2009 BMW 750Li - The Subtle Seven

Daniel Byrne

What a hard act to follow. The last all-new 7-series, the 2002 745Li, was welcomed into the automotive world with about as much warmth and adoration as a 41-pound newborn baby girl with sixteen middle fingers and a full beard. And it merited about as much media coverage. Incensed enthusiasts on Internet forums called for BMW design director Chris Bangle's head. The BMW faithful stumbled around dealerships breathing into paper bags to allay attacks of hyperventilation. Somewhere, someone passed out at the mere sight of the bulbous trunk lid. OK, perhaps not. But even we shockproof editors at Automobile Magazine were perturbed by the styling.

European bureau chief Georg Kacher called the 745Li "a car that completely defies conventional thinking on interior and exterior design." Design editor Robert Cumberford chimed in, "Ugly? It certainly is not beautiful." BMW ignored us, and all the other critics of that 7-series (known within the company and by BMW geeks by its chassis code name, E65), and stood by the bold new look. "We felt that a radically different shape and a radically different ergonomic concept were compulsory to leapfrog the competition," said one BMW board member at the time.

How ironic. Back in 1994, in describing the then-new, third-generation 7-series, Cumberford maintained that he barely could tell it apart from its predecessor. "Apparently the middle-aged buyers," he wrote, "are thought not to want imaginative styling."

So who was right? BMW will happily point out that the ugly-duckling E65 matured into a beautiful white swan-becoming the best-selling 7-series of all time. Then again, BMW acknowledges that the 2006 face-lift, which diminished the E65's bizarre and polarizing looks, was the company's most successful midcycle freshening ever in generating additional sales. Read between the lines, and it looks like Cumberford's observation was correct.

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