Review: 2020 BMW 750Li xDrive
Still a BMW under all the gloss
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Excellent dynamics for such a large car; opulent interior; strong image.
- What’s Bad: As always, the digital dashboard borders on hopeless; shift pattern just plain wrong; run-flat tires still not ready for prime time.
I had driven about 20 kilometres from BMW’s head office in Richmond Hill down the 404 to 401 westbound, heading home in a brand-new 750Li sedan.
Flipping the metaphorical coin, I chose the express lanes.
Almost immediately, I hit a massive pothole, which I think may have already collected a Volkswagen and a couple of motorcycles.
The loud “BANG” from the right front corner told me I had blown a tire — a fact almost immediately corroborated by a warning light on the dashboard.
I hate run-flat tires, because I don’t trust them to “run-flat,” the ride quality is usually awful all the time and they don’t provide a spare I could change myself.
Not that there was any place to change the tire, because the 401’s shoulders there are about half a car wide.
I personally know people who have been killed in just such a situation. I was not about to join their ranks.
So I put on the four-ways and trundled along at 45 km/h until I could find a safe spot to pull off near the Avenue Road exit.
The owner’s manual suggested I contact the nearest BMW dealer or roadside assistance. I thought, what if I had been driving through Kapuskasing at 4 a.m.?
By sheer good luck, a CAA tow truck happened along. The driver stopped to see if I needed help and within minutes, the car was on his flatbed and we were headed back to BMW.
Triple YAY! for CAA.
I retrieved the car the next day, and so the story can continue.
This car starts at $126,900. My tester had a boatload of options, which brought the total to $156,300.
The updated 7 Series continues with several traditional BMW styling cues such as the twin-kidney grille and the “Hofmeister kink” — the forward kickback of the rear roof pillars.
Speaking over the years with BMW stylists, they always say such things are helpful in that they provide a guide as to how to start styling the car. But these things are also somewhat restrictive, limiting their creativity.
Still, it’s a handsome beast, and everyone will know which brand you chose.
Power is provided by a 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged V-8 — the last two digits of BMW’s model designations stopped having any relationship to the engine’s displacement long ago.
It generates 523 horsepower from 5,500 to 6,000 r.p.m., and a flat torque “plateau” of 553 lb.-ft. from 1,800 to 4,600 r.p.m.
The turbos are nestled between the banks of the engine’s “vee” to minimize the path the compressed air must take to reach those hungry cylinders.
A hard stomp on the throttle is followed by a brief pause while the car decides it wants to go. Once it does, it really goes — 0 to 100 km/h takes a shade over four seconds, which is quick by any standard.
The stop-start function that saves a few droplets of fuel isn’t as smooth in operation as some such systems, causing a noticeable shake and grumble as the engine coughs back to life.
The eight-speed automatic transmission provides power to all four wheels as is deemed necessary to maintain traction, although it is primarily a rear-drive car, consistent with BMW’s hallowed traditions.
Sadly, the transmission is controlled by a shift lever that can only be described as stupid.
It looks like the normal PRNDL (Park Reverse Neutral Drive Low) setup that has governed autoboxes since approximately the dawn of time.
But it’s not.
To get Park, instead of shoving the lever full-forward, you have to hit a button on the lever itself.
To avoid the obvious issue — people not hitting this correctly, the car rolling away, the concomitant lawsuits — the car seems to automatically select Park when you open a door.
Great — more technology to go wrong in 10 years.
BMW is not alone on this — Mercedes and others do it, too. “Why?” remains the question.
Frankly, the best way to handle this is what Lincoln, GM, Honda and others have done. Nobody shifts gears any more, so just dispense with the shift lever altogether and use push buttons on the dashboard somewhere.
The centre console is the most expensive real estate in the world — use it for stuff that needs it.
The standard air suspension on the 7 provides an excellent ride — they have obviously addressed the ride-quality issues that used to plague run-flat-tire-equipped cars.
You can also raise the car about 50 millimetres to help negotiate steep parking lot ramps or rough roads. It only works for a short time and at low speeds, then automatically returns to normal.
“Comfort” or “Sport” driving programs provide predetermined settings for a variety of functions such as ride firmness, handling and transmission response.
A third option, “Individual,” allows you to set your own preferred combination of choices.
My tester had the optional four-wheel steering, which turns the rear wheels counter-phase at low speeds to make the car more manoeuvrable, and in-phase at higher speeds to improve response and stability. I found it impossible to feel the transition, so it must do its job well.
Handling has long been a BMW hallmark, and this car’s agility belies its size and weight.
The interior is lovely, beautifully finished from obviously high-quality materials that all appear to be authentic — if it looks like wood, metal or ceramic, it probably is.
There is loads of room everywhere, and about a million seat adjustments, so anyone should be able to find a comfortable and supportive seating position.
Included in that option list were a couple of “Executive” packages, bringing features such as ventilated seats with massage function for the fronts, window shades and a bunch of so-called “driving aids” like self-steering, which I find massively annoying.
It also included the damnable “Driving Assistant,” who kept asking what I wanted her to do.
“SHUT UP!” apparently is not in her vocabulary.
I eventually found her off button.
If this is the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” why would I not want to drive it myself?
I also shut off the heads-up display, which I always find more distracting than helpful.
As with any new car, it will take you some time to get used to the minor controls.
BMW was one of the first to “digitize” the driving experience, and those early attempts at the so-called “iDrive” system were beyond hopeless. We spent half an hour with a German engineer on an early 7 Series program some years ago. It took him that long to show us how to change a radio station, and it still took about seven steps.
Either we are getting used to these things or they are much better designed, or possibly both, because this one is easier to use.
Actually, it reminded me a bit of Audi’s MMI system. Touching one of several buttons arrayed around the central controller takes you to a submenu — rotate that central knob to select a function, then push that knob to activate your choice.
This all requires you to take your attention off the driving task — a theme I have pounded on regularly — as the entire concept is inherently flawed.
But we aren’t going back to proper knobs and levers any time soon. At least there has been progress in making these things less dangerous.
Apparently, in the real world, most people only use a handful of the available functions. Once you get used to whichever you want, it becomes second nature.
While I’m whining about the minor controls, I’ll toss in another of my pet peeves. When I tell a car I want the doors unlocked, I want them to stay unlocked. This car relocks them every time the car dips below about 15 km/h, then re-accelerates.
There may be some way to disable this feature, but I couldn’t find it. My own VW did this until my genius mechanic broke the code.
Hey, it’s my car — I want it to react the way I want it to react.
The back seat is huge, and you have the option of a pair of buckets or a three-seat bench.
The rear seat head rests restrict rearward visibility as they typically do, but you can and should fold them down when nobody is sitting back there.
I have owned — and raced — BMWs over the years. Even in their luxury cars, the handling prowess I came to love is still there in the big 7 Series.
It may be buried under a ton of high-techery the market seems to want, but if you can dig below that and/or learn to ignore it, you’ll discover a fine-driving car that honours the company’s long traditions.
2020 BMW 750Li Drive
Body Style: 4 doors, 4/5 passengers, full-size luxury sedan.
Drive: Part-time automatic four-wheel drive.
Price: Base list — $126,900. As tested — $156,300.
Engine: 4.4-litre V-8, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, twin turbocharged, direct injection.
Power/torque, horsepower / lb.-ft.: 523 @ 5,500 — 6,000 r.p.m. / 553 @ 1,600 — 4,600 r.p.m.
Fuel consumption, NRCan City/Highway, l/100 km: 14.5 / 9.9. Premium unleaded fuel
Competition: Audi A8, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class.