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2016 BMW 750i xDrive road test

9/9/2015 Justin Couture, MSN Autos

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What is it?

This is the new sixth-generation BMW 7 Series, the brand’s flagship sedan and what might be the most advanced luxury car to roam the world’s streets. While the 7 has always been the driver’s car of the prestige sedan segment, for this new model, BMW has placed greater emphasis on cutting-edge technology and luxury.

When it goes on sale in October, the new 7 will be offered in two variants: six-cylinder rear-wheel drive 740i and V8 all-wheel drive 750i xDrive. The all-wheel drive 740i xDrive and rear-wheel drive 750i will follow later, with the 740e xDrive plug-in hybrid arriving in 2016.

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What’s new?

Perhaps a better question to ask is what isn’t new, and that would be the powertrain in the 750i xDrive we tested. The 445-hp and 480-lb-ft of torque 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 is carried over (with slight tweaks to improve torque delivery and efficiency), as is the eight-speed automatic transmission. Otherwise, it’s a completely new vehicle from the wheels up. The 740i receives a new version of BMW’s 3.0-liter turbo straight six, which now makes 320 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque.

Underneath its slippery if familiar exterior is a brand new structure that leverages BMW’s learnings from the all-electric i3 and i8 plug-in hybrid supercars. Though the 7 Series isn’t made entirely from carbon fiber like its i-model siblings, the lightweight woven material is used in key structural elements including in the roof, pillars, side sills, and transmission tunnel to reduce weight, lower the center of gravity, and increase vehicle stiffness. These carbon sections are bonded and riveted to an aluminum-intensive chassis, and play a key role in trimming the 7’s curb weight by nearly 200 lbs over the outgoing model.

The results are appropriately dramatic. The 750i xDrive is nearly as quick as the pavement-scorching M5 performance sedan, a vehicle an entire size down from the 7-Series. It takes just 4.3 seconds to reach 60 mph (vs. 4.2 seconds for the M5) despite a 115-hp deficit. It’s an even more impressive feat given the 7 Series will only be offered in long-wheelbase form (the “L” part of the name has quietly been dropped) and is longer than the outgoing model by a bit more than an inch.

Also reworked are the steering and suspension systems. Air springs with adaptive dampers can now be found at all four corners for improved comfort, while the active anti-roll bars are now electromechanical instead of hydraulic for faster responses. Formerly an exclusive on rear-drive models, even the active rear steering has been updated – you can now get it on all-wheel drive models, too.

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What’s it like on the inside?

The 7 Series has always been BMW’s most opulent model, but you really get the feeling that BMW has pulled out all the stops with this one. It’s by far the most luxurious rendition in the car’s near-four-decade history.

Current 7 Series owners will find the new model a familiar place. The layout is an evolution of the last model’s design, but the quality of materials takes a huge step forward. Anything that looks like metal – including all the little buttons on the console – is metal. You’ll find fine-grain leather and wood trim in places where previous 7s used plastic. In an ode to comfort, the seats offer softer cushions than previous models, and can be upholstered in leather that’s stitched in a complex woven pattern. From a materials perspective, even the nit-pickiest will have difficulty finding faults.

In what is nothing other than a show of one-upmanship directed at Mercedes, the 7 offers more rear legroom than the S-Class, a greater number of seat massage functions, and not one but two on-board scents to perfume the cabin (eight total scents are available). Where the S-Class uses your mobile phone to control the rear-seat entertainment system, the 7 Series offers up a Samsung tablet that neatly docks in the center armrest. Ambient lighting plays a big role in setting the mood, from the LED Light Carpet that rolls out when entering and exiting, to the etched-glass panoramic sunroof that is backlit with hundreds of LEDs. It’s been said that prior 7s lack a sense of occasion in the cabin – not so, here.

For the ultimate luxury experience, the 7 Series now offers a seating arrangement that pushes the front passenger seat up against the dashboard, lowers a foot rest, and reclines the right rear seat to near-horizontal levels. Fold-out tables and extra cushy headrest pillows are included too, completing that private jet feel.

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What new technology features does it have?

Are you sitting down? If not, you might want to. And pour yourself a cup of coffee while you’re at it because there’s a lot to discuss.

As with a growing number of luxury cars, the 7 Series offers the latest in active driving aids. Its camera systems and sensors allow for near-autonomous driving for brief periods of time, keeping the car squarely between dotted or solid lines all on its own. Radar cruise control offers full range of speeds, and can even handle the most gridlocked of commutes.

While North American lawmakers have put the kibosh on the 7’s driverless self-parking system – a world first – we still get another noteworthy assist in the form of the world’s first three-dimensional parking camera. Push the Surround View button and watch in amazement as a rendered BMW and the surrounding area pop up on the iDrive display; a real-time, 360-degree view around the car is available by pinching and sliding your fingers in front of the screen.

In front of the screen? Well, that’s yet another 7 Series party trick – it’s the first car to have features that can be controlled by hand gestures. Cameras mounted in the headliner can pick up hand motions, enabling you to adjust the volume (twirl your index finger), answer calls (point at screen), and ignore them (pushing your hand to the side). The new iDrive 5.0 system has also been updated with a touchscreen, allowing you to scroll, pinch, and swipe your way through menu upon menu, just like on your smartphone. The existing scroll knob console controller remains.

