2007 BMW 760 Review
Complicated, but still the Ultimate Driving Machine.
When it comes to the driving, there's no hedging. The BMW 7 Series is one of the best sedans in the world. Measured by ride, handling, braking and engine/transmission performance, and more importantly how those elements are blended into a smooth, satisfying whole, the 7 Series is almost without peer.
It starts with the wonderful, magic-carpet ride quality, which is more remarkable given how agile the 7 Series really is. Its high-tech suspension smoothes out bumps, even speed bumps, to a point of astonishment. It's incredibly comfortable, yet the driver does not feel completely isolated from the road. The 7 Series senses when it's being driven hard, instantaneously re-tuning itself for improved handling, and then adjusting the other way again when the going gets easy or the road gets bumpy.
BMW's Active Roll Stabilization uses computer-controlled, two-piece anti-roll bars to increase roll resistance in hard cornering and keep the body flat in turns. It's as if on entering a turn, the inside tires lift to keep the car level, which is, in effect, what actually happens. At the same time, the system maintains enough suspension compliance to keep the tires planted on the road surface. Bumps in the middle of a high-speed corner do not upset the handling balance one whit. Several factors are at work here: a near-perfect weight distribution of 50 percent front to rear (helped by lightweight aluminum hood and front fenders), which means neither end of the car is more prone to slide than the other; a highly rigid chassis that allows precise suspension tuning; and minimal unsprung weight, thanks to lightweight aluminum wheels, brake calipers and aluminum suspension components.
Remember, with weight exceeding 4,480 pounds for all models, the 7 Series is not a small, lightweight car. But in some respects, it feels smaller than it is. The electronic stability control makes adjustments to maintain handling balance whenever grip is lost at any one tire. By applying braking force to individual wheels and, when absolutely necessary, reducing engine power, it almost seems to bend the laws of physics. Just steer this thing where you want to go and the 7 Series takes you there. We felt this on a fast, greasy corner, flat-out over a crest that unloaded the suspension and threw the car's mass upwards. All four wheels lost grip, but we simply motored around the corner, drifting just slightly wide of the intended line, never lifting off the accelerator pedal or making any adjustments in the steering. The car did all of it, and the anti-skid system is transparent, in that you can't feel it kick in and out. BMW's system is less obtrusive and more performance-oriented than similar systems found in Mercedes and Lexus automobiles.
Steering the 7 Series is a joy. Its variable-assist rack-and-pinion system is super sharp and precise. The steering is very light at low speeds for parking lots, but firms up at higher speeds for improved driver feel. It also steps up response by 10 percent as the wheel is turned off center, which means the more you turn the wheel, the faster the car responds. With this steering system, it's easy to drive precisely on winding roads at high speeds, placing the tires exactly where you want them. There's little or no kickback to the steering when the 7 Series whacks a bump. Our only reservation, and it's a minor point, is that the steering is so sensitive to road speed that accelerating in the midst of a tight turn occasionally catches it out, leaving the front wheels more sharply angled than optimal.
Both the V8 and V12 engines are smooth when cruising around. The six-speed automatic is smooth, too, yet it's among the most responsive we have ever experienced. Hit the accelerator pedal and the transmission drops a gear or two without any of the hesitation found in so many automatics. The six-speed allows a lower first gear for quicker acceleration off the line, closer ratios in the middle gears for better mid-range response, and taller top gears for improved fuel economy and quiet cruising. Frankly, we found the Steptronic feature superfluous. With a transmission as responsive as this one, manual shifting seems more of a toy than anything else. Just put it in Drive and control the transmission with the gas pedal.
