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On The Street In NYC: BMW E38 7er

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by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img ADLX ::: e38 BMW 740i

PRIME examples of the mid-90s/early 00s BMW 7-Series are getting to be as common as llama sightings on Fifth Avenue.

Sadly, BMW’s e38 generation (1995-2001) 7-Series sedans, generally speaking, are used, abused, and tossed to the next owner who wants a flash car but can’t or won’t pay for upkeep. And given that these 7ers have plenty of electronics that go wrong – from the soft-close trunk to the early gen. in-dash GPS – we can just imagine how many basket case 740i/740iL/750iL sedans there are on the roads.

Above is a ’99-’01 post-facelift gold 740i. Cosmetically, it’s a find. Gold was more commonly featured on the e32 generation (1987-1994) and didn’t accentuate the later 7′s contours as nicely, but, it’s still sharp.

The ’99 facelift’s subtle effects shine here, too – particularly how the trim beneath the headlamp housings perfectly outlines the two sets of spherical headlights.

All told, a prime 7 in a prime city in prime condition.

Bavarian Contrasts That Challenge Science

bmw x6 specsSomehow, both of these BMWs perform similarly.

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG BMW, NA

SAVING weight, they say, is the key to performance.

Ask Colin Chapman. Lotus’ forthright founder knew the advantages of trimming little extras like seat padding better than anyone in order for his lean ‘n mean sports cars to not only launch like Patriots but corner like Sidewinders.

That said, consider two models in the BMW family.

One, the 750Li sedan (which your correspondent tested in the spring)…

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…and the other – the X6 xDrive50i crossover (or “Sports Activity Coupe” if we must).

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Both share the same 400 horsepower twin-turbo V8 engine that spools a maximum 450 lb-ft of torque in a chart curve that stays reassuringly flat.

The 7-Series is the “lighter” car at 4,641 lbs and meets less wind resistance at 0.31 cd. The X6, by comparison, weighs a portly 5,261 lbs and cuts through the air at 0.37 cd.

BMW lists the 750Li’s 0-60 time at 5.2 seconds. The X6′s specs? Five point three.

That’s a 0.1 second difference despite the fact that the X6 is 620 lbs heavier. Not to mention beefier. Granted the game probably changes at even 70 mph – when the 7er doubtless pulls away. But still…

How can this be? Was Sir Colin wrong all these years on? Can mere weight be overcome by enough boffin-sourced technical tweaking?

Simply put, this performance claim demands a new test.

2009 BMW 750Li Review

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I have a confession to make:

While BMW’s latest flagship, the as tested one hundred thousand three hundred twenty dollar 2009 750Li is an object of technical brilliance, it fails to move me.

Oh, it propels like a rocket.

The Twin-turbo V8 with 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, the bulk of which is readily available from 1800-4500 rpm thanks to those terrific turbos, makes this 7-Series faster than any of its swift predecessors.

Zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Mid-range acceleration bests the old school M5.

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And, God, does it coddle and cosset. The new 7 is the quintessence of German comfort: effortless, adjustable in countless ways (except for the fixed rear seats in this model), heated, cooled, and supple but made as solidly as if from the bark of some titanium tree. What’s more, the interior’s supremely insulated and S-Class roomy.

And as a generational contrast to highlight just how far the Bavarians have come, you could drive all day in this 750Li and still feel reasonably rested with your blood circulated, your back ‘n bottom in good shape, and your mind relatively alert whereas you could drive all day in a 1983 733i and feel like you’ve run three miles in steel-toed work boots.

But like the old 7, in the new 7 -a sedan that’s an amalgamation of the old three box formula and the wedge theory- has a hood that extends out far in front of the driver’s view. In most Bimmers, the sightline ends at the dash which keeps things feeling tight ‘n right.

But where the lines of the old shark’s bonnet look angular and sharply defined, this 7’s flowing curves which pinch at either end in two sweeping arcs (like the 3er) would make a terrific stunt double for a 1999 Buick LeSabre.

And in titanium silver metallic, you’re almost convinced that this is grand pa’s car. Only much cooler.

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME?

The 7er’s external form is one of our hero’s tragic flaws. There’s nothing wrong with the interior; with Oyster Nappa hides matched with what BMW’s calling “High Gloss Fine Line Wood”, it’s a cool, Germanic environ.

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The sedan’s dash is back to being driver centered along with the dash mounted joystick shifter, as the Gods of Valhalla intended.

But the exterior is an aesthetic mess.

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Perhaps, my own taste is a generational thing.

In fact I think it is, because the E38 7-Series in jet black on black never, ever fails to stop me dead in my tracks. When I drove past a 2000/2001 740iL one evening in the 750Li, I almost rolled down my window to ask if the other driver wanted to swap cars.

