Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
The lightly adorned skin and softly molded body work of the 2010 BMW 750i brings to mind mercury, an appropriate element to describe it as this car is like a messenger for the gods. Looking up and down its silky smooth body we can find no flaw. And that perfection extends to the driving experience, as the 750i is as solid a car as you can imagine, gliding effortlessly down the road.
As BMW's flagship sedan, the 750i competes with the Mercedes-Benz S550 and the Audi A8. All of these cars hang around the $100k price point and don't give a damn about fuel economy. And like its competition, the 750i's cabin is made up of quality materials, including soft leather and wood with a glossy finish.
But in the 21st century, luxury doesn't just mean natural materials; electronics complete the picture. BMW has been obsessive about embracing and pioneering new technology for its cars, and the 750i benefits from the latest. The LCD at the top of the stack boasts 10.2 inches of screen real estate, the software interface controllable with voice command and an improved iDrive knob.
The 750i boasts a huge LCD that can be shifted to a split-screen mode.
A split-screen feature let us assign about a third of this screen to showing trip data, audio information, or a different map view. But the navigation maps look so good that we tended to use the whole screen.
The 750i comes with an 80GB hard drive, which stores maps, music, and the owner's manual. In 3D view, the maps show topographical features, letting us see every mountain peak and canyon. In the city, it renders some buildings in 3D, but not the full urban landscape, as we saw in the BMW 550i Gran Turismo.
This navigation system also overlays traffic information on the map, and dynamically routes around problems when a destination is set. We find the new iDrive control more usable than the previous generation, and entering a street or city name while driving is not too distracting, as BMW superimposes the currently selected letter or number over the image of the controller on the screen.
Adding to the usefulness of the route guidance graphics on the LCD, our car had the head-up display option, which also shows route guidance. These graphics are surprisingly detailed for a windshield projection, even showing lane guidance.
The LCD displays the owner's manual, and uses an index to make finding information easy.
But one of our favorite new features in the 750i, and one that probably should be implemented by all automakers, is the inclusion of the owner's manual on the hard drive. This digital format makes it very easy to find information, as it is well indexed. The online manual includes pictures and hyperlinks, demonstrating the many features in this car. It beats having to dig through a paper manual of Russian novel length.
The LCD also showed phonebook information for our paired iPhone, but it was easier to place calls with BMW's new voice command system. It's similar to Ford's Sync and new Bluetooth phone systems from Kia, Nissan, and Lexus; we were able to say the name of the person we wanted to call, and it dialed the associated phone number.
But unlike Ford Sync or the Song By Voice feature of the Acura MDX, we couldn't request specific music playback by voice command. iPod integration is done the old-fashioned way in the 750i: onscreen. Although we could view an iPod library on the BMW's big screen, the interface proved frustrating. Choosing a genre essentially created a filter, so that looking under the artists or albums category, we only saw entries that fit the previously selected genre. BMW should realize that people driving cars shouldn't be setting up complex data filters just to play music. Every other automaker starts a fresh index when the driver chooses to view albums or artists.
This interface for the iPod library is poorly designed for drivers.
Along with our car's single-CD slot in the dashboard, it went old-school with an optional six-CD/DVD changer in the glovebox. Either of these players could handle MP3 CDs. The single-CD slot also served as a ripper, letting us load 12GB of music in MP3 format to the car's internal hard drive, suitably tagged by an internal Gracenote database. Broadcast music sources in the 750i included HD and satellite radio, both standard features from BMW.
Both the six-disc changer and the iPod integration came as part of the Premium Sound package. That package also means a 600-watt 16-speaker audio system, with subwoofers under each front seat. Even with those impressive specs, the audio system is restrained. We didn't hear big thumps from the subwoofers and the interior panels remained unrattled by high volume. The sound quality is very good, with clear reproduction and solid staging, making a delight to drive around listening to music.
We are used to BMWs affording an excellent degree of driving pleasure, and the 750i delivered when it came to cruising. The car is rock solid. But it didn't seem quite as interested in our jabs at performance driving. With a twin turbocharged 4.4-liter direct injection V-8 under the hood, it doesn't want for power, but we found its straightline launch unsatisfying.
From the first moment we stomped the gas pedal, the car hesitated, as if assessing whether we were serious about wanting to go forward fast. After starting to roll, the car took off, getting beyond 40 mph in very little time. But then in an apparent crisis of conscious, the acceleration slacked off in a palpable dip. Checking to see if we were still serious about speed, we guess. Satisfied that the gas pedal was still on the floor, it picked up speed again, roaring past 60 mph.
The 750i lets you adjust its sport mode individually to affect the power train and suspension.
As this engine pumps out 407 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, we would expect better behavior than that. Ultimately, we laid blame on the six-speed automatic transmission. Six speeds work fine for most cars these days, and is generally considered average. But the 550i Gran Turismo we tested recently had eight gears, so we know BMW has the capability to take the 750i further.
That lack of any gears beyond six also affects fuel economy, forcing the engine to run at nonoptimal speeds. The big engine and turbos don't help, either, conspiring to saddle the 750i with a gas guzzler tax for 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. We never got close to that 20 mpg mark, turning in an average of 16.3 mpg for mixed city and freeway driving.
The transmission comes with sport and manual modes, although our car was not equipped with paddle shifters. Driving over mountain roads, sport mode seemed anemic at first, but soon we found the sweet spot on the accelerator, the modulation zone that told the transmission to keep the engine running above 3,500rpm. With the engine unafraid to rev, we could put the 750i's power down in the turns.
Except that the 750i isn't a great cornering car. It does have a dynamic drive selector that let us choose sport settings for suspension and power train, but the car is more than 16 feet long and weighs close to 5,000 pounds. Even in full sport mode it leaned in the corners, with no sign of any flat rotation.
During these cornering exercises, we didn't notice much effect from the all-wheel drive, a new feature for the 7-series. BMW's xDrive splits torque 40 percent to the front and 60 percent to the rear by default, but shifts up to 80 percent torque to the rear wheels when needed. The system is programmed to also shift torque to the rear while cornering, but we could not feel the difference. It may show more effect on slippery roads.
Though it's no canyon carver, the 750i felt very comfortable for a lengthy drive. With the suspension in comfort mode, it only conveyed a hint of rough asphalt to the cabin, keeping us well-insulated from the outside world. BMW's sport reputation is well-burnished, but this 7-series more clearly shines for luxury.
We were generally well-pleased with the 2010 BMW 750i xDrive, at least until we had to fill it up. It didn't exactly offer the sporting performance we would expect from a BMW, but it made up for it with an extremely nice ride. We primarily docked it points for the transmission and lousy gas mileage.
The car really shines for its cabin tech, which includes the navigation, phone, and stereo systems. And although our car wasn't equipped with them, we give it credit for the array of driver aid features available, which include adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and night vision.
For design, BMW still needs to work on its onscreen interface. We mentioned the difficulty with iPhone music selection, and we're not all that keen on the address-entry screen, either. But it earns back our respect with the clean exterior and the well-crafted cabin materials.
|Model||2010 BMW 750i xDrive|
|Power train||Twin turbo, direct injection 4.4-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||14 mpg city/20 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||16.3|
|Navigation||Standard hard drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible single-CD in-dash, six-disc CD/DVD player in glove compartment|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, USB flash drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||600-watt 16-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, night vision, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$99,825|