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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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2009 Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe Review

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WE have had it wrong all along.

By “we”, I mean the automotive press. When we consider the price tag of a 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, the majority of us strain are necks when looking from the ground up at a sky-high price. It’s only natural – the great silent majority share the same standard, land-locked P.O.V.

“Oh, I’d rather buy a Ferrari and keep the change for that kind of money,” one curbside critic told me, lifting up his nose in a not-so-subtle display of snobbery, reverse-engineered.

But, like the song says, it bears repeating: we have had it wrong all along.

The snobby bystander, like me and all those auto scribes who are prone to reciting their dream list of the umpteen Vettes and million- odd Kawasaki Ninjas you could buy for the MSRP of one Rolls-Royce, are looking at the matter cross eyed.

If we consider that the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe is a) without peer as a rolling statement this side of a Bugatti and b) the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe isn’t really a car … it all starts making sense.

FOLLOW ME

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The Phantom Coupe’s stats are by law formulated and publicized much like any auto. Long gone are the days of describing power as “adequate”, so now they read as follows:

  • 0-60 in 5.6 seconds
  • Direct Injected -48 valve-411.8 cu in. V12
  • 531 lb-ft of torque@ 3500rpm
  • 453 horsepower
  • 0.36 Drag Co-efficient
  • 18 combined mpg (I managed 15-17 mpg over five days)

And so on…

Yes, you can pile four people and luggage into it; tipping the scales well past its 5,771 pound curb weight. Yes, you can pick up the groceries, the kids at practice, go to work, commute, go through the drive-thru, but never the automated car wash, etc.

And yes, if you consider that in a world of GMC Yukon XLs the proportions of this Coupe at 220.8 X 78.2 X 62.7 inches are still within the parameters of really big  (U.S.) vehicles, it can still be classified as a “car”.

That’s where the commonalities end.

ONE, IF BY LAND

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But as luxury transport statements go, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe is not only the biggest bang for the proverbial buck, it’s also a bargain.

What else besides a yacht or your own private jet or helicopter can transport you in such comfort while conveying to all asunder that you’ve made bank, one billion fold?

Trouble is, with a yacht – I’m speaking of something akin to a Riva ’92 Duchessa or a Palmer Johnson 123 no. 1 Alter Ego – these boats not only come with multi-million dollar purchase (or finance) costs, their annual upkeep (staffing, maintenance, docking, marine insurance, yacht club fees, deck bunnies ;-)) and staggering depreciation are also multi-million dollar expenditures.

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A Sunday cruise around the bay in a comparatively modest cigarette boat won’t cost less than $500 in gas. A Sunday tour by Phantom Coupe in the countryside shouldn’t cost more  than fifty bucks (as of 5/09).

Consider that a helicopter or private jet – your own Sikorsky chopper or Gulfstream -or better, Boeing – are not only multi-million to billion dollar endeavors subject to the same kind of expenses as a yacht – they’re also liable to stricter oversight by terrorist sensitive governmental authorities – Heaven forbid your aircraft stray too close to a no-fly zone…

In both cases, neither conveyances of air or sea allows you, the master-of-your-own-dominion , to show off to 90% of the traveling public. You’re either out to sea or in the sky and in either case, out of reach.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe has you traveling in luxuriant style at a fraction of the cost and within clear eyesight of everyone else.

HOW DOES THE ROLLS PERFORM?

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Brilliantly, 90% of the time.

I like to focus on the bad and finish with the beautiful, so let’s start with the rough 10%.

The Phantom Coupe’s technology is BMW circa 2007. Fine, in general. In another time, Rolls-Royce used to buy all the unseen sparky bits from GM.

What the older Bimmer kit does mean, however, is that your stuck with the old iDrive; an in-car computer system that’s beyond irritating and worth avoiding whenever possible which is rarely possible, sorry to say.

This particular Phantom Coupe also suffers a possessed park control system that wouldn’t deactivate even when engaging park. The system emits a constant, ear splitting noise when you’re close to something or someone crosses in front of your bumper. Chances are you could adjust the volume setting somehow, or deactivate it entirely, but that would mean delving deep into iDrive’s labyrinths.

There’s also a real visibility issue. The Phantom Coupe is filled with blind spots and your aft vision is blocked by the car’s (fabulous) architecture.  Incorporating BMW’s Active Blind Spot detection system would be beneficial.

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This Rolls also has a faint wind noise coming from the driver’s A-pillar and there’s loose wood paneling under the rear central air vents.

