BMW's flagship 7 Series sedan comes in two wheelbases: regular and extended, starting with the more affordable trim levels, the 750i and 750Li, respectively. A limited-production V-12-powered version, the 760Li comes only in the longer size, and a high-performance model adapted by German tuner Alpina, called simply the Alpina B7, is based on the shorter wheelbase. (It's detailed in a separate report in the Cars.com Research section.)
The 7 Series has featured some incremental changes over the years since the birth of this fourth generation in 2002 — including an engine-size increase that changed the base model from 745 to 750. However, BMW says absolutely nothing in the 7 Series has changed between 2007 and 2008. Apart from the trim levels above, BMW Individual customization is available, comprising special leather and interior trim, an Alcantara suede headliner, 20-inch wheels and illuminated doorsills.
The 750i competes with top-line sedans like the Audi A8, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The affordable Lexus LS 460 is a key alternative in regular and extended body lengths. The 760Li's main competitor is the V-12-powered Mercedes S600. For the true performance version of the 7, check out the Alpina B7.
BMW's regular-length 750i sedan is built on a 117.7-inch wheelbase, versus a 123.2-inch version on the extended-length 750Li sedan. The longer model is identical but for chrome roof molding, where the 750i is body-colored. All models have chrome trim on the bumpers.
One of the early and perhaps most controversial models designed by American Chris Bangle, the 7 Series has had key styling changes that have damped criticism somewhat. Namely, the taillamps now run directly onto a reshaped trunklid, making it look less like it was added after the fact, and the headlight clusters were restyled for a more aggressive look, closer to that of the 5 Series sedan.
Up to five occupants can fit easily inside the 750i, though a relatively high center floor hump crowds the center passenger's feet. The backseat of the 750Li and 760Li has more legroom.
Detail trim elements have a metallic look. A flat-tire warning and a 10-speaker audio system are standard. The Adaptive Ride Package includes Electronic Damping Control and a self-leveling rear air suspension. Heated front Comfort seats and power-folding exterior mirrors are standard for the whole model line.
Also controversial is the standard iDrive interface, a combination knob/joystick/button that — along with an LCD screen — controls many functions, including the stereo, navigation and some aspects of ventilation.
The 750's 4.8-liter V-8 drives the rear wheels with 360 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 360 pounds-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm. The 760Li's V-12 engine generates 438 hp and 444 pounds-feet of torque. The torque seems modest considering that the Alpina B7's modified V-8 delivers 516 pounds-feet along with its 500 hp. Generous torque is common in engines with more cylinders.
The six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission has its selector positioned just ahead of the steering-wheel rim. A steering-wheel button selects Drive, Sport or Manual shift mode. Shift buttons at the front and back of the steering wheel can be used to execute manual gear changes.
BMW's first- and second-row inflatable tubular Head Protection System is similar to side curtain airbags. Front-seat side-impact airbags are also standard, and rear side-impact airbags are optional. Active Knee Protection is standard. Active Cruise Control that uses a radar sensor is optional.
In the class of large, heavy luxury flagships, the 750 feels nimble, benefiting from its perfect 50/50 (front/rear) weight distribution. The V-8 engine is eager and more than powerful enough for most buyers. The 760Li's value is in its exclusivity more than its additional performance. The 7 Series' ride quality is good, thanks in part to active stabilizer bars that make their presence known only when the car is turning, preventing body lean. Overall, the technology that BMW uses in the service of performance, under the hood and chassis, is top-notch, where competitors' often add too much weight or feel gimmicky.
On the flip side, BMW's slavish devotion to its iDrive system only harms its vehicles' appeal. Attempts to simplify it have made it better, but it's far from good. Critics say it's difficult to figure out, when the true problem is more insidious: Once you do figure it out, it's unpleasant to use, and that never changes. Somewhat related, BMW's change in the 7 Series from mechanical gear selectors and turn-signal stalks to lever-activated electronics are "improvements" that some drivers find detrimental. Otherwise, the 7 Series' interior is well-appointed and comfy. Check out options like massaging seats with more adjustments than you've ever seen, and night vision that appears on the dashboard display.
We have yet to experience the Alpina B7.