BMW sparked debate four years ago with the introduction of its radically redesigned and heavily computerized 7 Series sedans. Critics assailed the styling and some drivers did not like the iDrive controls. While the company has toned down the styling and backed away from some of the more convoluted electronics, the car still sparks debate. However, we can assure you this: This is a luxury sedan in the truest sense and it is impressive to drive.
Its responsive engines and six-speed automatic transmission, its magic-carpet ride quality, its excellent handling, its awesomely powerful brakes, and its well-tuned electronic stability control systems deliver the ultimate in big-sedan river control. This car flat flies. The 760 models are two of the quickest, fastest, normally aspirated 2.5-ton vehicles in the world.
Whichever 7 Series you choose, starting with the standard 750i, you'll get a sedan that's big, smooth, fast and inspiring. It'll also be equipped with the latest safety technology. No matter where you sit, you'll experience a cabin that's beautiful and wonderfully comfortable. The 750Li and 760Li (L for long) offer even greater legroom in the back seats. All the 7 Series models are exceptionally powerful and responsive, and if the V12-powered 760i and 760Li don't stir something inside you, you may as well call a cab.
Virtually everything in the cabin is controlled through a single mouse-like interface called iDrive. It controls the entertainment system, the navigation system and myriad settings managing the car's suspension, lighting and driver/car interface, and it demands some study to master. Once that's accomplished, however, driving the 7 Series cars is easy and quite satisfying.
The whisper-quiet cabin is a great place for quiet conversation or magnificent solitude. The 7 Series has a superb stereo, so it's an insulated sound studio where you can hear Mozart concertos, crystal clear vocals or crisp acoustic guitar notes. The level of technology the 7 Series offers is mind boggling, and a negative in the minds of some. Almost-silent, hidden fans and heating elements cool or warm your rear end or your soft drink; microchips stand by to instantaneously detect and restrain a skidding tire or to apply the brakes full force just in case you were distracted by a phone call; power sunshades keep the sun off your rear passengers. Adaptive headlights turn with the car.
There's more, much more, but the point is made. Among the big luxury sedans, the 2006 BMW 7 Series retains its status as the ultimate driving machine.
The 2006 BMW 7 Series models offer a freshened appearance with a redesigned grille, hood and headlamps. The lower grille opening now looks like it's smiling, rather than frowning. The V8 engine on the 750i and 750Li has been revised for 2006 and delivers siginficantly more power. And the iDrive system has been revised on 2006 models for improved graphics and easier operation.
The 2006 BMW 7 Series cars are available in two lengths, each with a choice of engines. The 750i ($71,800) and long-wheelbase 750Li ($75,800) are powered by a 360-hp, 4.8-liter V8 with a six-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic. The 760i ($111,500) and 760Li ($118,900) come with a 438-hp V12 engine.
The 7 Series sedans come standard with a long list of luxury features with interiors trimmed in a choice of rich leathers and woods. The 750i has dual-zone, automatic climate control with activated-charcoal microfilter ventilation and pollution/odor-triggered recirculation; American walnut wood trim; BMW Assist emergency and information communications; 14-way, power driver and 12-way, power front passenger seats; power tilt/telescoping steering wheel; two-setting memory for driver seat, steering wheel and mirror settings; a power moonroof; a climate-controlled front console compartment; and single-CD audio with 10 speakers. The 750Li adds 20-way, power, front Comfort Seats with articulated upper backrests and passenger-seat memory. Both 750 models come standard with V-speed-rated, 245/50VR18, all-season tires on 18-inch alloy wheels; 19-inch wheels with performance tires (245/45 front, 275/40 rear) are optional ($1,300). Park Distance Control comes standard, helping the driver track hard-to-see obstacles. Adaptive headlights, which aim around corners as the steering wheel is turned, come standard on 2006 models.
