2009 BMW 750Li - The Subtle Seven

Daniel Byrne

This user-friendly philosophy carries over to the all-new, second-generation iDrive. The system is so much more logically organized and intuitive than the much-maligned first-generation setup that one wonders if BMW replaced the old iDrive engineers with a staff poached from Apple. The 10.2-inch, dash-mounted display is ultrabright and uncommonly sharp, with a laptoplike resolution of 1280 by 480 pixels, and it can present highly detailed three-dimensional maps. The biggest improvement is that the menu structure is now consistent, allowing the user to react the same way to each screen. Several buttons next to the controller facilitate quick access to basic main functions, and eight memory buttons on the dashboard serve as shortcuts to any function you choose-radio stations, destinations, or display types. One very important button finally makes its appearance next to the iDrive controller-it's labeled "BACK" and performs the same function as the back button on your computer's Web browser.

And speaking of Web browsers, the 7-series has one of those, too-but litigious U.S. customers don't get it. In its place, U.S.-spec cars get BMW Search, a Google Maps-based system that can find local businesses and input their locations directly into the navigation system. Getting to that hot new restaurant couldn't be easier, either, thanks to all of the 750Li's other driver-assistance systems. Active Blind Spot Detection and Lane Change Warning use radar sensors in the rear bumper to determine the presence of other cars. A camera in the front of the car monitors lane markings for Lane Departure Warning and will scold the driver if he drifts out of his lane. The camera also will automatically dim the high-beams if another car is approaching. Night Vision, available on the last 7-series, is now programmed to recognize a human in its field of vision and will warn the driver of such. Active Cruise Control can now bring the 750Li to a complete stop and manage its speed in stop-and-go traffic. Optional cameras mounted in the front fenders allow the 7-series' driver to peek around corners-a helpful feature on a car with such a long hood.

Although no less loaded with technology, the interior of the 7-series is decidedly less Star Trek in its presentation than the last 7. The shifter has moved back to the center console where it belongs, the seat controls are back to their familiar outboard positions, and the climate controls have been moved out of iDrive and onto their own space on the dash. Hallelujah. A head-up display (available for the first time in the 7-series) presents information in color and wondrous clarity. The switches for all driver-assist systems are located to the left of the driver; multimedia controls are to the right. This necessitated the move of the now-ubiquitous steering-wheel volume controls from the left side of the steering wheel to the right. The cruise control, heretofore controlled by its own stalk, is now adjusted via buttons on the left spoke of the steering wheel. The gauges are backlit (white during the day, reddish at night) and presented behind a panel that fades to black when the ignition is off.

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