Most days, your humble car blogger pays his mortgage by working in the information technology field, putting out fires, listening to pitches, and saying no to people with a smile on his face. But recently I was afforded a significant promotion: To CEO of a boutique drug company, or perhaps kingpin of an international weapons consortium, or even a mysterious consultant to the mineral extraction logistics industry. Or so it seemed anyway after I was tossed the keys to a BMW 750i xDrive for a week.
(Thanks to my pals at Baron BMW in Merriam, Kansas, for the extended test drive.)
The big Bimmer approaches a valet stand much the way a Wally 58 arrives in some sundrenched port-of-call, the car's perceived bow wave announcing its arrival with stately presence and subtle authority: This is not a car to be trifled with. People who drive these things daily do not fly coach. But whereas the Wally will see you sending a wire transfer for upwards of $3MM, the BMW can be yours at something just slightly north of one-hundred grand.
This particular example, finished in Dark Graphite Metallic paint of the deepest luster and outfitted with a Black Nappa Leather interior with burnished Gray Poplar wood trim, arrives as serenely as a Great White Shark; it’s large, in charge, vaguely sinister, yet always attracting respectful glances from onlookers. It’s subtle and substantial, yet incongruously always ready to party.
To be sure, the 750i is a large car. While it’s length and girth are admirably masked on the road, its size is readily apparent when you go to moor, er, park. BMW has anticipated this and outfits the 750i with all manner of sensors, so that you’re always aware both visually and audibly where the corners of the car are. If you run into something in this thing, it’s your own damn fault. And of course, if the prospect of docking, er, parking is too intimidating you can always just pull up to a space and have the vehicle self-park. Yes, it will self-park. (And yes, I will at some point dispense with the nautical metaphors.) If you let it self-park enough times, you will actually evolve out of your thumbs, because you are a lazy toad without the baseline skills to even consider piloting such a vehicle. No, I’m not a fan of letting cars self-park.
Its length is put to good use when you open the rear doors. The rear passenger cabin on the big 7-series is almost impossibly large. A friend of mine, a 6’6” ex-college quarterback and generally strapping Midwestern lad, sat in the back, extended his legs, and let out a whoop of delight; there was still a good 6” of room between his knees and the seat back ahead. A much shorter friend sat down and was almost able to extend her legs fully. This thing has an interior vista.
And oh is it sumptuous. Materials of the highest quality, leather from cattle who likely never saw a barbed wire fence, the loveliest of wood veneers, stitching that’s almost showing off. As Vincent Vega would put it, "It’s the little differences." Car manufacturers have gotten great at making plastic look like metal; trompe l'oeil on an industrial scale. On the 7-series, what looks and feels like metal is metal. Lush, cold, smooth metal. Nice. Or the way the seat belts are supple and pliable when you strap them on but then cinch up when the car is going more than 5mph. Or the “light curtain” that illuminates the occupants path when the car is unlocked with the fob; a bit of useless theatricality that should be expected in such a vehicle but one that still never fails to delight. “Look, to the Bat Cave!” At this price point, details matter.
And then there’s the much ballyhooed “Gesture Control,” the hand-free control interface that will likely soon be everywhere in the BMW line. There is something Fantasia-like about the gesture control, with the driver serving as Micky, aka the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a dramatic gesture causing all manner of Sturm und Drang to erupt (or at least the radio volume to increase or an incoming call to be answered). While I fear from the outside it may look as if the well-healed driver suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, it’s a pretty cool parlor trick on the inside. Though really, are we now actually designing advanced technology to encourage drivers to take their hands off the wheel? (I believe this is what’s known as a “gateway drug” to the inevitable era of self-driving cars. See my comments above about the “self-park” feature if you don’t believe this insidious encroachment is underway.)