The 760i and 760Li have almost everything BMW offers. The base price covers high-gloss, Ash trim with inlays plus leather on virtually all interior surfaces (except the dash). The V12 models include soft-close doors that suck themselves shut and heated and ventilated seats front and rear. Power rear window and rear side window shades are standard on the 760Li, optional on the other three ($750), as is the heated steering wheel ($150). The 760i comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels and performance tires (245/40R20 front, 275/35R20 rear). The 760Li can be ordered with rear climate control with a cool box ($1,800). The V12 models earn the government-imposed gas-guzzler tax ($1,300).
Most of what's offered on the 760i and 760Li is available on the 750i and 750Li through individual options or packages. The six option packages for the 750i and 750Li include: the Sport Package ($3,200) with 19-inch wheels and tires, sport-tuned suspension, 20-way Comfort front seats (more aggressively bolstered sport seating is a no-cost option) and specific exterior and interior trim; the Adaptive Ride Package ($1,900) with a self-leveling rear suspension and Electronic Damping Control that automatically adjusts shock damping according to conditions; the Cold Weather Package ($1,100) with a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and a ski bag; the Convenience Package ($1,000) with the soft-touch, door-closing doors and power trunk-lid operation; the Luxury Seating Package that adds 20-way adjustment, front and rear seat heating, fans to blow air through the seating surfaces and an automatic massager; and the Premium Sound Package ($1,800) with increased audio power, two subwoofers, Digital Sound Processing and six-CD changer.
Other options offered across the line include Comfort Access ($1000), which provides keyless entry and engine start; radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2200); Sirius Satellite Radio, with a one-year subscription ($595); high-definition radio ($500); and a Rear Entertainment Package ($2200) with rear-seat monitor and iDrive control, dual earphone jacks and trunk-mounted, six-DVD changer.
Safety features include dual frontal airbags, driver and front-passenger side-impact airbags, and BMW's Head Protection System, which amounts to a full-length, tube-shaped curtain on both sides of the cabin for front and rear head protection in a side impact. Also standard is BMW's Active Knee Protection, unique inflatable airbags that protect front passengers' knees. BMW claims these
The BMW 7 Series cars come in two lengths. The 750i and 760i ride on a 117.7-inch wheelbase, while the 750Li and 760Li stretch that to 123.2 inches. The long-wheelbase Li models are 5.5 inches longer bumper to bumper, and nearly all of that is directed into more rear-seat legroom.
BMW stepped out of the box when it launched the current 7 Series as a 2002 model. The objective was to boost its luxury sedan's presence and curb appeal. Indeed, the 7 Series looked more agile and muscular than the previous-generation models, which had aged, and to some, not so gracefully. Though the trademark twin-kidney grille and long hood remained, making it clear that this was still a BMW, the design was a dramatic departure from past BMWs.
That the styling has not pleased everyone is evident by the fact it's still a widely discussed topic. The overall design, and particularly the rear half, have generated continued controversy among design critics and automotive media. BMW claims its buyers love it, and sales tend to support this. And other manufacturers, including Acura and Lexus, are beginning to use similar design solutions on the rears of their cars to manage airflow.
In the past few years, BMW has tweaked the styling here and there, softening some of the more dramatic cues and returning toward more traditional BMW styling cues. For 2006, there are some welcome refinements.
The grille on the 2006 models is now slightly larger and consistent on both models; it was slightly wider at the top on the 2005 760s. The hood has been re-contoured, losing some height, with a less prominent power bulge, and sloping more quickly to the new grille and headlight housings, themselves re-shaped to parallel the grille's outline and wrap farther around the fender, ending in a sharper point.
Set relatively low, the headlamps are trimmed by turn signals above them, looking like the eyebrows of a hawk. An extractor vent straddling the hood just forward of the cowl looks out of place on a car in this class. The lower air intake is reshaped and partitioned, looking more like a smile than a frown, with fog lamps housed in separate indents. A sliver of chrome adorns the bumper.
