To describe our year with the BMW 745Li is to strive to reconcile a basic conflict: How can a car be "the very best sedan in the world" (as one of us gushed) when its logbook contains quite a few entries that fairly seethe with anger and hostility?
The ranting was all directed at iDrive, BMW's driver-interface system. It's the first thing a driver of the 7-series grapples with, so let's deal with it right up front. BMW describes iDrive as the solution to the contemporary design challenge of "how to accommodate the extensive functions that modern technology offers without overwhelming the driver and creating a driving environment cluttered with controls." Oh, really?
From the plug-in key/remote to the start/stop button to the teensy PRND stalk and the shift buttons on the steering wheel, what BMW refers to as "the Driving Zone" seemed devised to disorient-and, indeed, overwhelm-the first-time iDriver (as well as many of us who kept coming back for more). As for what BMW calls "the Comfort Zone," it was hard to feel warm and fuzzy about a system of menus and submenus and sub-submenus hidden within eight "compass points" around the center-console knob to dial in settings for communication, navigation, entertainment, climate, and assistance ("Help!"). Despite the stated aim of integrating functions, redundant controls for audio and HVAC appear separately from the main controller. Clusters of clutter.
The logbook entries for our 745Li called its iDrive frustrating, counterintuitive, goofy, clumsy, silly, PITA, convoluted, iGnorant, and-worst of all-distracting. That is, it distracted us from the supreme pleasures of actually driving this powerful, sharp, smooth, bold sedan. That is a sin we cannot easily forgive.
But we will try, because the 745Li rewarded us richly for our patience with iDrive. It carried one of us in glamorous luxury to a twenty-year high school reunion. It transported another of us and fellow members of a classical choir in silence (pianissimo) and speed (molto allegro) to an out-of-town performance.
The cabin was spacious and comfortable, trimmed in leather, brushed aluminum, and wood-and, as one writer put it, "all materials do justice to the grandiose sticker price" ($83,145 as tested). The automatic trunk opener was "a neat party trick," and the electric window shades tickled teenage nephews and six-year-old twins. Yes, it had all the goodies, and the ignition chime even sang "Blinnng! Blinnng!" to welcome us. (Listen for yourself; we swear that's what it's saying.)
And the driving-oh, the driving! Not long after the start of our time with the BMW, for our September 2003 issue, we obtained numbers that encouraged our high expectations for the car's performance. In a test comparing the 745Li with three of its rivals-an Audi A8L, a Jaguar XJ8, and a Mercedes-Benz S430-the 7-series outran all from 0 to 60 mph (taking 6.5 seconds), from 0 to 100 mph (16.3 seconds), and through the quarter-mile (14.9 seconds at 97 mph). It outbraked them all, too, using 155 feet of pavement to stop from 70 mph. So, iDrive aside, we knew what we were getting into-and we got into it most gladly.
Wrote executive editor Mark Gillies early on: "The autobox is magical, whichever mode you choose, and it goes like a demon. The brakes, too, are terrific." After throwing the 745 hard onto a freeway ramp, editor-in-chief Jean Jennings pronounced it "fast, settled, composed, unflappable." Senior editor Joe DeMatio-whose "very best sedan in the world" quote opens this story-deemed the 7-series "an absolutely spectacular long-distance cruiser." Adding to the chorus was managing editor Amy Skogstrom: "I just love BMW's 4.4-liter V-8-very smooth power delivery and gobs of horsepower (325) when you need it."