Tuesday, March 24, 2009

2009 BMW 7-Series Review

Praise and hallelujahs for the 2009 BMW 7-Series—no, it's not the most practical vehicle on the road, nor is it the cheapest. But in its fifth generation, the big Bimmer gets a complete revamp for its formerly odd styling, while preserving its BMW driving feel.

The 2009 edition of the 7-Series sports a much happier, relaxed look and feel. The last version had a tall greenhouse and low nose, so it looked like an awkwardly formal top hat. Its raised decklid might have been copied everywhere, but it was still ugly. Now, the 7er (as it's called by enthusiasts) has been relieved of those awkward forms. It shines—the character line down its flanks lends some crispness to its profile, the ribs in its taillamps add a bit of upscale kink. There's a little blessed anonymity in its rear shoulders, a more open grille, and a wide, low air intake across the face that visually drops the front end. A long-wheelbase 750Li version is offered along with the more abbreviated 750i, but the visual differences are slight.

Inside, it's also a job well done, with a driver-centric design that wears a blend of modern shapes and traditional surfaces. The instruments can be completely blacked out when needed; otherwise they glimmer softly amid wood trim, ceramic-finished knobs, and the futuristic controllers that direct the transmission and driving dynamics, as well as the iDrive system.

For now, there's a single powertrain offered in the 2009 BMW 7-Series. It's a 400-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8. Off the list for now are BMW's V-12 and any of its marvelous diesels, but the big V-8 pushes the 7er almost as well as the old V-12 did—with just a faint whistle from the turbochargers. It's teamed to a six-speed automatic transmission that helps it offer class-leading fuel economy, BMW says.

Elsewhere the 7-Series' performance is unbelievably nimble for a car so long and heavy. It's planted and stable at the 135 mph, as seen on TheCarConnection.com's tester on the Autobahn. Credit goes to a raft of technology—a lightweight control-arm independent suspension front and rear, active rear steering (which turns the rear wheels opposite the fronts in some situations to enhance turn-in) with variable assist, and on the 750Li, an air suspension. Then there's the somewhat maddening Driving Dynamics Control, which allows you to pick settings for shock firmness, transmission shifts, steering heft, and throttle response. More often than not, you'll find it easiest to let the 7-Series decide on the settings and leave the rest to wasted transistors.

The comfort and quality feel of the 2009 BMW 7-Series' cabin is astounding. The lighter-weight body has ever more passenger room. The multi-adjustable front seats are paragons of comfort, and the back's not shabby either. On long-wheelbase cars, there's 5.5 more inches of legroom in back—thank the Chinese party members who demand regal amounts of space. And if you're into sybaritic pleasure, you can order backseats that ventilate and massage your back and seat. Four zones of climate control keep the interior at an ambient ideal, and the leathers and woods are of Rolls-Royce quality—fitting since BMW has owned Rolls-Royce for a decade. The techno look of some controls detracts a bit from the overall feel.

Safety gear is comprehensive, and includes front, side, and side-curtain airbags; rear-seat head protection airbags; active head restraints on the front seats; and knee airbags. Stability and traction control are standard, along with anti-lock brakes. Additionally, BMW offers a Driver Assistance Package that adds blind-spot detection, a lane-departure warning system that vibrates the steering wheel when the car drifts from its lane, and automatic high beams. Side-view cameras are another option that can help prevent low-speed accidents, as is the 7-Series' available head-up display.

Luxury and technology features of the 2009 BMW 7-Series can threaten the relaxed atmosphere in the cabin. Along with all those safety bits and pieces, the new 7er also offers a new version of iDrive to control navigation, climate, and audio functions, operated through a joystick; Google Maps, which lets you send destinations from a home computer to the car (in Europe, the 7-Series can be ordered with wide-open Internet access in the backseat); GPS navigation with hard-drive map and music storage; an iPod connectivity interface; a six-disc DVD changer; premium sound with Sirius Satellite Radio and HD Radio; and a rear-seat entertainment system. The coup de grace? An owners' manual implanted into the car's electronics, so you can read it from the display screen.

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