The side view shows the faster hood flowing into the nicely proportioned glasshouse. BMW's trademark dogleg in the rear side window continues as the longest-running, brand-specific styling cue in the industry. Door sills and rocker panels are fuller, more pronounced, breaking up a stretch of sheetmetal otherwise featureless except for an understated character line creasing the doors beneath flush-mounted door handles. The exterior mirrors can be retracted inward with the touch of a button, reducing the parking width by more than a foot. It's a great convenience for drivers with narrow garage entrances or when parking in a crowded city garage. Tires fill circular wheel wells placed where they should be to balance and support the body's visual mass. The contentious trunk has been softened, rounded off a bit and in general, just stylistically relaxed with a slicker transition between the backlight and trunk lid.
New taillight clusters bridging the seam between the rear fenders and the trunk lid and reaching halfway to the license plate recess draw the eye across the back, making the car look wider. The lights employ a feature BMW calls adaptive brake lighting. Under normal braking, the outboard and center-mounted, third brake lights illuminate as usual. Under hard braking or when ABS is activated, secondary brake lights in the trunk-lid elements join the outboard brake lights for a significant increase in visibility of the brake lights. The distinction is intended to warn following drivers that you are stopping very quickly. A monitoring system indicates when a bulb is burned out. And while waiting for you to have it replaced, the system will commandeer other bulbs in the taillamps to fill in as brake lights. The thickened, less-pronounced, spoiler-li
High-quality materials and elegant design make the 7 Series cabin an exceedingly pleasant, luxurious place in which to conduct the business of driving. The dash looks particularly clean and elegant because the iDrive system eliminates so many switches and knobs. Beautiful, buttery leather is used throughout. Wood trim is spread tastefully on the dash, center console and elsewhere. A variety of other materials adds interest without making the interior look busy. The standard roof liner in the 750i reminds us of fine suit material, something you might encounter on a woman's business jacket; the 760Li's roof is lined with suede-like alcantara.
The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and by that we mean all iterations in both model lines. The standard seats in the 750i adjust 14 ways. The available Comfort Seats adjust in 20 directions. Some adjustments are automatic, including the headrests, which change height according to the position of the seat. The sport package seats have bolstering on par with those in a sports car. Active Seat Ventilation cools the front and rear seats in the summer by blowing air through micro-perforations in the leather; the system includes a vibrating feature.
All 7 Series sedans feature dual-zone temperature and airflow adjustment for the front passengers, managed by familiar knobs and buttons arrayed across the center of the dash; the 760Li adds separate temperature adjustments for each side of the rear seat. Window shade-like slats seal off vent registers when and if desired. An automatic humidity control maintains relative humidity near an optimal 40 percent. Rain-sensing wipers detect misting on the windshield and automatically wipe it off.
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable. The long-wheelbase L models provide as much rear legroom as you'll find this side of a stretch limo. Waterfall LED atmosphere lighting inside the C-pillars adds to the evening elegance of the rear seats. For bright days, the 760Li includes power sunshades for the rear windscreen and rear side windows. Comfort Seats for the rear come standard on the 760Li and are available for the 750Li, along with moveable, floor-mount footrests. Rear Comfort Seats include electric heating and 14-way power adjustments, with a control that allows rear-seat passengers to move the front passenger seat forward, a great feature. Having a skilled professional drive you around while you luxuriate in back is not the worst way to travel. Rear Comfort Seats make the BMW 7 Series the ultimate riding machine.
Under power, the 7 Series cabin remains whisper quiet. The only outside sound we could hear while driving the 750i was the tires whacking over expansion joints or humming across grooved concrete. Ambient noise is wonderfully deadened inside, making conversation easy and pleasant. We could, however, detect hums, clicks and buzzes in the background generated by assorted servo motors, switches and pumps in support of all the amenities and creature comforts.