And that’s it. There ends the list of complaints. Aside from hiring a minder (or bouncer) to ensure that no one keys your stunning Diamond black on black Rolls with brushed metal bonnet, the troubles end there and here’s where the Phantom Coupe’s magic begins.

BRAVO!

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I’m firm about the Phantom Coupe not being just a car because it really feels like no other car – new or old – on the road. You could draw similarities to a late-20s coupe – except that this 2009 model is more voluminous and far more sophisticated than anything pre-war.

The interior is a minimal if elegantly appointed Art Deco sitting room in which you feel and watch yourself “waft” disconnectedly from one location to the next. You’ve never experienced a quieter car, though, you understand that owing to full frame doors, the Phantom saloon is an audio file of what heaven must sound like to a librarian.

Because the Phantom Coupe is Goodwood’s closest interpretation of a “roadster” it features the now infamous “S”port button (much derided in Brit press) to allow for more assertive shifting.

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In practice, since the autobox won’t let you manually select a gear, pushing the S button helps you stay off the brakes in long hill descents by holding the behemoth back in a lower gear.

Stomp on the go pedal and the ever-ready V12 produces a remote growl through two chrome exhausts as the Rolls launches towards the horizon. In normal driving, the engine stays hybrid-quiet. Progress – like every tangible function in the Roller -is silky smooth and slippery in its silence.

That said, you can – as my girlfriend did – “raise” the starlit roof with the Coupe’s incredible Logic 7 sound system. You notice the system adding volume incrementally as the Rolls attains higher speeds but cabin noise maintains its hush.

While driving does feel like a remote activity, the steering which is executed through a thin-rim helm is remarkably precise and talks to you about the most pressing issues your tyres face. Everything else is deemed superfluous and is muted.

You’ll notice that dialing the Rolls into a mean corner does promote tall lean , but the Goodyears supporting 21 inch alloys hang on without much complaint. Had you dared to drive anything near 7/10ths in any older Royce, the Rolls would have listed wildly; risking the chrome hub caps and rolling the soft Avons’ onto their sidewalls.

RIDING ON AIR

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The Phantom Coupe’s ride quality is, well, the Rolls-Royce of rides. It’s neither waterbed squirmy like an old Caddy nor is it firmly dampened like a taut-new Bimmer. You feel like you’re riding on a cushion of air when in truth you’re actually riding on four.

The only moment that this sumptuous system falls down is over speed bumps. For whatever reason, the air shocks won’t adjust comfortably to those parking lot annoyances that any Mercedes-Benz can absorb.

Approach a sleeping policeman at speed or crawl over wheel by wheel, and in either case there’s an audible –thump- that makes it into the cabin with the accompanying vibration to your posterior.

Remarkably, you’ll notice that parking lot maneuvers are tight for such mass. And tight is a good descriptor for the rest of the car.

Traditionally, Rolls-Royces of yesteryear felt heavy, over-stuffed, and loose. As my good friend Hardy Drackett noted, it’s like you could sense that the open door weighed heavily on its hinges.

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While the Phantom Coupe’s suicide doors are heavy, they’re nonetheless fluid, and electronically operated by the press of a button. There’s no sense of strain in the structure’s (substantial) weight.

Everything feels so light yet so secure to point of seeming armored. Which is what it must be – for a luxurious statement this bold must at least appear to secure its occupants from the wide range of emotions that the outside world will offer your Phantom Coupe.

And offer, they will.

EVERYONE’S GOT ONE

Sometimes it’s an open-mouthed stare; a thumbs up or a middle finger. Sometimes it’s a truck that will deliberately swerve to kick up a cloud of dirt that you’ll proceed through. Sometimes it’s a goop-haired tool driving an ill-gotten CL65 AMG who finds a way to cut you off because you have loudly upstaged him.

Sometimes it’s an ecstatic gear head who’s gotta get this on his cell phone camera – while driving next to you on the highway. Sometimes it’s those reverse-engineered snobs who are very careful NOT to notice your eminently conspicuous arrival.

And then it’s the wonder of watching a dad inform his son that what the little guy has just witnessed for the first time is a Rolls-Royce.

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Anyway you look at it, for $441,000 the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe is the most sublime and imperious way to roll. For those who can, it’s worth every penny.

Elm City By Night: Pontiac G8 GT Illuminated

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG Special to ADL by Kevin Kusina

THE G8 GT was made for the weekends.

