2006 BMW 750i
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Marbella, Spain – It’s funny, you know. After all of the controversy surrounding the BMW 7 Series’ design since its introduction in 2002 – the complaints about the distinctive trunk with its Bangle Bustle, the whining about the iDrive controller and its supposed counter-intuitiveness – it’s interesting to note how many cars now on the market have copied so many of its ideas.

More than one car company out there has found that the 7’s tall trunk lid and tapering sides work well for aerodynamics as well as practicality, and you’ll now see similar, if slightly less obvious rear ends on everything from a Toyota Avalon to an Acura RL. Check out the side profile of the upcoming Lexus GS; its rear half is pure 7 Series, with eerily similar window and trunk lines. And it’s difficult to even count the number of luxury or near-luxury cars that have now adopted a version of iDrive, with a large central control knob that operates multiple functions; it’s just that most of them have added a few refinements – and a few buttons – along the way.

So if there’s a certain amount of smugness in BMW’s introduction of its face-lifted 7 Series, which goes on sale in late spring, it’s understandable. In the three years since its introduction, its looks have had time to grow on us and are a little less shocking than they once were. If it wasn’t perfect in its first incarnation, at least the concept of iDrive certainly has become convention, and its driving dynamics and performance have always been at the head of its class. The face-lifted version, thus, is far from a retraction. It isn’t about BMW backtracking on its radical ideas; it’s more of a 7 Series than it ever was.

2006 BMW 750i
Click image to enlarge

In true BMW fashion, it begins with more power. The base engine in Canada, the 4.4-litre V8, has been enlarged to 4.8 litres and now channels 360 hp through its six-speed Steptronic automatic to the rear wheels. Thanks to advancements in engine management and materials technology, the new engine in the 750i manages to be more powerful than its 745i predecessor’s, while using no more fuel and producing no more emissions. Like the smaller V8 and the inline sixes available in the rest of the world, it features BMW’s innovative Valvetronic technology, which does away with the throttle body for improved efficiency, power, and throttle response. The other engine we get in the 7, the 760Li’s 438-hp V12, is unchanged.

Where the 7 Series always excelled was in being a big, powerful car that felt much smaller and nimbler than it really was. That’s truer now than before. The three-spoke sport steering wheel, now standard equipment in our market, guides laser-accurate steering that, if it maybe isn’t the model of communication and clarity of something like a Z4’s rack, is still a benchmark for the class, and appropriately refined given the 7’s dual purposes of limousine and sports sedan. As ever, the brakes are phenomenal, the transmission almost telepathically responsive (you can shift it with buttons on the steering wheel, and there’s also a more aggressive sport mode), and the handling frankly amazing for a car of this size.

2006 BMW 750i

2006 BMW 750i

2006 BMW 750i
Click image to enlarge

Two optional suspensions offer even more impressive body control and road-holding than the standard setup. A new “Adaptive Drive” setup includes “Dynamic Drive” continuously-adjustable anti-roll bars and electronic damper control for almost infinite variability in behaviour, depending on conditions. There’s also a more aggressive sport package that includes Dynamic Drive with stiffer springs and faster steering response. Whichever package you choose – and whatever wheels you choose to roll on, from 17-inch to 21-inch – the 7’s ride quality remains exemplary, no small feat when the car’s this big, when it handles this well, and when the sidewalls are so short.

Still, most of the controversy surrounding the 7 Series at its introduction surrounded its looks. Has BMW addressed the criticism? Depends on how you look at it. The bulge in the trunk is not nearly so obvious, thanks to redesigned taillamps that better integrate it with the surrounding bodywork, but it’s now accented by a chrome strip that wasn’t there before. Up front, the angry-looking “unibrow” eyes have been replaced by more flowing units, but you’re never going to mistake the new 7’s face in your rear-view mirror as anything else. What they’ve mostly done outside is sweat the details a bit more: the side sills have some more curvature to them, giving a more powerful look; the front and rear bumpers are cleaner and more aggressive; and all of the available wheels have fresh styling.

2006 BMW 750i
Photo: BMW. Click image to enlarge

Detail work is largely the story inside, too. The architectural dashboard seems to be made out of even better materials than before, and the various wood and plastic panels now seem better integrated; the feel is more of high-end furniture than of a car interior. The CD changer can now play MP3 CDs – about time, too – and the navigation system is now DVD-based; it’s much faster to respond to control inputs and wrong turns. The seats, whether you’re sitting on the standard chairs or the multi-functional ones with split backrests and moveable side bolsters, are as comfortable and as supportive as ever.

2006 BMW 750i
Click image to enlarge

The 7 Series’ much-derided iDrive controller, which I never found to be that much of a problem, is now topped with leather and flanked by two buttons, one to take you back to the main screen, and a customizable button that lets you access whatever feature you choose by one touch. Ultimately, it may not be as easy to learn in an instant as Audi’s MMI or Acura’s knob-based system, but it does offer more flexibility, more features, and a more consistent interface. Whether you’re twiddling through radio stations or changing the distribution of seat heat, the operating logic is the same, which doesn’t hold true for other systems out there. Nevertheless, in response to customer requests, you can now directly select the audio source using buttons on the dashboard, instead of having to execute two commands with the iDrive knob.

You get used to the iDrive, though, and in a while it becomes second nature, more so now than ever. It’s a good metaphor for the whole car, actually. Its size, weight, road presence and looks are initially intimidating, but the 7 is a car with hidden depths that take time, effort, and knowledge to fully understand and exploit.

2006 BMW 750i
Photo: BMW. Click image to enlarge

You get into one for the first time and the overriding impression is of a technology-laden limousine, such is the acreage of wood and LCD screen. It’s only after a day of tearing up and down Spanish mountain roads that you realize it’s a true sport sedan as well, a huge sedan that really handles, enough so that you have to remind yourself how wide it is when threading through narrower roads and gaps in traffic. This is a contradictory and sometimes surprising car.

Pricing for the 2006 7 has yet to be announced, but I would bet on a modest price increase to account for the improvements in performance and feature content (base price for a 745i today is $97,500; a 745Li is $103,900 and a 760Li $169,000). The cars go on sale this Spring.

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