2006 BMW 750Li
The 2006 BMW 750Li is chock-full of electronic vehicle systems for performance, safety, and convenience, and it constitutes an impressive blend of spirited driving and luxurious comfort. The crispness that makes the company's smaller cars worthy of their corporate motto isn't fully present in the 7 Series, but the negative dynamic effects of the car's size are offset by the space it affords inside.
BMW's much-maligned iDrive controller for the main dashboard functions rears its head twice in 750 models equipped with the Rear Entertainment Package, as our car was. Even with the 2006 BMW 750Li's revised submenus, iDrive is indeed difficult to master without a real investment of time. But in a vehicle with such a range of electronic adjustments and features to control and customize, BMW at least deserves points for homogenizing input to such a degree. A small army of knobs and buttons might be more direct and, we dare say, intuitive but would pull the driver's eyes off the road more often.
The L versions of the eight-cylinder 750i and the flagship V-12-equipped 760i sedans are stretched 5.5 inches in both the wheelbase and overall length. Both engines feature the full gamut of BMW's engine-control technologies for efficiency and smooth running, and an advanced chassis-control program lets the driver take full advantage of the power. These are long, heavy cars, but they don't feel that way from behind the wheel.
Second only to the howls over iDrive in the original version of this 7 Series was the reaction to the car's styling. Especially viewed from the rear, that design was ungainly at best and tested the normally steadfast loyalty of many of BMW's best customers. The current car's visual freshening should satisfy critics of flame-surface body panels and rakishly sculpted lens covers. The headlights put a less-dramatic face on things, and the taillights now wrap from the quarter panels into the trunk lid to soften the latter's impact. Our car's 19-inch wheels, a $1,300 option, filled out the wheel openings nicely, also contributing to better overall design cohesion.
The styling improvements increase the desirability of an already top-notch car. With an MSRP of $74,500 and options pushing our as-tested price to $89,840, the 2006 BMW 750Li is not for the faint of checkbook. Prestige and perception are as important in this class of car as performance or comfort, and the biggest BMW now delivers on all fronts.
In terms of sheer passenger comfort, the 2006 BMW 750Li has few rivals among less-than-$100,000 vehicles. Rear Comfort Seats (a $3,500 option) mean that the driver and all three passengers are coddled to the same degree, although only the driver has the heated, power-tilting, and power-telescoping steering wheel automatically moved out of his way when exiting the vehicle. Upon entry, it moves back into position or to one of the programmed memory positions. Sixteen-way power adjustment on the front seats includes four-way lumbar support, an articulated backrest, adjustable side and thigh support, and active head restraints. The optional Comfort Rear Seats offer only fourteen-way power adjustments but include the same heating and cooling offered up front, as well as recline through a range not often seen for rear seats. All four seats offer memory settings, and the available interior wood and leather combinations are varied and of high quality.
The rear-seat armrest on the 750Li includes the reviled iDrive controller, plus seat-adjustment controls.
The rear-seat passengers' good fortune doesn't stop with the seats, as the stretched 2006 BMW 750Li makes huge gains in rear legroom. Carpeted, movable footrests are even included to enhance the limousine effect. Electrically operated shades cover all five rear windows, especially welcome when making use of another of the 750Li's whiz-bang features: the Rear Entertainment Package. This $2,200 option includes a 16:9-format LCD screen playing from a six-DVD changer mounted in the trunk. At 6.5 inches, the screen is sized to fit between the front seats when tilted up into viewing position, and the picture appears sharp. Headphone jacks are part of this system; without headphones, however, the DVD audio plays throughout the car.
This can be intrusive, given the 2006 BMW 750Li's stereo's power and a movie with some explosions or, ahem, car chases. Our car's optional Premium Sound Package ($1,800) came with 13 speakers driven by Logic7 and Digital Signal Processing, with a six-CD changer in the glove box to augment the standard single-disc slot in the dashboard. The system did not display track or album-title information, so it pays to remember which discs are in which slot. Sirius Satellite Radio preparation was a somewhat obscene $595.
That brings us to iDrive. As stated earlier, it represents an elegant approach to the sticky problem of allowing a driver to control any of a massive array of features while still driving the car safely. That said, other manufacturers' systems offer a few more buttons that might not be as easy to find as the iDrive knob but ultimately allow for quicker access and action, as well as a return to full road concentration. In the 2006 BMW 750Li's backseats, the iDrive again proves clunky in controlling DVD playback, where buttons for searching and menu navigation on the center armrest would be a big improvement upon clicking and twisting one's way through such frequently used features.
A DVD changer hidden in the 750Li's trunk feeds movies to the rear-seat LCD.