The quiet cabin provides a perfect environment for a superb stereo that delivers crisp highs, sharp bass, and clear mid-range tones. BMW's Premium Sound Package is truly sensational. Unless you have a state-of-the-art stereo at home, you'll hear things in your favorite songs you've barely noticed before. The package delivers seven channels of surround sound through 13 speakers, including a pair of subwoofers ingeniously integrated into the chassis itself; it includes a CD changer. We'd spring for the optional Sirius Satellite Radio, which offers mostly commercial-free music, news, sports and talk.
The 7 Series provides more interior storage space than some of its competitors, but storage isn't one of its strengths. The center console lid is split down the middle to create a pair of leather-covered access doors. The driver's side of our console was cooled by the air conditioner, the passenger side filled with CD storage and a cellula
Body style and computerized interfaces aside, when it comes to driving dynamics, there's no controversy. BMW's 7 Series has been widely lauded for its outstanding performance and ride, and almost everything about the 2006 BMW 7 Series is top notch.
Heading the list is the car's wonderful, magic-carpet ride. The high-tech suspension smoothes out bumps, even speed bumps, to a point of astonishment. It's incredibly comfortable, yet the driver does not feel completely isolated from the road. It senses when it's being driven hard, instantaneously re-tuning itself appropriately for improved handling, and then adjusting the other way when the going gets easy and relaxed on long, inter-city trips.
BMW's Active Roll Stabilization uses computer-controlled, two-piece anti-roll bars to increase roll resistance in hard cornering and keep the body flat in turns. It's as if on entering a turn, the inside tires lift to keep the car level, which is, in effect, what actually happens. At the same time, the system maintains enough suspension compliance to keep the tires planted on the road. Bumps in the middle of a high-speed corner do not upset the handling balance one whit. Several factors are at work here: a near-perfect weight distribution of 50 percent front to rear (helped by lightweight aluminum hood and front fenders), which means neither end of the car is more prone to slide than the other; a highly rigid chassis that allows precise suspension tuning; and minimal unsprung weight, thanks to lightweight aluminum wheels, brake calipers and aluminum suspension components.
Remember, weighing more than 4900 pounds, depending on equipment, the 7 Series is not a small, lightweight car. But in some respects it feels smaller than it is. The electronic stability control makes adjustments to maintain handling balance whenever grip is lost to any one tire. By applying braking force to individual wheels and, when absolutely necessary, reducing engine speed, it almost seems to bend the laws of physics. Just steer this thing where you want to go and the 7 Series takes you there. We felt this on a fast, greasy corner, flat-out over a crest that unweighted the suspension. All four wheels lost grip, but we simply motored around the corner, drifting just slightly wide of the intended line, never lifting off the accelerator pedal or making any adjustments in the steering. No special action was needed. The car did all of it. The anti-skid system is transparent, in that you can't feel it kick in and out. BMW's system is less obtrusive and more performance-oriented than similar systems found in Mercedes and Lexus automobiles.
Steering a 7 Series sedan is a joy. The rack-and-pinion steering is super sharp and precise. It's very light at low speeds for parking lots, but firms up at higher speeds for improved driver feel. It also steps up response by 10 percent as the wheel is turned off center, which means that the more you turn the wheel, the faster the car responds. With this steering system, it's easy to drive with extreme precision on winding roads at high speeds, placing the tires exactly where you want them. When hitting bumps, there's little or no kickback to the steering. Our only reservation about this system, and it's a minor point, is that it's so sensitive to road speed that accelerating in the midst of a tight turn occasionally catches it out, leaving the front wheels more sharply angled than optimal.