Similarly handsome was the signature cashmere E32. A 1988 735i and a 1992 740i are two sedans that will live inside my heart forever.

And therein lays my own personal conflict.

Such is my ardor for the 7-Series line, second only to the S-Class, that throughout my days with the 750Li, I continually asked myself how I could objectively (as is humanly possible) cover this new car. Were I judge in a court case, I’d have to recuse myself.

But we’re not in a court of law (knock on wood). And the fact is I do know a thing or two about where BMW’s been and I’m not liking the avenue this new 7’s taken by virtue of its styling, size, and Lexus-like softness. It’s trying to be too many things to too many people. The focus, the precise essence is noticeably absent.

Too much is often just that.

WIZARDRY

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To be clear, it’s not for the plethora of watch dog technology and on board computers. Though they hog center stage, they’re little short of amazing and are a sophisticated furthering of BMW’s preliminary efforts with trip computers and stability programs all those years ago.

Let’s explore for a sec…

The second generation iDrive is actually user friendly. Below the rotary dial are a set of hot buttons that get you where you need to go on the computer’s many menus faster than if you scrolled. Amen!

But often time I’d have to switch off the wide screen as I found myself spending as much as 20% of my driving time watching static “TV” and not the road.

Thank goodness then, for the collision warning system, a sensor guided alert that flashes a red BMW on the heads up display and the instrument panel warning of an impending collision. This saved my distracted bacon once in slow, stop ‘n go traffic.

That said, some technical feats still need fine tuning.

For example, the active cruise control (ACC) would never work in the fast lane. If the car you’re following is doing 75 mph, the system will slow your progress (by gentle brake application) to 64 mph – or some similarly safe number. This means that traffic behind you will grow to hate you.

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Also, the blind spot detection system which lights yellow triangles from the corresponding rear view mirror that the approaching car is traveling on, will likely displease most aggressive Bimmer drivers as it also vibrates the steering wheel in warning when an approaching vehicle is a full car length away.

I could go on. And so I will.

The lane departure system which gauges whether you’re drifting out of your lane also vibrates the steering wheel in conjunction with a visual alert appearing in the HUD. This and the other features are defeatable, but they could prove useful to the late night road warrior.

But back to where it counts.

PERFORMANCE

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As I’d mentioned, the V8 is a thrill a mile – or – a relaxed cruiser. It’s an incredibly capable powerplant and it’s the new 7’s crown jewel. The active air suspension, on the other hand, is a little bit of a let down.

There’s an old BMW adage that BMW never built a suspension that couldn’t keep up with the speeds the engine produces. In this case, the V8 is so capable, the luxury tuned bellows are entirely outmatched. Select one of four modes, “Comfort”, “Normal”, “Sport”, and “Sport +” which deactivates the traction control, and the suspension along with the transmission and engine change their tenor.

The difference in ride quality is readily apparent. The 7 practically wafts Rolls style in “Comfort”. And in “Sport”, the car seems ready to spring while registering every bump in the road.

Still, I took the same increasing radius, concrete walled offramp/connector three times in each mode save for Sport + while noting my exit speed.

Driving fast each time, the big 7 leaning hard on the driverside tyres, and returned similar numbers: 57, 54, and 56 mph, respectively.

To give you some idea of where these speed stats fall on the grand scale of my own automotive relativity, the fastest I’ve managed this tightening turn is 60 mph (in a 128i convertible) and the slowest is 45 mph in my li’l Panzer (Benz 300E 4-Matic).

Of course this indicates varying levels of nerve on my part, but it also tells you that my confidence did not grow nor did the 7’s apparent grip increase when switching from Comfort to Normal to Sport modes. I had, in fact, all 245/50 tyres howling.

To be fair, it also demonstrates how well this luxo barge manages a corner despite itself.

But that point segues us nicely to another of this 7’s troubles – size and weight.

LARGESS

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At 205.2 inches, it’s as long as a LWB W140 generation Benz S600, with a 126 inch wheelbase that’s three inches longer than the old Benz’s wheelbase. And at 4,640 lbs it’s about as heavy as the old gen. S420.

And while the active steering, brakes, and suspension do a great job of disguising the weight with sporty litheness of feel, the car can only match the inflated expectation to a point.

Coming down hard from easily attainable, super-legal speeds elicits tail wag from the rear. And full out panic stops take a lot longer to execute than the pedal feel would otherwise suggest.

And another BMW test…

Approach a piece of road that drops suddenly away and one of several things can happen.

In a typical car, at lows speeds the front suspension will drop out from beneath the car leading into a nose dive or at higher speeds the car will simply catch air and bottom out on landing.

In any BMW worth its salt, the Bimmer will do neither. An E39 M5, an E32 735i, an E46 328i, whatever, will follow asphalt or catch air and land on its feet – not bottoming out.