The 7 Series also has the most advanced keyfob we’ve ever laid our hands on – it has a small touch display built in, allowing you to swipe through menus listing everything from how much fuel is in the car to whether or not the car’s windows are open. While a smartphone app might have been an easier route, the key itself is a conversation starter. Were that not enough, an always-on rain sensor keeps a watchful eye too, closing open windows and the sunroof should it start to rain.

So the 7 Series is a technological tour de force, but does it go overboard? It’s not as daunting to operate as it sounds. It’s clear BMW has spent a lot of time polishing how people interact with these gizmos and gadgets, allowing you to spend more time driving than reading the tome of an owner’s manual. And if you’re finding it still a bit too much the first time around, BMW will send one of its product specialists by your house or office for a second lesson at your convenience.

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What’s it like to drive?

Although virtually every aspect of the 7 Series is customizable to your driving tastes, regardless of how it’s configured, it has a level of polish and refinement no prior 7 Series was able to deliver.

Set off, and the car defaults to Comfort. It’s a softer baseline than previous, the new suspension isolating the bumps while the turbo V8 silently and muscularly pulls you forward. At highway speeds, there’s a complete absence of noise – really, we’re talking Rolls-Royce levels of solitude. Even considering its highly accomplished rivals, the 7 impresses. ¬The plushness factor is elevated with the new Comfort Plus setting, a BMW first. It’s deliberately soft, catering to the comfort of rear-seat riders, but we reckon it’s just a bit too soft. Over undulations the car has the rather uncharacteristic trait of floatiness (another BMW first, although somewhat less desirable).

But what about the folks who are really interested in driving? Good news: Sport isn’t just the most dialed in of the settings, it’s also the 7’s most natural mode. When engaged, the car hunkers down on its air suspension, dropping its ride height by 10 mm and squeezing out additional slack, reducing body roll, pitch, and dive. With the new electronically controlled active anti-roll bar system, the 7 gives you a real sense of what’s happening beneath the tires without disturbing the ride. Add a sharper throttle response, and all of that power and torque available to exploit, and the 7 presents the driver an effortless and cohesive experience that tops its closest rivals.

Does the notion of pushing buttons and calling up modes turn you off? Simply press the Adaptive mode and the whole car will automatically adjust to the road ahead, using forward-facing cameras and the navigation to predict what’s ahead, tautening and softening the suspension as necessary, and adjusting the transmission’s shift points. The net effect is a car with a resolutely calm and confidence-inspiring nature that we simply couldn’t catch off guard on the backroads of upstate New York.

Though BMW has dialed out the feedback and reduced the weight of the steering to suit the 7’s demographic, little compromise has been made in accuracy or sharpness. The new steering rack provides consistent feel from lock to lock, and in conjunction with rear-wheel steering, the turning circle of the new long-wheelbase model is tighter than the outgoing short-wheelbase car.

The race track is hardly what you’d call the 7’s natural habitat, but that didn’t stop BMW from allowing us to put the car to the test and sample the new Autobahn package on Monticello Motor Club’s track. We wouldn’t call it the most engaging drive, but the 7 acquitted itself at high speed with rock-solid stability and surprisingly little body roll. Chalk that up to its near 50-50 weight distribution. Braking wasn’t an issue either, the burly sedan’s larger rotors and performance pads brushing off lap after lap of high-speed braking without fuss.

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Does it get good fuel economy?

Given that this is the sort of vehicle that can isolate passengers from the outside world while also outpacing most vehicles on the road, yes. Specific attention was paid to the car’s aerodynamics allowing this sedan to cleave through the air with a drag coefficient of 0.24. That’s not just the best in the segment – it’s one of the best in the world. Add this to an idle-stop system and BMW’s EcoPro mode, which optimizes shift patterns and throttle response for economy, and the 750i sees a drop in fuel consumption compared to last year’s model. BMW rates the 750i xDrive at 16 city and 25 highway (+1 mpg highway), with the rear-wheel-drive 740i checking in at 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway (+2 mpg city).

By comparison, Audi’s A8L 4.0T Sport is rated at 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, the Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic at 16 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, and the Lexus LS 460L AWD at 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

Those looking to maximize their fuel economy may wish to wait for the plug-in 740e xDrive, which pairs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a lithium-ion battery pack system and electric motors. Though fuel economy figures haven’t been announced, it’s good for 23 miles of all-electric driving.

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Who should buy one?

If you’re in the market for a big, comfortable prestige sedan, the 7 Series should be on your list. Certainly its looks are on the more conservative side, but the sheer level of technology on offer and its ultra-luxurious cabin elevate BMW to a new position in the luxury world. Only those desiring a more connected feel between car and driver may find themselves wanting; such drivers may favor the likes of the less practical and comfort-oriented Maserati Quattroporte or Porsche Panamera.

Pricing for the 740i starts at $81,300, the 750i at $94,400, and the 740i xDrive $97,400.

On balance, then, the 2016 BMW 7 Series may have shifted in its priorities, but in a way that buyers should find satisfying. And isn’t that what a flagship sedan is all about?

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