The V8 and V12 drivetrains are absolutely silky when cruising around. The six-speed automatic is extremely smooth, yet it's among the most responsive we have ever experienced. Hit the accelerator pedal and the transmission drops a gear or two without any of that hesitation found in so many automatics. The additional gearing of the six-speed allows a lower first gear for quicker performance off the line, closer ratios in the middle gears for better mid-range response, and taller t
The BMW 7 Series is so smooth that full days behind the wheel are not taxing, and it's very comfortable in heavy commuter traffic. It's easy to drive this car well, even on winding mountain roads, and few luxury sedans can keep up with it at high speeds. The interior is sumptuous. And these cars are stuffed with the latest technology. Dynamically, this may be the best car in the class. That's no small feat, given that the competition includes some of the best, most expensive cars in the world. But some of the technology sometimes seems to be more of a distraction than an aid.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Sacramento, California, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and San Antonio.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|BMW 750i ($71,800); 750Li ($75,800); 760i ($111,500) $760Li ($118,900) |
|360-hp, 4.8-liter, dohc, 32-valve V8; 438-hp 6.0-liter dohc 48-valve V12 |
|6-speed, Steptronic automatic |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|dual frontal airbags; dual front knee airbags; dual front door-mounted side-impact airbags; Head Protection System full cabin curtain-style airbags; front safety belts with automatic pre-tensioning and force limiters; front-seat active head restraints; automatic-locking retractors for all safety belts for child-restraint seats; child safety seat anchors (LATCH); anti-lock brake system; Dynamic Brake Control; electronic brake proportioning; traction control; Dynamic Stability Control |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|rear side-impact airbags ($385) |
|Basic warranty: |
|4 years/50,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Dingolfing, Germany |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|BMW 750Li ($75,800) |
|Standard equipment: |
|dual-zone automatic climate control with activated-charcoal microfilter ventilation and pollutant/odor-activated automatic recirculation; leather upholstery with microperforated seating surfaces; matte-finish, American walnut genuine wood trim; iDrive system with DVD-based, GPS navigation, on-board computer, climate controls and audio controls; Front Comfort Seats with 20-way power adjustments, articulated upper backrests, passenger-seat memory, active head restraints with adjustable side support; BMW Assist emergency communications; power two-way moonroof with key-off and one-touch operation; keyless entry with selective unlocking; dual, power, heated, auto-dimming, folding outside mirrors with selectable right-side tilt-down for reverse; universal, programmable garage door opener; enhanced interior lighting system; locking glovebox with removable, rechargeable flashlight; leather power tilt/telescope steering wheel with programmable fingertip cruise, audio and phone controls; climate-controlled front console compartment with coinholder, trunk-release lockout and illumination; AM/FM/CD audio with 10 speakers |
|Options as tested: |
|Adaptive Ride Package with self-leveling rear suspension and electronic shock damping ($1900); Convenience Package with soft-close, automatic doors and power trunk opening and closing ($1000); Luxury Seating Package with three-stage ventilated and heated front seats and heated rear seats ($1450); Rear Comfort Seats with 20-way, power adjustments and heated with active ventilation ($3500); Premium Sound Package with 13 speakers, DSP, 6-disc in-dash CD changer and 2 subwoofers ($1800); Rear Entertainment Package with rear-seat monitor and iDrive controller and trunk-mounted, six-DVD changer ($2200); Sirius satellite radio ($595); power rear sunshade ($750); 19-inch alloy wheels ($1300) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|rear-wheel drive |
|4.8-liter dohc 32-valve V8 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|360 @ 6300 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|360 @ 3400 |
|6-speed automatic with Steptronic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|17/25 mpg. |
|117.7 in. |
|198.4/74.9/58.7 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|62.1/62.8 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|39.7 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|39.2/59.3/41.3 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|38.5/58.7/37.2 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|18.0 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|Suspension F: |
|strut-type independent, coil springs, twin-tube gas-pressurized shocks, Active Roll Stabilization, Electronic Damping Control |
|Suspension R: |
|four-link independent, self-leveling air springs, twin-tube gas-pressurized shocks, Active Roll Stabilization, Electronic Damping Control |
|Ground clearance: |
|Curb weight: |
|4552 lbs. |
|245/45WR19 / 275/40WR19 |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|vented disc/vented disc with ABS, Dynamic Brake Control, electronic brake proportioning in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|23.3 gal. |