The new 7-series reaches American dealerships in January with a 325-horsepower, 4.4-liter DOHC V-8. Later in the year, BMW will introduce the awesome 760Li, powered by a gasoline-direct-injection V-12 displacing 6.0 liters, followed by the "entry-level" 735i, employing a 272-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-8.
The 4.4-liter engine features variable intake and exhaust valve timing (Double VANOS) and variable intake-valve lift (Valvetronic). Although the 745i weighs 209 pounds more than the 740i, it is notably quicker and, at least on paper, more economical. BMW quotes a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 5.9 seconds, a top speed of 150 mph, and a European-cycle fuel consumption of 22 mpg. Our car returned half that number--the penalty, Gschel explains, "for making full use of the car's extra performance." He adds: "Under normal, part-throttle operating conditions, the 745i is about thirteen percent more frugal than the notably less powerful 740i."
A brand-new, six-speed manu-matic gearbox offers three distinct driving modes: standard, sporty, and manu-matic. A button located on the steering-wheel hub makes switching transmission settings a breeze. In manu-matic mode, shifts are controlled by four buttons on the steering-wheel rim at the ten- and two-o'clock positions. The back-side buttons shift up; the front-side buttons shift down. It sounds like a logical arrangement, but the distance between the pairs of buttons just doesn't feel right to larger hands.
In addition to developing a new body and drivetrain, BMW has engineered an entirely new suspension for the fourth-generation 7-series. Made primarily of aluminum, it consists of a strut-type front end and a multi-link rear. Extra money buys even fatter rubber and a chassis upgrade package. Active Roll Stabilization (ARS)--which uses hydraulic actuators integrated in both anti-roll bars to reduce lateral body movements by up to 80 percent--is standard, but BMW also offers an adaptive ride package, consisting of electronically adjustable dampers and rear air springs that maintain a level attitude.
The 745i is a refined car that covers ground with deceptive speed and with a minimum of fuss, drama, and effort. Road, wind, and engine noise are remarkably hushed; it takes a serious stab of the throttle to bring the growl of the V-8 into the cabin. The car rides well, remaining stable and composed at all times. It holds the road with aplomb, and it handles with poise and balance. But to make the new 7-series feel and act like a true BMW, the optional adaptive ride package is a must. The setup puts the wheels even more firmly in contact with the ground, sharpens the chassis reflexes, and makes the engine shine by providing much quicker throttle response and letting it rev more freely, holding each gear a bit longer. Even with the tires screaming for mercy, the 745i remains totally committed and in charge. This is a car that is the master of any road surface it surveys, although a tighter turning circle and sharper brakes would be appreciated.
In the end, we come away from the 2002 7-series thinking that BMW's upper management could have made life a lot easier for itself. The decision makers in Munich could have opted for a more evolutionary shape, improved the ergonomics in small increments, and concentrated on traditional virtues such as power and performance. Instead, they created a car that provokes and polarizes. The new 7-series is neither love at first sight nor love at first drive. The iDrive system is a great idea, but it can be a true test of one's patience, and the car's styling doesn't exactly scream "status symbol." That's a shame, because behind the debatable makeup hides an incredibly competent and honest car, a friend you can trust.