Approach this challenge in the 750Li and the front wheels drop away and the car will nose dive. It cushions you from the harsh change, but it just doesn’t respond fast enough to road conditions.

The simple-is-beautiful Macpherson strut setup seems to shine about now…

THE CRUX

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Like all good 7’s, the 750Li lies about its weight. But if all that’s being too critical (it isn’t, really) let’s remember that the F01/F02 generation 7-Series is a step back from the abyss and step forward in terms of comfort.

And from the rear and the side profiles, surface tension has made a welcome comeback. And thank Heaven, the last car (E65/E66) looked like the genetic cross mutation of a vampire bat and a sea cow.

In short, there are plenty of positives. But none lead me to desire this car in the same way I lusted after its esteemed forebears. It may be more engaging than the current S-Class, but the Benz’s current flagship is truer to the grand Benz ethos than the 7 is to its own creed.

I fear for those who long for performance over luxury in their BMWs, the solution is to hazard a used E38 or E32 7er, enjoy the smaller scaled thrills of a new 1-Series, or pine on the memory of sevens past.

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Four Teutonic Facelifts That Worked & One That Didn’t

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The R129 generation (1989-2001) Mercedes SL – post-op

By Gunnar Heinrich

SUCH is the prolific lifespan of most of Stuttgart or Munich’s creations (typically 7-10 years) that mid-cycle “facelifts” are often called for to keep the Benzes and Bimmers appearing fresh against upstart competition.

Sound like the anxious existence of an aging Hollywood actress? Well, it is more or less.

Here are four cases in point where a trip to the plastic surgeon yielded a cleaner look that managed to eclipse the original plus one example that could’ve used a follow up…

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BMW E34 5-Series (1988-1994)

Arguably the handsomest midsize sedan BMW has yet to build, the 5er was angular, lean, and cleanly drew the automaker into the 90s. But those facets that worked under the Bush Administration seemed dated mid-way through the Clinton years – particularly when most rivals were bulking up into heftier shapes.

Below, the easy fix.

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The 90s refit added a lower apron to the front bumper – better channeling air to the front brakes – and  minimized the horizontal plastic slats – a styling cue from the 70s – in favor of adding painted sheetmetal surrounding the chromed kidney grille. The effect, however subtle, was a modernizing step that segued nicely into the succeeding e39 generation (1995-2003).

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Mercedes-Benz R129 SL-Class (1989-2001)

The automotive press was merciless in their spite of the sport light by the time it had reached its finale in 2001. They labeled the Benz a “dinosaur” with all the big, lumbering connotations for performance that the attribution meant.

Still, when the SL made its debut in the 80s alongside the W126 S-Class, it was a pioneer in German excellence in design that had replaced the truly ancient R107 (1971-1989).  Still, the SL would receive not one but two facelift in its lifespan. The last (and best) occuring in 1998.

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It’s amazing what tweaking the headlamps of a car can do to the overall appearance. With translucent lenses, we see a more dynamic face thanks the Xenon projectors. Visually, the “eyes” of the car appear wider, too.  That along with bolder body-colored bumpers, slightly twisted side skirts (on Sport packaged models), and larger, fewer spoked rims – gave more credibility to the “sport” in “sport light”.

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Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class (1991-1999)

Hot on the heels of the W126 generation (1979-1991), many of the automotive press labeled this big Benz “too much of a good thing”. Indeed, its designer Bruno Sacco lamented that he thought the W140 “two inches too tall.” Whatever the case, Benz let pleats out of this suit and were quick to take it back in.

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The 1996 refit turned the initial car’s frown upside down – yielding a smiling front air dam. The headlights were slightly tampered with too as were the side indicators which became translucent – replacing the bright signature Mercedes orange. There still wasn’t much Benz could do with the heavy appearance – but the second variation made subtle amends with added lines to regain a sense of surface tension that the original never had.

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BMW E65/66 7-Series (2001-2008)

Portly and flamed to a crisp, the first of Chris Bangle’s new generation of flame surfaced BMWs left BMW’s former chief designer fearing for his life for the ire of incensed Bimmer traditionalists. Admittedly, the flagship Bimmer had a hard act to follow…but this was a bit much. Hence the hasty and comprehensive corrective surgery in 2005…

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Once again, surface tension was introduced to a design that had none. Stronger lines cleaved into the hood and trunk cut through the original car’s bloat. That and taller wheels, more rectangular(ish) headlights, a smiling front air dam (the original glowered with two foglamps for clumsy fangs – think Sweetums from The Muppets ) and a cleaner boot line (less Bangle but) made for a sharper finish to this most controversial 7.