As practical and comfortable as the car proved to be for everyday use, the muscular sedan (check those wheel well arches) really earned its stripes, chops, and/or fuel by being every bit the slick boulevardier last Saturday night in New Haven.

The red in the test car’s finish seemed to glow incandescent against the Elm City’s sodium vapor and neon – i.e. – it pops.

I lost count of the number of BMW drivers that swiveled to check out the G8; which externally owes much to the München School of Design (start at the kidney grille and head back to the Hoffmeister Kink).

Intriguingly, throughout this shameless copying, the Pontiac manages to retain a character uniquely its own.

Kudos to ADL’s camera guy exemplar Kevin Kusina and his Chevy Trailblazer (an ADL crew car of sorts) which comes complete with brake pedal that gives the same kind of feedback that comes from applying firm foot pressure to a softening pumpkin.

Thanks, Kev.

BMWs on Block Island

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG by Kevin Kusina and Neil Rogers for Automobiles De Luxe

SETTING up a time-lapse shot can be a bit of a pain.

When you’re dealing with the elements, time, and herds of Block Island tourists who switched off their reason and rational faculties when they boarded the ferry at Port Jervis, it can be a royal pain.

Luckily, we had the patient and diligent Benjamin Winchel at work to capture the magic of a summer’s sun setting over Block Island Sound.

It was beautiful.

The Bimmers – flame surfaced though they were – looked captivating.

Our man Kevin Kusina shot this image and with a little doctoring from Neil Rogers – voila – you have the image that I’m now using for my desktop.

As for the time lapse footage, well, let’s just say it was worth it.

The Turbo X Spectacular! Part II: Lost (Briefly) In Beantown

By Gunnar Heinrich with Photos By Kevin Kusina

DRIVING off the lot from Herb Chambers in the new Turbo X with ADL shooter Kevin riding shotgun and Saab media rep. extraordinaire Jan-Willem Vester giving directions from the back seat, we embarked upon a preordained route that wound us northward to North Andover where in a more secure, open setting we would be able to beat the Turbo X like the redheaded stepchild it isn’t.

The trouble was getting there.

Not a problem you’d think, Jan-Willem had the directions. The route was charted. Tuesday morning traffic was light. We’d be as right as Swedish pork-filled potato dumplings with cabbage rolls.

Boston, bless it’s eighteenth century heart, had other ideas.

ADL’s Coming Up Nines

By Gunnar Heinrich

NINES is the magazine for Saab Club of North America.

Following the Turbo X event, the publication’s affable editor-in-chief Seth Bengelsdorf and I shared a ride back to our cars in a Turbo X Sportcombi.

We talked about the day’s event, the Turbo X, my own 9-3 Convertible, and his classic Sonett.

I said I’d happily write an article for his publication and he offered me a copy.

It wasn’t until I’d returned home that I discovered I had already contributed.

On the front cover of May/June 2008′s issue and behind the pictured Saab 9-X display at the NYIAS, the heads of five ADL crew are turned expectantly towards the rear window of an H3.

From the left: Sound Guy Dave Baker; Neil Rogers; Chris Reo; Tiffany Hopkins; and Kevin Kusina.

[Linked: Nines | ADL NYIAS Video]

Saab’s Stage: Bostonian Spring

Photos by Kevin Kusina

[Click To Enlarge]

To Boston!

By Gunnar Heinrich

AUTOMOBILES DE LUXE is on the road to Beantown where Saab USA will show off their latest, (hopefully) greatest, jet black, charged and cross-driven Turbo X.

Over the next forty-eight, ADL photographer exemplar Kevin Kusina and yours will meet with GM reps, Saab dealers, fellow automotive writers, and a line of Saab “heritage” vehicles – notable models from the marque’s past which I’m really keen on reviewing.

And of course, we’ll have some road and (heh) track time with the Turbo X.

Despite the General’s gracious hospitality shown by once again keeping us luxuriously fed and housed, their Swedish division’s $40K+ flagship has an uphill battle to win this writer’s approval.

The standard, Epsilon platformed 9-3 sedan which I drove a few years back was a good, but mostly forgettable experience. And the latest technological magic that the Turbo X is meant to cast will come from the same, albeit facelifted version of that same milquetoast four door.

Holding true to my belief that Saab is a (supafly) niche car company that shines best when it produces cars like the 9-X concept, on first take the Turbo X seems like more vain Teuton chasing. Saab’s strengths lie outside the midsize luxury sedan market.

Still a fair hearing the Turbo X shall get and you shall read in the coming hours.

Keep it locked.

[Linked: Saab Turbo X]