By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG via YouTube
DRAMA. Intensity. Crumple zonage.
It never occurred to me that when I drove the ’09 (F01) BMW 750Li, that there was the potential of high velocity impact. I didn’t want to really, such as it is a painful premise even in theory.
Of course accidents can happen and if/when they do it’s nice to know that the car maker’s got your back…along with everything else.
From this footage via BMW TV, the 7-Series driver and passengers would benefit from probably the best impact protection this side of a Mercedes S-Class. Notice how in an offset frontal, the roofline past the A-pillar doesn’t even appear to have a crease.
That long bonnet’s got the job covered, danke.
By Gunnar Heinrich | YouTube
DERIVING an odd pleasure from watching one of my all-time favorite cars – the e38 generation BMW 7-Series – receive punishing treatment through the course of an uncaring production, I thought I’d share with you this action short from the BMW Films collection.
Ambush, directed by John Frankenheimer, features Clive Owen as a cool tempered driver and Tomas Milian as a frightened passenger (Mr. Milian played General Salazar in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic) in a low-on-plot chase thriller that’s set in a series of anonymous locales.
Not quite as epic as Guy Ritchie’s M5 flick, Star, Frankenheimer does this piece an adequate justice. For the car’s part, the 740i’s performance shines. The last of the great sharks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
FIRST impressions are hard to get past, although this Seven will give you reasons to try.
The appearance of this car did not evoke the “Gee I’d like to have one of those,” response. Instead, I thought, “Christ, this thing is giant.” And it makes up for its size – in ugly.
Size is a large part of this new Seven’s stylistic challenge. And this begs the question: when something, anything is overly large isn’t it the designer’s job to help lighten its appearance? Lend it a little grace?
That just hasn’t happened here.
The high beltline actually makes the sedan’s profile look taller and fatter. Why on Earth would BMW borrow this styling element directly from their least expensive car – the One – and use it on their new flagship?
I wouldn’t mind necessarily, but the aesthetic faux-pas looks lousy on the baby Bimmer, too.
Too big is sometimes just that. And the length of the car consists of a mass of cutlines that do nothing shrink this boat, visually. Even this model’s predecessor, portly though it was, somehow managed to look lighter on its feet.
Look, I know how popular it has been in recent years to pick on BMW styling.
On the other hand, perhaps there’s good reason to do so.
Has BMW now become the least homologous line of cars out there? The One and the Seven now look similar and I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing.
The Six looks like no other car in the lineup, as is true with the Ugly Five and the beautiful Three.
BMW’s rivals have a smart visual continuity in their lineups which makes any Audi look like an Audi and any Benz look like a Benz. Damned If I can say that about BMW’s family.
Back to the Seven. The interior, while clearly well done, is a bit cold in its presentation. It’s sort of fussy industrial, rather than warmly inviting. There are acres of cow, dark wood and shiny metal. And despite all this luxurious gluttony, the cabin still remains uninviting.
All that mass and all that ugly disappear when you drive this car.
Simply put, it’s got tons of power. Just a few minutes in the twisties and you’re left feeling totally comfortable flinging it into and powering out of every turn. You would not find a stick shift out of place here at all, if BMW offered one.
High praise indeed.
The new 750Li provides a terrific, engaging, driving experience that you would never tire of.
But the car does present us with the automotive equivalent of choosing to marry an ugly partner because they’re great in bed. It’d be a thinking person’s move, but still, as thoughtful individual you’d still have to get past that first impression.
Richard Wolf is a Connecticut based architectural designer and owns an E39 gen. M5. We featured Richard in both our BMW Enthusiast and Lime Rock segments that aired on CPTV. In the past, Richard has owned three 7er’s: two E23 gen. 733i’s and one (magnificent) E32 gen. 735i.
THERE is no blue moon to light your progress tonight.
only Xenons’ gaseous blue…
is there to pierce the night’s mist.
Stationary, you appraise all those details.
There are so many.
Lines, curvatures, creases, technological bits.
Only somehow the presence of water magnifies them.
The air’s humidity reflects engineered light well…
making the atmosphere appear damp and electric all at once.
You’ll note that this generation 7-Series is within a half inch
the length of a W140 S-Class Benz.
And in order to move that bulk,
the 750Li’s Twin-Turbo V8 makes 407 horsepower.
Not that any of these horses are being used at the moment.
It’s just you, the car, the dampness of the air, and another car
whose helpful source of light lets you soak it all in.
The rear door’s sun blinds reflect man made light, nicely.
There are just so many facets to this 7.
So much technology. So much that’s new and different and unique to
this 2009 flagship. So much of it foreign to those Bavarian
standard bearers that served before.
Helpfully, there are genealogical cues to clue you into the heritage…
even if that heritage may seem lost at moments
in the incongruity of some flamed surfaces…
you nevertheless recognize that the past is still very much in the present.
Your 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.
By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG BMW-Werke-Dingolfing
WATCHING a video online that showcased the fascinating study in efficiency that is BMW’s Dingolfing plant – the enormous Bavarian factory that assembles the 5, 6, and 7-Series – an interesting bit of imagery caught my eye.
You see, of the 280,000 some odd BMWs that leave the world’s largest Bimmer plant each year, many of those cars are transported on the backs of Mercedes-Benz trucks (as pictured). While this is business as usual for most German concerns, it’s nonetheless funny that one arch-rival’s product should facilitate getting the other rival’s product to market.
It’s kind of like watching Republicans and Democrats sling mud at each other on the Hill only to find out that after-hours they all attend the same Washington cocktail parties.
Mr. Clarkson pondering BMW ergonomics with pipe
By Gunnar Heinrich
THERE is something acutely strange that happens when you first try to reverse in a right-hand drive car in a country whose traffic flows from the left – you turn right to look back and instead of having that clear view through the windscreen, you jam your hand and shoulder against the door and find a close up view of the seat belt mounted to the car’s b-pillar.
It’s disorienting and you’re left feeling really, really foolish.
Anyway, this happened to me, discouragingly, in the middle of a test drive at a Land Rover dealer in Scotland. It wasn’t my first time driving on the left, but it was my first time behind the wheel of a car in at least three weeks (not a healthy way to live). So, it took adjusting.
It might be hard for the majority of the world to consider, but those who do drive on the left are forced to be ambidextrous. Most of the car’s functions are featured on the dashboard which is inevitably placed left of the driver’s left knee.
Fortunately, the pedals are in the same left to right order as nature intended. But in the case of BMW’s all encompassing iDrive, it isn’t.
Jeremy Clarkson pointed this out in his Sunday Times column this week.
“As any normal person who’s tried to operate a computer mouse with their left hand knows, it’s nigh-on impossible. In short, then, the right-hand-drive 7-series works only for left-hand-drive people.”
For Bimmer drivers in the 75 countries that drive on the left side of the road, including but not limited to the UK, Japan, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, and Guyana, they must be left feeling really, really foolish.
[Linked: Sunday Times]
By Gunnar Heinrich
CHRIS BANGLE may now be gone from BMW, but his flame surfaced legacy, thanks to the nature of Bavarian product cycles, will be long-lived.
And as reports surface about the nature of events at BMW that surrounded his resignation, it’s interesting to note that Mr. Bangle’s influence extended well beyond the Roundel.