The BMW 7-series is a highly controversial car. The automotive press has complained bitterly about its styling, especially the awkward and bulky backpack that it carries just above its rump. More controversial still, however, is the multitasking iDrive. The iDrive system consists of two components-an armrest-mounted knob and an IP-mounted display screen-that preside over the 7-series' auxiliary systems. Pushing or turning the knob provides access to eight submenus displayed on the screen, including those for GPS navigation, telephone, climate control, and vehicle service. It is a well-intended attempt to bring one-control logic to a variety of functions. But the 7-series still has as many as or more small controls than the other three cars in this test drive. There are four control stalks protruding from the steering column plus an array of buttons on the steering-wheel spokes.
Some controls, such as the one for seat adjustment, are counterintuitive, and a simple series of actions-such as sliding the seat back an inch, reclining the backrest slightly, and lowering the seat as far as it will go-can take five minutes and still not be accomplished to the occupant's satisfaction. We have reports of owners-including some BMW dealers-giving up their iDrive-equipped 7-series cars in frustration and anger after only a few weeks. One member of our test team questioned a woman who delivers her daughter to school every day in either a 7-series or a Porsche 911 Turbo. Her description of the 7-series? "A [expletive deleted] car that you don't feel connected with. My husband and I hate it." She went on to say that they cannot work the iDrive or adjust the seats. They sold their former 7-series to friends and get to drive it from time to time. They regret its loss.
The BMW 745Li should be the numero uno in this test, but its excellent performance at the test track and its even more impressive performance on challenging country roads are badly offset by iDrive. The iDrive system represents a layer of complexity that actually detracts from what ought to be a breathtaking driving experience. BMW bills itself as "the ultimate driving machine," and our test car would have been all that and more without the iDrive.