The 750i xDrive is powered by an 8-liter diesel co-engineered by BMW and Caterpillar which was first used to transport SpaceX rocket boosters to their uphill launching pad. Okay…it just feels that way. The big Bimmer is actually propelled by a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8, a brute of a motor that makes 445-horsepower and a mind-bending 480-ft/lbs of torque. Coupled to a ZF 8-speed transmission lubricated with silkworms and the tears of the vanquished, the luxurobarge makes it off the line to 60mph in a BMW-reported 4.3 seconds (though Car and Driver Magazine recorded the run in 3.9 seconds). It’s, well, fast. Dumb fast. Supercar fast. And does so without spilling a morsel. The power is linear to the point of fooling the driver into imagining a “d” (for Diesel) on the hind-end. It’s a tank, pulling like a brute but a brute with the most refined manners. Zany, stupid fun. It doesn’t feel nearly as fast as the X6M I gloriously flogged recently, but it actually is in terms of the speed trap. It’s how it makes its power that impresses, like an African despot who waves his hand to make it so; the expectation of results is assumed.
Driving modes on the big sedan are not called anything as mundane as “modes” but rather are referenced as ”Driving Experience Control.” There’s something for everyone. Sport & Sport Individual (where the driver can customize damping, steering, engine, and transmission settings) are accompanied by the dash glowing a pulsating red, little devils practically perching on the driver’s shoulder. Comfort (Standard and Comfort Plus, when just the regular amount of comfort won’t do) set all dampers to their most cosseting. EcoPro detunes the engine, mandates the annoying Start/Stop function, and generally drapes the driving experience with a double-dose of Benadryl (I’m convinced the setting only exists to keep the regulators happy; “Look how efficient our car has become!”). My personal favorite of the settings is Adaptive, where the brains of the car tune performance to suit the moment-by-moment mood of the driver. It’s responsive and intuitive, and after playing a bit with the other settings, I put the car in Adaptive and let it do its thing. I imagine most owners will as well.
The car is a wonder to drive, as easy to toss around as it is to go unreasonably fast, with only a whisper of piped-in artificial engine noise to provide any sort of exterior context. One afternoon, Dreamy Wife and her colleague “got all ‘Thelma and Louise’” (their words) and took it out for a spin. “We felt like we should be dropping some diplomat off at the UN or something.” Dreamy reported a highway blast that began at 50 and ended somewhere above triple-digits before a quick glance as the heads-up display floating magically in the windshield caused her to consider the consequences. The car was so effortlessly smooth it became “dangerously fast” she reported.
BMW 7-series cars have always had their design quirks. The previous generation was one of the most controversial in the history of the marque, with the vigorous “flame surfacing” design language favored by Chief Designer Chris Bangle that gave the car world the term “Bangle Butt.” Current Chief Designer Adrian van Hooydonk tends to the more elegant, to my eye, though certain design decisions leave room for debate. For example, the long, thin chrome hockey stick on the 7-series, with the blade mounted just behind the front wheel arch and the shaft forming the visual bottom of the door sill, seems to me only to accentuate the length of the car, though I imagine the notion was a more elegant transition to the sill than a simple cut line. Several people remarked to me they thought the element was both classy and distinctive; to my eye it’s an unnecessary affectation. But still. It’s an elegant, stately car; adult and refined, not at all whimsical. I still think the Audi A8 leads this class of car in terms of elegant, substantial design, but the big Bimmer trumps the Mercedes S-class in interesting style. (Come on, Maserati, update the Quattroporte just a bit, will you?) I’ll take my 7-series in the form of the 750i-based Alpina B7 over the much more gauche Mercedes-AMG S63. Your private golf club or gated community beckons.
At the end of the day, the 750i xDrive can make a legitimate argument for “Best Car in the World,” the apogee of automotive engineering, a bellwether vehicle that leads by design and technology and example. It’s certainly an amazing achievement. Is it a better all-around vehicle than a Range Rover? I don’t know (though the interior sure is), but it certainly leads in outright gee-whiz technology that we’ll see percolating down throughout the BMW and other manufacturers’ ranges for the next several years. (And I haven’t even mentioned the car’s bonded carbon fiber body panels and other structural elements, which provide extreme strength with incredible lightness. Look for those construction techniques and materials to be mainstreamed soon.) As a marvel that shamelessly cossets while defying physics, and even providing on-demand silly fun, the big Bimmer is a thing of beauty and wonder. And if it’s ultimately a bit digital for my tastes, that says way more about market segmentation (and my place in it) than what this car is about.
The 750i xDrive is an amazing achievement, full stop. Now, where did they hide all the little people?