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Mercedes-Benz W210 E-Class (1995-2003)

Now for the exception. The first generation of the handsome, oval-headlamped midsize Benzes enchanted the automotive press when it was first unveiled. But quality control problems marred the sedan’s production life and Mercedes’ otherwise sterling facade – including an unforgivable lack of structural rigidity in the crash tests. Sadly, the best looking midsize Benz Stuttgart has yet built is also takes the top prize in poorest build quality.

w120-eclass-automobiles-de-luxeUnfortunately, the mid-cycle fix took away a large portion of the original W210′s charm. Strangely scalloped from air intakes replaced the first iteration’s form & function horizontal slats. The front bumper was reshaped giving the sedan less ground clearance and a more forward leaning stance.

Those signature oval headlamps lost the bright orange “eye lid” contrast to a milky, opaque disguise.  The afterthought side mirror signal lights didn’t work either for their inclusion seemed clumsily executed. Slimmer tail lamps, a more slanted grille, the list of missteps goes on…

And there you have it:  four facelifts that improved upon the original art work – and one that really didn’t.


BMW Individual

bmw-individual-automobiles-de-luxeYour ass here ->

By Gunnar Heinrich

CHILL that’s what I should’ve said to myself when BMW unleashed the new F01 7-series upon us all hot ‘n nasty like and then unveiled a pallet of colors that would keep the folks in the retirement home sleeping softly. But I should’ve known better. And the Individual Program is why.

Olde Top Gear Review of Lexus LS400 versus Traditional Euro Set


By Gunnar Heinrich

TOP GEAR wasn’t always Top Gear.

And there’s no better proof of that than this clip of ye olde Top Gear from the Y.O.L. nineteen hundred ninety one. In it, a very un-Clarksonesque presenter takes us through an arc-storyline presentation of the Lexus’ then new LS400.

Assembling a crowd of “The traditional European competition” – a BMW (E32) 735i, Jaguar (XJ40) XJ6, and Mercedes-Benz (W126) 420SE (with those bloody Euro-spec lights ‘n bumpers) – the presenter performed a rather matter of fact review of all three’s kit and tags next to the cheap ‘n cheerfully stuffed and hushed LS.

The presenter’s notes on the Europeans was firmly stiff upper lip.

  • Speaking of the Jag, “It’s got exceptional ride and handling… and extra instrumentation; something the Americans demanded.” Hey don’t blame us, pal.
  • The Bimmer, “Very much a driver’s car. Very efficient in design and layout.” Naturally.
  • The Benz, “Long in the tooth. Good performance, ride, and handling.” I beg your pardon?
  • And the Lexus, “Toyota have undoubtedly produced a quality car.” Quite.

And that’s about as heated as the review gets. No rants nor raves. Just a mild assessment of the qualities and shortcomings of four luxury sedans.

Top Gear really wasn’t always Top Gear.

First Reaction: BMW 7-Series

By Gunnar Heinrich

BMW’s recently revealed next generation 7-Series (F02), a technical tour-de-force of the (über popular) Bavarian automaker’s best efforts to cosset and propel vehicle occupants in equal measure, has received a muted reception from the auto press.

Frankly, for many there’s little cause to celebrate an ode to excess in such a dour economic climate – even if the big 7 stands a little leaner thanks to aluminum trimmings and is a little more frugal on the go-juice thanks to extra smart electronic engine management.

But that’s not really the base of why BMW’s flagship is being treated to the deafening silence of media apathy. It’s the lack of shock factor.

Munich played it safe.

Chris Bangle teamed with and tempered by protégé Adrian Van Hooydonk has brought back a little self restraint and conservatism to Bavarian design sprache.

Shock! There are even tributes to be the marque’s past in the “concave and convex” curves of the sedan’s slightly less flamed broiled body .

E32 generation fans (of which I include myself as a kindred spirit) can find plenty of tips of the Tyrolean hat to the hallmarks of the roundel’s late 80s/early 90s style in the sedan’s taller, more angular profile, signature inverse hockey-puck taillights, and the reintroduced driver-oriented front cabin.

Gone is the column shifter and returned is the gear shifter that is – as God intended – back on the center console separating both front seats.

BMW’s design team have dialed back largesse and dialed in intimacy; a fundamental and sorely missed aspect in the current generation 7’s layout.

Trouble is, for all the keen effort in reconciling the Bangle But trunk, the vehicle’s front shows a sallow void of imagination. If the low snouted predecessor 7s like the E32 or E38 generations appeared like voracious Tiger sharks ready to hone in on pray, this new 7 transmits the creepy Megamouth.

But these grappling notes represent the first take of many to follow. What can be summed up in these early days is that the new 7 is set to eclipse its predecessor visually by being conservative. A feat both easily accomplished and entirely welcomed.

[Linked: TMR]