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Among mass market automakers, very few brands offer flagship sedans designed to be the epitome of luxury and performance. Lexus has its LS, Mercedes-Benz its S-class, and BMW the 7-series. The latest incarnation of the latter is the all-new 2009 BMW 750Li. Signifying a major update, this 750Li starts a new internal body designation series, going from the previous E66 to F02 for this 2009 model.
As Lexus and Mercedes-Benz do with their flagships, BMW pours all of its technology into the 750Li. Because its competitors haven't been updated in a few years, the 750Li gets to trump them with new tech features such as night vision with pedestrian recognition, dynamic traffic avoidance, lane departure warning, a head-up display, and a navigation system with topographic maps.
The L in the model name indicates a longer wheelbase than the standard model, with about extra 5 inches going to the back seat. Thus, it's a good choice for a chauffer-driven car, made more attractive by a rear-seat entertainment system, rear-seat audio system control, little foot rests, and a refrigerator between the back seats. But although the 750Li is just over 17 feet long, it doesn't look too big.
The rear seat is not a bad place to be in the 750Li.
The new iDrive
We spent most of our time in the front seat of this big 7--the proper place to be in a BMW. The most immediately noticeable update in the new 7-series is the iDrive system, a vast improvement over the old version. This new iDrive, which we previously saw in the BMW 335d, does away with the quadrant-style main menu in favor of a simple list. Although the main dial/joystick is similar to the old version, buttons have been added for quick access to navigation, audio, and phone screens. But it's really the update to the software interface that makes all the difference, as it's now much more intuitive.
And the new iDrive interface also means a full cabin tech upgrade, such as the hard-drive-based navigation system, which impresses with its beautiful 3D perspective topographic maps. We found the voice control system works very well for entering addresses, providing onscreen prompts for available commands at each step and recognizing full street names as we spoke them.
Once on the road, our car's optional head-up display provided excellent route guidance, projecting turn directions and street names on the windshield. The only drawback with this system is its lack of text-to-speech. As the 750Li guided us on our route, the navigation system, with its live traffic reporting, kept us advised of traffic jams ahead, finding detours as needed.
BMW has always had a hard time with true luxury, as the company is more sport-focused and this is reflected in the ride quality of the 750Li. With the suspension set in comfort mode, it's still not quite as smooth as the Mercedes-Benz S550. But in keeping with BMW's other models, the 750Li has multiple personalities. Buttons on the console let you cycle through four different modes, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus, which govern not only the suspension rigidity, but throttle response as well.
Changing the car's driving dynamic activates a corresponding graphic on the LCD.
Finding a nice, straight bit of road, we try a few fast starts using the different modes. BMW claims 5.3 seconds to 62 mph, and we were expecting an impressive push from the new power train, a 4.4-liter V-8 fitted with twin turbochargers. Similar to the twin-turbocharger BMW developed for its 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, this V-8's turbochargers are small and fit between the two banks of cylinders in the V. Spooling up just above the engine's idle speed, they are not supposed to cause turbo-lag.
But stomping the gas pedal to get a fast start, the 750Li doesn't take off like a rocket, instead hesitating a little before a rapid speed build-up. It's a big car, weighing over 4,500 pounds, so it's not surprising that the engine can't overcome its inertia immediately. But once it's rolling, the engine's 407 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque get the car moving fast. The car's Sport Plus mode actually loosens up the traction control, but even that wasn't enough to break the tires' grip on the asphalt.
Driver's little helpers
Driving on the freeway in light traffic, we turn on the 750Li's adaptive cruise control, and watch as it changes speeds to match the car in the lane ahead. The switchgear for the adaptive cruise control, set into the left spoke of the steering wheel, is very intuitive to use and lets you set the following distance. This system is also tied into a collision warning system, which flashes red on the windshield as a slowdown on the freeway causes the adaptive cruise control to brake hard.
When we feel like having some input in the drive and choose to change lanes, blind spot sensors light up little amber lights in the side mirror casings if a car is off either rear quarter of the 750Li. Unfortunately, these lights are small, and not very bright, which sort of defeats the purpose of a warning signal. The 750Li is also equipped with a lane departure warning system, which vibrates the steering wheel when the car crosses a lane line without signaling. This system does an excellent job of recognizing lane lines, and the warning is certainly noticeable.
The night vision display is shown on the car's LCD--not the best placement for a quick glance.
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.
Few cars offer this detailed an equalizer for the stereo.
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.
The Toiyabe National Forest proves a good place to race around in the 750Li.
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|