake, but it still takes a beat to get going. I quickly learned to lift off the brake just enough to get the engine going when I expected the light to turn green. If you do not want to deal with priming the engine, BMW includes a convenient switch near the start button to turn off idle stop.
However, knowing that the big car was not consuming any gas when stopped at a light made me feel good. Just 10 years ago, cars this big and powerful generally averaged around 15 mpg. The EPA estimates for the 750Li are 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. Through my course of driving, which included freeways, hard driving in the mountains, and smaller proportion of time in city traffic, the car averaged 20.7 mpg.
Of the driver assistance features available from BMW, the one the 750Li should have had was adaptive cruise control. Given the stature of this car, that technology should come standard. What it did have was blind-spot monitors, surround-view camera system, lane departure warning, and night vision.
The blind-spot system lit up icons in the side mirrors when a car was in the next lane, useful with such a big vehicle. The lane departure system vibrated the steering wheel strongly enough to get a drowsy driver's attention when I let the car slip over a lane line without signaling.
The cameras were also a good option. Nosing out of a garage or blind alley, the front split view camera made it possible to see when it was safe to pull out. The surround view and backup cameras were essential for parking the over 17-foot-long car. The surround view is a bit small, so I had to peer at the screen to see obstacles, but the rear view covered the whole screen, and showed trajectory lines. These lines let me see the path of the 750Li depending on how the wheels were turned.
I did not find night vision particularly useful, although people who live in dark rural areas might like it. The system showed an infrared-enhanced view of the road ahead on the center LCD. The problem with the system is that you need to consistently glance at the LCD while driving, but it does show a good image, with details invisible to the naked eye. I tried the system in heavy fog, but it could penetrate no further than my own sight.
The 2013 BMW 750Li is a true monster of automotive technology. Its handling capabilities make it an excellent choice if Jason Statham happens to be your chauffeur. Its comfort level makes it a prime choice for road trips, although the mid-20s highway fuel economy might cut into the beef jerky budget. Still, considering the size of the car and the power of its engine, BMW managed to wring quite a bit of fuel economy from it.
One of the real delights with the 750Li comes from sitting in the back seat, enjoying the ride and taking advantage of all the available connected features. If airlines offered this degree of entertainment choices, people at airports would be a lot happier. BMW needs to streamline its connected car strategy, but the quantity of features makes it the most connected car I have seen to date.
Despite a few issues with the iDrive interface, the 750Li comes with first-rate electronics for navigation, stereo, and hands-free phone calls. I particularly like the traffic avoidance capabilities of its route guidance, which not only reduce my own stress but probably help fuel economy as well.
The surging acceleration is a noticeable fault, but I adapted to it easily enough. The car has so much power that you cannot expect to floor it in traffic without bad consequences. I never found the acceleration stepping in too slowly for what I wanted.
|Model||2013 BMW 7-series|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct-injection 4.4-liter V-8, eight-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/24 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.7 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based system with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with contact list integration|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based radio, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iPod, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Bang & Olufsen 16-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Night vision, blind-spot monitor, collision warning, head-up display, surround-view camera, rear-view camera, front-view camera|
|Price as tested||$115,245|