BMW established its reputation as the Ultimate Driving Machine based on the performance of its lithe, compact sport sedans. So it's a bit surprising that the dynamic prowess of the company’s cars is best demonstrated today by BMW’s big daddy, the luxurious new 2016 750i.
BMW has made a significant commitment to carbon fiber technology for the future, and the 750i takes a step in that direction by using the material to reinforce its chassis in a process the company calls “carbon core.” The resulting 190-lb. weight savings and improved chassis rigidity combine to give the 206.6-inch-long 750i unexpected responsiveness. For reference, that’s two inches longer than a Cadillac Escalade.
The 750i’s enormously spacious back seat is also reminiscent of the big Caddy’s, except that it is even more lavishly appointed and outfitted with previously unimagined widgets to distract passengers from the tedium of transit. Titans of industry have rarely been so coddled.
There’s a tablet computer embedded in the back seat’s center armrest! And a video display in each seat back for rear-seaters. The tablet controls various comfort and entertainment functions for the car, but it is also removable and functions as a regular tablet for playing games, watching videos or navigating the internet via the car’s built-in WiFi router.
A purple-hued night sky arches overhead as the daytime panoramic skylight turns into a purple-tinged manmade aurora borealis. It is complemented by indirect purple accent lighting throughout the cabin. Six optional colors are available, so if you don’t like purple, there are alternatives. But for the regal 7-Series, royal purple seemed appropriate.
There’s even lighting inside the speakers for the amazing 1,400-watt, 10-channel Bowers & Wilkins surround audio system, helping ensure that passengers notice their awesomeness visually as well as audibly. Passengers might not even miss it when they aren’t able to use their box seats at the orchestra when this stereo is reproducing it.
The plush perforated and quilt-stitched leather seats feel as opulent as they look, and every surface inside the car is equally lavish in its execution. Even the display for climate control and seat heaters is a miniature video screen rather than rudimentary LED digits.
The only miss is a white light on the B-pillars. When the driver does a head check for a lane change, the light’s effect is that of headlights from a car in the blind spot striking the BMW’s B-pillar, causing panic that there’s an unseen car lurking at your eight o’clock.
A smaller detail is the night vision system, which displays on the center console rather than directly ahead of the driver. As with most such systems, the problem is that drivers’ eyes are on the road, not on the display, so showing pedestrians and animals on the display is of little benefit, even with BMW’s system for highlighting them to call attention to them.
The tested 445-horsepower 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 was responsive and made the 750i feel quick, though its EPA gas mileage rating of 19 mpg in combined driving seems surprisingly average for such a tech-laden sedan. Unseasonably temperate weather left no opportunity to experience the benefits of the car’s all-wheel drive system.
The new integral active steering system uses the rear wheels to help the improved variable steering system deliver that agile feeling that is unexpected in so large a sedan.
BMW has long dabbled with such technology to preserve its “driving machine” image and in the past such gimmicks have usually been cures that are worse than the problem they were trying to solve. Not in this case. The new steering assists work invisibly, convincing the driver that there is much less mass being shepherded down the road than there really is.
However, the car’s active lane keeping assist technology still feels immature. That does not mean it sneaks out at night to do doughnuts in the high school parking lot. It does mean that it feels like an invisible driver’s ed teacher tugging on a second steering wheel, perpetually interfering with your plotted route through curves.
As a typical back seat driver, however, it won’t take over if you let go of the steering wheel in irritation with its constant nagging. Best just to leave this system off.
BMW’s biggest win in the 7-Series is a move to the industry-wide practice of switching the car off with a single press of the keyless start button. Until now, BMW has demanded two presses of the button to power off the car. Press it the second time with a foot still on the brake pedal, however, and the engine would restart. Frustrating. BMW has heard our complaints on this matter and now the 7-Series switches completely off with a single button press.
Such simplicity and invisibility is a key aspect of retaining the Ultimate Driving Machine reputation in an age of increased computer-assisted detachment from driving.