The 4.8-liter V8 engine is a delight: quiet and unobtrusive in most situations, but ready and willing to play hard when asked. Combine the smooth drivetrain with the smooth ride and the 750i feels deceptively slow. It's so calm and authoritative between 80 and 100 mph that it's almost more comfortable to drive in traffic, because at least you'll know it won't easily turn into a ticket magnet. When the road is clear, you might find yourself coming into corners carrying more speed than you realize, and getting on the brakes a little harder than originally planned. This isn't automatically a scary thing, because the 7 Series almost never loses its composure. Yet within this car, with its combination of outstanding dynamics and deceptive travel speeds, there is both joy and trepidation. The 7 Series demands a high degree of self control, because you can quickly find yourself having too much fun.
The same applies just sitting at a stop light. You might floor the gas pedal just to feel the flow of acceleration as the engine rushes toward its redline, at which point the sedate exhaust burgle becomes the sound of a serious performance machine. The V8 is loaded with the latest materials and control technology, and it generates 360 horsepower, with enough torque to carry the big 7 Series to 60 mph in well under six seconds. Yet more impressive than off-the-line acceleration is the reserve of power at cruising speeds. No matter how fast you're already going, more speed is just a dip of the right foot and a downshift away.
If pure silk is what you want, try the 6.0-liter V12. This 438-hp engine shaves nearly a half-second from the 0-60 mph time (in exchange for a $1,700 gas guzzler tax), but what stands out most is its turbine-like smoothness. We'd compare sensations in the 760Li at full throttle to the feeling in the stomach as a jumbo jet hits rotation speed near the end of the runway.
With all the 7 Series' potential for speed, it's appropriate that the superlatives apply to the brakes as well. The massive, ventilated disc brakes are among the largest and most powerful BMW has used, are they're fitted with lightweight, multi-piston calipers at all four corners. They'll stop the 7 Series in a big hurry if necessary, to the point where you can feel your eyeballs pressing out of your head. Yet they also are resistant to fade, or a loss of stopping power as they heat up, and the control electronics are first rate. The 7's brakes minimize stopping distances when the road is gritty or uneven by sending the most brake force to the wheels with the best grip, and they sweep themselves periodically in the rain to help ensure that the discs are dry and ready for action. Dynamic Brake Control reinforces the driver's pedal effort during emergency braking to help the car stop in the shortest possible stopping distance, even if the driver mistakenly relaxes pressure on the brake pedal.
Some of the non-essential technical features in the 7 Series sedan can also make driving easier and safer. The standard Adaptive Xenon Headlights, for example, are excellent. These aim in the direction of travel when the steering wheel turns for a curve. They also deliver bright, even light and are a real benefit on winding rural roads at night. BMW's Night Vision option, new on the 7 Series for 2007, goes at least a step further.
Night Vision uses a thermal-imaging camera with Far Infra-Red technology that highlights sources of heat (the tailpipes on cars ahead, for example, but more importantly the cyclist or deer lurking beyond the headlights). The camera has a range of nearly 1,000 feet, and it displays a high-contrast image on the navigation screen when Night Vision is turned on. By design, the image is not highly detailed, so those high-heat people or animals are supposed to stand out more quickly. The system is intended to work like a rear-view mirror, with potential hazards jumping out in a quick scan.
Our experience with Night Vision was confined largely to an urban setting, and in this environment its value is reduced. With so much ambient light, and traffic, the camera doesn't offer much more than an alert set of eyes. Yet a drive into the dark countryside expressly to test Night Vision demonstrated the system's potential. The thermal-imaging camera picked up a truck's exhaust pipe almost as far ahead as its tiny taillights were visible. Had that exhaust been the body heat of a large animal, with no taillights to mark it, the 7 Series driver would be aware of the animal long before it's visible to the naked eye.
The problem with Night Vision, beyond its $2,200 price tag, is the novelty factor. We found ourselves occasionally fixating on the screen, noticing which parts on SUVs ahead were warmest from friction, or looking at the warm bodies walking into restaurants, at the expense of peering through the windshield. We suspect that it will take some acclimation and discipline to get past the newness and use Night Vision as it's intended.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2007 BMW 760, click here: 2007 BMW 760.