Big BMW Has Brawn and Beauty

The BMW 750Li.

The automotive press wasn’t kind to the previous generation of BMW’s 7-Series, the largest sedan in the company’s lineup. Its odd posterior gave it a misshapen look, as if several different people in different rooms designed the back of the car without talking to each other.

The car itself was good, and sold reasonably well. But the new version of the car is much more attractive from any angle, and offers lots of fun and useful technology. If you’re in the market for an import car in the upper five-figure range of the price scale, the big Bimmer should be on your shopping list.

Recently, I got to get behind the wheel of a 750Li, the long wheelbase version of the 7-series with a twin-turbo V8 under the hood and BMW’s X-Drive all wheel drive system. The car is also available in a standard wheelbase with that engine, as well as a lower-priced 740i with six cylinder power, a V-12 version called the 760 (long wheelbase only), and finally an ActiveHybrid model that offers blistering performance with a slight tinge of green.

This car sits in a very competitive class, with flagship sedans from Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Lexus and Audi all vying for the dollars of upscale car shoppers. Naturally, the 750 competes well with all the typical features expected in the class. Luxury in everything you touch — as well as technology in everything that assists your driving — is here in abundance, either standard or as part of option packages that can create a huge jump from the base price to the final tab.

A huge improvement has been made in what BMW calls i-Drive, the rotary knob on the console that controls pretty much every function related to operating the car’s systems. The first generation of i-Drive (which was launched on an earlier 7-Series) proved to be very complex to operate. Each generation of the system has been given additional buttons near the control knob to the point that it’s now very user-friendly. After only a couple of days in the car, I found it to be a breeze to switch between the different functions.

Another cool feature of the 750 is a chassis management system called Driving Dynamics Control, which allows you to select how the suspension and engine management will be set for how you’d like the car to respond. Normal mode is the default setting, while Sport tightens things up a bit for more spirited driving. Sport+ takes it a bit further, with the transmission holding gears in corners and delaying upshifting or downshifting if it detects that you’re hot-rodding around a little.

Considering the 750Li’s size and weight, the Sport mode really makes it feel much smaller and sportier. I flicked it into Sport before entering one of my favorite local freeway onramps, a multi-apex squared-off cloverleaf with almost no banking. The clever chassis system combined with the all wheel drive to make the big car just dance right through it with hardly any protest from the tires.

Other little pieces of engineering abound. For example, the doors are held open by a clever hydraulic arrangement that lets them stay partially open, even on a slight incline. You move the door to where you want it (just clear of that car in the next parking space, for example) and it just stays in position until you decide to close it.

Prices for this big BMW range from $71,025 (740i) to $137,000 (760Li). My 750Li X-Drive started at $89,775 but was piled with options (and a $1,300 gas guzzler tax) to the tune of $106,075. Not cheap, but to many, money well spent.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.

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