Big, beautiful and fast
In the battle to build the best performance luxury sedan, it's hard to beat the 2010 BMW 750i xDrive, especially when equipped with the optional M Sport Package.
In a week of driving throughout the Portland area, the 750i never failed to dazzle. For such a large car, the exterior lines are sleek and athletic, flowing smoothly from the traditional twin-oval grill to the high trunk line. The interior is a tasteful mix of rich leather, polished wood and shiny chrome. Together, they let you know the 750i is all about serious motoring, even before punching the starter button kicks the twin-turbocharged, 400-horsepower V8 to life.
Whether driven slowly through town or at high speeds down the freeway, the always 750i felt solid and poised. Pouring rain was no distraction, thanks to its efficient all-wheel-drive system. The suspension could be easily adjusted for any driving surface. But even when the sun was out, the car's limits could barely be tested. There simply isn't a long enough stretch of road around here to max it out - not without risking an astronomical speeding ticket, anyway.
Praise is also due the choice of chassis and drivetrain settings. It is not unusual for performance-oriented cars to offer a choice of 'normal' and 'sport' suspension settings, some of which also tighten up the steering. Sometimes the differences are so small as to be illusionary, however. Not so with the 750i, which offers four choices that actually feel different from one another - Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+. The Comfort setting is so soft that it almost turns the car into a 1970's Cadillac. The Sports+ setting is so firm that road ripples feel like flat tires.
Most drivers will probably choose the Normal or Sport settings for daily driving. Normal offers a supple ride, while the slightly firmer Sport mode also allows drivetrain adjustments that tightens up both the steering and the transmission shifts. In either the Sport and Sport+ modes, the 750i drives like a smaller sport sedan - a remarkable achievement for such a large car.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 750i is what was missing - driver fatigue. No matter how long the drive, we never felt tired at the end. Part of that was because of the comfortable, supportive and fully adjustable seats, of course. But part of it was also because driving the 750i is such a pleasure. From the expansive view of the road to the easy-to-read gauges and simple climate controls, nothing gets in the way of the motoring experience.
At least, once the car is rolling. Before and after that, it's easy to question at least a few of the decision made by BMW's engineers. Take the shift lever, for example. Like the Toyota Prius, it feels like a large electrical switch. Want to back up? Flick it forward for Reverse. Ready to go? Nudge it back for Drive. Done? Touch a button on the top for Park. Don't know what gear you're in? Look for the little indicator light on the shift knob. Is this really more satisfying than moving a mechanical lever around? Did anyone really like the push button transmissions in old Chryslers?
And despite the solid construction, BMW engineers don't really want you to slam the doors. Like the trunks on many luxury cars, an automatic device takes over for the last few millimeters. Maybe some owners will appreciate this feature, but it seemed like a gimmick to us.
And why does the stereo stay on until you lock the car from the outside? What's wrong with turning off the engine or opening the door? Sometimes we want to live dangerously, like running in and out of the house because we forget our coffee in the morning.
And then there's the iDrive that operates the entertainment, navigation, suspension and other computer-controlled systems. Actually, the news here is good. The original iDrive system was widely criticized as overly complicated. The current version still contains a large number of buttons and dial settings, but it is much simpler to use. Still, reading the instruction manual is a must - or at least better than trial and error on the road.
At almost $104,000, our test model cost nearly $24,000 more than the least expensive 750i. That's right, the options cost nearly as much as an affordable family car. Fortunately for potential 750i buyers who aren't willing to spend quite that much, the base model comes with the same twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 and advanced safety features, including stability and brake-control systems.
But if money's no object, there's always the 760Li sedan with the longer wheelbase and 455-horsepower V12 engine. But in the real world, would the additional $34,000 or so ever result in that much more usable performance? Looked at it that way, our fully loaded 750i was a bargain.
Facts and figures
• Model: 2010 750i xDrive
• Manufacturer: BMW.
• Class: Full-size luxury sedan.
• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.
• Style: Four-door, five passenger car.
• Engines: 4.4-liter twin turbocharged V8 (400 hp, 450 lb-ft).
• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 14/20.
• Price: Beginning at approximately $85,000 ($103,925 as tested).