Parents from Miami to Malibu can relax. The 7 Series is no longer the fright of small children. With the 2006 BMW 7 Series, the company has toned down the car's styling and shifted the emphasis back to performance.
After a five-year absence, the 750 badge is back for 2006, but this time it carries a big V8, not a V12. A 4.8-liter V8 replaces last year's 4.4-liter and provides a generous increase in power. In fact, this is now the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 in the ultraluxury sedan class.
The 745 model, meanwhile, is history.
A More Classic Look
Four years ago BMW decided its 7 Series flagship should be at the cutting edge of fashion. It was a risky move, and the new look proved highly controversial. But it sold like beer on St. Patrick's Day. In fact, worldwide it has become the best-selling 7 Series ever, which is why this midcycle refresh isn't a radical change.
In front, sexier curves define the hood, and the signature twin-kidney grille is larger. The reshaped headlights could have come off the 2005 BMW 3 Series. Around back, new taillights and a strip of chrome take the attention off the overgrown trunk lid. And the whole thing rolls on restyled 18-inch wheels.
We still don't love the way the 7 Series looks. But no longer would the car's styling keep us from buying one.
Refined yet Athletic
Like its predecessor, the 4.8-liter has fully variable valve timing and lift. With the new engine's extra torque, though, engineers reverted to a two-stage intake manifold in lieu of the 4.4-liter's infinitely variable induction. With the larger engine comes a modest 100-pound weight gain, but no increase in fuel consumption.
Horsepower comes in at 360 at 6,300 rpm, while 360 pound-feet of torque is available at 3,400 rpm. Compare this to 325 hp at 6,100 and 330 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 in the 745 and you might expect the 750 to run significantly quicker 0-60-mph times, but it doesn't.
BMW estimates a 5.8-second 0-to-60-mph time for both the 750i and the long-wheelbase 750Li (which weighs 66 pounds more). That's only one-tenth of a second faster than the official estimate for the 745i and 745Li. We've timed a 745i at 6 seconds flat. An Audi A8 can run 6.3.
What the 4.8 doesn't put up in performance stats, it makes up for on an intangible level. It's refined yet athletic just like the old 4.4, but its torque band seems to go on forever. Unless you're comparing the supercharged 493-hp Mercedes S55, look no further in this class. If you're shopping 12-cylinders, note that the 6.0-liter V12 in the 760 is unchanged for 2006.
Last year's six-speed automatic continues to handle the shifting duties with no changes to the gearing. It's the perfect partner for the 4.8-liter, as it delivers some of the smoothest shifts we've ever experienced.
Minor Chassis Updates
Even after four years, the 7 Series is still one of the best-handling sedans in the segment, so BMW didn't do much to the suspension. The rear track is half an inch wider than before at 62.8 inches, and engineers did some work on the bushings.
As on the 745, you can stick with the standard suspension tuning, or opt for a firmer Sport Package or the Adaptive Ride Package, which combines air suspension with electronic damping.
The 750s we drove had the Adaptive Ride setup, which provided a near perfect blend of ride comfort and handling acuity. Even in comfort mode, body control and steering response are superb.
As we threaded a series of curves in a 750i, we couldn't imagine driving anything else. For the moment, the Audi A8 and Mercedes S-Class were out of sight, out of mind.
The 750Li rides on a 5-inch-longer wheelbase and is 5.5 inches longer overall. The extra mass is apparent in tight turns, but in a car whose primary mission is to chauffeur passengers in comfort, the driver still comes out ahead.
iDrive for Dummies?
Inside, it's obvious BMW's designers took a look at the impeccably furnished A8. Warmer walnut wood replaces last year's black cherry accents, and all the knobs have chrome trim. Additionally, the CD changer is now MP3-compatible, while Bluetooth capability allows 7 Series owners to choose their own phones.
Designers also took a stab at simplifying the iDrive system, which remains standard. Unfortunately, even with the new color-coded menus, frustration levels run high. You still have to cycle through too many menus to search the address book, enter a new destination or manually tune a radio station. For everyday ease of use, this system needs more "quick start" buttons.
If You Like to Drive
We'd skip iDrive if we could, but BMW has made it hard to say no to the total package. The return of classic styling cues and the arrival of a torque-rich V8 should restore the 7 Series to the throne in the ultraluxury sedan kingdom.
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