2009 BMW 750i

The infotainment system also has a hard drive to store your music-and it can rip songs directly off of CDs. You can update the system's internal Gracenote system using one of two USB ports. The port in the glovebox can be used for software updates or to copy or play music from a memory stick. The USB port in the center console is used only to play music from a memory stick or USB-compatible device, like your iPod.

Thankfully, HVAC controls are now no longer part of iDrive-and all climate control functions are operated within a dash panel. The rear passengers also receive two separate zones of climate control, and their footwells are electrically heated. All climate controls are well-thought-out and easy to use, and the display uses BMW's new Black Panel technology.

The Black Panel is also found in the center console, and it refers to a new visual trick whereby a matte black panel covers LCD displays. The cover blacks out the edges of the LCD display below, so you don't see where the display starts and ends, and the contents of the display seem to come out of nowhere.

The 750i's gauges use this technology. With the engine switched off, you see only the chrome rings of the circular gauges. Once the ignition is turned on, however, the numbers and needles glow from below the surface. It's a pretty cool effect. Then, below the gauges is a rectangular LCD panel that displays all sorts of information-trip computer functions like fuel economy and navigation instructions, for example-that seems to rise from nowhere. In fact, the bottom quarter of each of the big circular gauges (the speedometer and tachometer) are rendered digitally to provide virtual fuel economy and range gauges. The instrument panel is simple and elegant as well as easy to read-and it lights up white during the day, and BMW's trademark orange at night.

BMW chose to move its steering-wheel-mounted volume control from the left side of the wheel to the right. This might upset a few traditionalists, but the reasoning for this change is anything but arbitrary. BMW wanted to move all driver-only functions to the left of the steering wheel, and all multimedia functions to the right. Hence, the cruise control is now controlled by buttons on the left spoke of the steering wheel (and is, for the first time, no longer on a separate stalk). The shifter, of course, remains on the right side of the wheel despite being a driver-only function, but at least is back on the center console instead of on the steering column.

The 7's new sunroof, which we were unable to use, also features a new and innovative built-in wind deflector. Unlike conventional deflectors, which pop up to one height when the sunroof is open, the 7's has multiple positions depending on vehicle speed, so that it can reduce wind buffeting in the cabin at lower speeds but then lower slightly to prevent excess wind noise at high speeds. The 7-series offers other technologies, of course. Read more about it in the Electronic Driver Aids section, next.

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