|By Hannah Elliott|
Want to see the future?
Drive a BMW 7-Series sedan. It’s the car Bimmer uses as a medium for unleashing its newest and best technological offerings on the rest of the world. IDrive made its debut here, as did ABS and the active body control systems that monitor the movement of the car in relation to the road. Now those are de rigueur on all BMW cars, but at the time they offered us the first taste of something exciting and new.
Which is to say, don’t let the understated styling of the 2016 BMW 750i xDrive nor the faint aesthetic changes it has over last year’s offering deceive you. This vehicle is a harbinger of things to come—and the future is friendly.
Big but Subtle
The 7-Series is the biggest and (with upgrades) the most expensive non-SUV that BMW makes. (The model I drove starts at $97,400 base.) It was introduced as the brand’s flagship in 1977, comes only in four-door-sedan form, and is meant to show the ultimate level of what a high-end German driving sedan can achieve. BMW pours massive resources into making it great; the brand is currently on pace to sell more cars than ever in 2015, and the 7-Series will be part of that success, according to company figures.
While this year’s version offers scant exterior changes—it’s slightly wider and lower, with narrower LED headlights and larger kidney grilles—it does permanently alter the sedan’s lineage, ditching the long-wheelbase “L” signifier from the American lineup. (In Europe, where the 7-Series is available along with an optional short wheel base, the long version has the “L” label. In the U.S., that moniker is now deemed superfluous.)
Less noticeably (until you drive it) is the fact that BMW added carbon bracing to its skeletal structure, which otherwise consists of steel and aluminum. According to BMW, that adjustment alone, including new carbon fiber tubing along the roof, saves nearly 90 pounds over the previous generation 750i xDrive. The car does not feel as heavy as it looks.
Would that BMW had done more to improve fuel efficiency, though: The 750’s 16 mpg city rating falls short of similar big sedan offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Porsche and embarrassingly short of the Tesla Model S, for obvious reasons.
Those changes alone, imperceptible from the outside, give this car notable performance distinction from almost anything else. Driving the 750i is a lesson in perfect physics, like how it feels on days when everything goes your way, when you’re in the zone on the court, on the track, on the fairway. It feels as slinky as the best dress you could slip into (or out of), or the drape of your favorite T-shirt. It moves like quicksilver across lanes, around corners, down the last stretch of road on your way home. You never feel how large it is until you lay down in the back. Or try to park it. (The novel self-parking mode is currently illegal and unavailable in the U.S.—but you can activate it abroad.)
Under the Hood
The 750i I drove comes with a 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 engine that pulls 445 horsepower and will hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. (A 740i twin-turbo 3-liter inline six that gets 320 hp is available, but that’s not for us, is it?) It has several drive modes—Eco, Comfort, and Sport among them—that adapt automatically based on your driving style, such as how aggressive you are on the throttle and steering wheel combined with GPS predictions of the road ahead. (Sounds crazy, but it works.) This, again, is a first.
The 8-speed automatic transmission with sport- and manual-shifting modes is built on all-wheel-drive. (Rear-wheel drive is available on that inline six; expect a V12 and diesel version some time afterward.)
As for actual performance, the 750i stacks up nicely against such coaches as the $95,650 Mercedes S550, $93,200 Porsche Panamera S, $81,500 Audi A8 L, and $119,00 Tesla P9oD, hitting the middle of the pack with its horsepower rating and zero-60 mph time.
There is no apparent body roll in this machine, thanks to the dynamic stability control, adjustable dampers, anti-roll bars, and adaptive suspension system engineered to the nth degree, blessedly, by the best auto engineers in the world. The steering is light by design, so avoid the driver’s seat if that sort bothers you. (That’ll be fine, anyway, since this car shines best when you’re not driving it.)
Overall, the 750i retains BMW’s authentic driving character—no-nonsense, fast and solid, tight and alert. If you want a big solid German sedan, spend your money here and feel reassured.
Yes, you’ll be perfectly happy driving this to and fro. But what I’m really interested in for this car is how it feels in the back seat. This is its raison d’être. You can get into quite a lot of trouble back there, especially when you realize how much everything costs. And this is where you really start to feel you’ve arrived in … the Future.
The problem is you’re going to want to have it all, and I’m only going to encourage you in that pursuit.
Get the Autobahn Package with active steering and active comfort drive ($4,100); the Driver Assistance Plus with surround 3D view ($1,900); the Executive Package with power side window shades, front ventilated seats, leather instrument panel, front massaging seats, ceramic controls ($3,200); the Interior Design Package with wooden trim handles and seat belt covers ($,1800); the Luxury Seating Package with heated front and rear seats and arm rests ($3,900); the Panoramic LED-lined sunroof ($900); and the Bowers & Wilkins surround sound ($3,400). It’s all in good clean fun, right? I’d skip the $1,300, 20-inch alloy wheels, though, because at this point they seem superfluous.
Do also choose the Executive Lounge package ($5,750) with rear-ventilated seats so plush you feel like you’re on a private jet, with a seat and footrest that fully recline when no one is sitting in the front passenger seat? You also get two 10-inch TV screens in the back controlled by a Samsung Electronics tablet that also controls everything, and I do mean everything, in the car from the back seat. For an additional $350, an ambient air system will gently disseminate “air-cleansing molecules” (aka bespoke fragrances) in the car on command. In theory, you’ll be able to lie down flat in this car while you have a massage, watch a movie, and breathe your stress away.
Once you’re done with the massage, try the “vitality” program run from that Samsung tablet. It is meant to help you increase circulation on long road trips by showing you prompts from the TV screens as you work your arms and legs in coordinated motion; the seat has sensors in it that will chart your progress over time. It’s no Bikini Boot Camp, but according to my trainer friends at S10 Training, it’s probably better than just sitting there.
It’s all a little like the car itself—over-the-top, but the moment you use it, you’ll be convinced it’s a must-have.
I just realized I haven’t told you how much this car costs … you know, all in. The one I drove cost $129,245. And that includes the first-ever BMW touch screen center console (it’s very easy to use, the exact opposite of how it feels to use the one from Cadillac), and the $250 pager-size key with tiny computer screen on it that monitors such car systems as climate and security.
Expensive, no? Yes.
The 750i is not as costly, though, as the Bentley Mulsanne or Rolls-Royce Ghost meant-to-be-driven-in sedans, and it falls well under the $189,350 Mercedes S600, the $224,650 Mercedes S65AMG, and the $200,500 Porsche Panamera S Turbo Executive. (All of those, besides the S600, are faster, though they’re roughly the same size, and all are significantly more powerful.) Rather, the 750s sits comfortably where it belongs, among the Panamera S, A8 L, and S550 ranks of chauffeur-friendly cars. You’ll be more than comfortable there, too.
The 750i costs a lot, yes, but it’s worth it. This is a major car, a somber car, a car to enjoy while you close deals, close your eyes, or close in on your goals. It’s giving us foresight into the best BMW can offer, and will offer, in coming years. In the face of such lofty goals, everything else just seems peripheral.