Car reviews - BMW - 7 Series - 750i sedan
More power with hardly any increase in fuel consumption, responsive handling, quality, comfort
Room for improvement
Push-button park brake function, auto transmission hunts occasionally
14 Oct 2005
By CHRIS HARRIS
BMW’s 7 Series might have its detractors, but the company is still able to claim it’s the most successful top-end luxury sedan in Australia, with sales totalling 311 vehicles in 2004 against 289 for its only real rival, the Benz S-class.
Always surprising, the market performance of the E65 7 Series makes something of a lie of the critics’ claims that the big car’s looks were always going to compromise it. Worldwide, BMW says almost 160,000 customers have taken delivery of 7 Series since it went on sale in 2001, giving it a healthy lead over its E38 predecessor during the four years after its launch.
Interesting, though, that the refurbished E66 model, that went on sale here in June 2005, addresses a few of the visual sore points that offended some onlookers.
The most controversial aspect of the E65 7 Series was the radical rear-end styling that married a seeming hot potch of conflicting shapes for no apparent reason other than to look distinctive.
So it might come as no surprise that the back end is the most visually changed and more conventional, even though the basic 2001 outline is still very much in evidence.
What’s happened is that the taillights that originally ended abruptly with the clamshell boot line now extend into the lid itself, giving a broader look and tidying up the number plate area.
Up front, there’s no ready clue to identify the E66 other than that the grille looks slightly happier, a little bolder, and that there are new Xenon headlights and sleeker, V-shape bumpers.
The side view is even harder to pick, although there’s a slightly steeper rake to the bonnet, new indicator lights and sidelines.
In essence, the facelifted 7 Series is a vote of confidence in the original design, although what has been done seems to gain approval where it was lacking before.
But while styling changes might be particularly important in a design that has attracted more than its fair share of attention, there’s other stuff going on with the new 7 Series that is significant too.
There have been a number of detail changes that make the big BMW nicer to live with – like an improved iDrive, with the mode button located with the AM/FM button on the CD player for direct access, a better-looking dash with regular and digital TV on a improved display screen, and a three-spoke "sports" wheel with additional controls – but it’s the mechanicals that are most worthy of note.
What has happened is that the engine lineup has been given a major upgrade meaning more power and torque, without any real increase in fuel consumption.
It goes like this: What was once the 735i becomes the 740i, with a capacity jump from 3.6 litres to a full four litres, and a rise in power from 200kW to 225kW along with a torque increase from 360Nm to 390Nm. And, what was the 745i becomes the 750i, also with a capacity increase - from 4.4 litres to 4.8 litres - along with a step up in power, from 245kW to 270kW, and a torque jump from 450Nm to 490Nm.
The fuel penalty is a mere 0.9 per cent with the 740i, at 11.2 litres per 100km, and zero (11.4 litres per 100km) with the 750i, even though performance is up, noticeably.
The suspension has been treated to a weight-saving programme that sees the adoption of all-aluminium parts and, on 740i as standard, there’s also BMW’s electronically assisted Adaptive Drive that allows the choice of comfort or sports mode, or an automatic mode where the suspension itself decides when to firm up the adjustable dampers.
The BMW’s rear track has been widened too, by 14mm, to enhance further the grip provided by the oversize wheels – and particularly the asymmetrical wheel-tyre combination seen in the 750i.
This all adds to the charm of a big sedan that’s been hailed as arguably the best in the world, and is certainly a very able challenger for the Mercedes-Benz S-class.
Driving the 7 Series after some absence brought some interesting second opinions, particularly concerning iDrive.
Maybe we’re all getting more attuned to menu-controlled systems, but iDrive this time around seemed less of a bother than we remember in the past. Only tuning the radio, which requires more concentration from the driver than is desirable, suggested there might be a problem - but then we found most operations can be performed via the multi-function steering wheel.
The things we found potentially disturbing in 2001, such as the stick-shift gear selector and the push-button parking brake, still don’t feel entirely intuitive, but were easy enough to live with after establishing some sort of rapport with the car. One disturbing aspect of the push-button park brake though was its tendency to allow the car to lurch slightly forward or backward shortly after being engaged on a slope.
The test car was a 750i, which was a nice way to experience all that is new with the car, and a suitably responsive bearer of the BMW sporting heritage.
Despite the extra alloy in the suspension, the 750i still weighs in at just under one tonne, yet it remains brilliantly lively and agile on the road.
Zero to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds is nothing to be ashamed of, and nor is the official average fuel consumption figure of 11.4L/100km (It must be said we failed to come anywhere near this during out week-long test mainly comprised of commuting work though. The trip computer showed an average of 15.3L/100km, which is about par for what you’d expect, given the performance and weight of the 7 Series).
What came flooding back to us though was the deeply instilled dynamism of the car – its main point of difference with the more cushy Benz.
The ride, even with Adaptive Drive set to auto mode, leans towards firm even though it’s beautifully controlled and comfortable. The steering – the 7 Series does not yet get the active system seen in 5 Series, 3 Series and 6 Series – is still sharp and beautifully reactive for such a big car. It certainly doesn’t feel like two tonnes.
The 4.8-litre V8, as you’d expect, sounds wonderful. The almost-sensual moan is not muted out of existence, and there’s always a touch of road noise, plus a nicely judged amount of steering wheel feel to remind the driver of the dynamics at hand.
The six-speed transmission allows a smooth, progressive power delivery and, if you must, it’s possible to select gears yourself via the steering wheel sequential buttons.
In full auto mode, surprisingly, it is not completely immune to hunting for the correct ratio, given a suitably confusing set of on-road circumstances.
But there’s never any questioning the 7 Series is designed around the driver
The passengers don’t do too badly, mind you. The 750i is not short of space in either front or rear, with plenty of shoulder width and always adequate legroom. The boot is big and well shaped, assisted in the test car by the close-assist function that may be actuated by pressing a button on the lower inner edge of the lid.
Passengers also bathe in the luxury of a powerful audio system, dual-zone climate-control, air-conditioning, car phone, a glass sunroof and two "Comfort" power seats, with memory, up front.
The E66 BMW 7 Series sticks basically to its guns in terms of styling, adding a touch of extra driveability as well as surging road performance to maintain its role as the luxury car for those who prefer to drive, rather than be driven.
The looks may be less challenging now we’ve had four years to adjust, and now that there are a few other imposing luxury sedans out there, but the BMW is still a hugely impressive car.
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