EXPERT REVIEW

AZCentral.com's view

BMW has staked out a piece of the future with its 2002 745i, courageously putting its flagship way out ahead of the curve.

Where, naturally, it is being buffeted by controversy, criticism and misunderstanding.

No one disputes that the 7-Series sedan is a remarkable automobile in terms of power, performance, accommodations and technology. This is BMW doing what it does so well, merging luxury and performance into a tight package of superlatives.

Some complaints are aimed at a certain aspect of the styling. Overall, the look reflects BMW’s heritage, the kidney-shaped grille, hooded headlights and roofline making it instantly identifiable. From front and side, it’s bold and beautiful with an athletic stance and strong presence.

It turns controversial in the rear, where the 745i looks like it was spanked a little too hard. The trunk seems like an ill-fitting bustle, and the view from the back is blocky and fussy-looking. AutoWeek magazine cruelly dubbed it a body double with the rear of a Ford Escort.

That complaint may seem shallow. Where the controversy runs deep is in what BMW refers to collectively as iDrive. The formidable effort to relieve the complexity of operating 7-Series’ electronic features actually seems to have made it more complex.

BMW’s engineers and designers, apparently deciding that driving an automobile should be akin to operating a personal computer, have even included a mouse.

Located in the center console, within easy reach of driver or passenger, it is designed to be an intuitive way of controlling myriad aspects of climate control, sound system, GPS navigation, communications and emergency assistance, and configuring electronic systems, such as stability and traction control.

The idea is to combine most buttons and switches into one palm-size controller. A video display shows a menu for each function, and by pushing, rotating or depressing the controller, the user can perform such operations as changing the radio station.

All well and good, but I found the system to be overly complex with too many steps to perform simple tasks. The goal was to be less distracting to the driver, but I found it to be more so. Perhaps after lengthy ownership, I could learn to love iDrive, but I doubt it.

The stalks for turn signals, gear selector, cruise control and windshield wipers are electronically enhanced as well. They initially felt weird, but I got used to them, though they are too close together on the steering column.

Starting the car involves inserting an electronic “key” and pushing a separate button. You press the button again to turn off the engine and retrieve the key. That’s kind of fun, but valet parking will be a nightmare.

Other new features include active body-roll control; programmable cruise control; variable-assist rack and pinion steering; an electromechanical parking brake that, when the car is sitting at idle, holds it on a hill or keeps i t from creeping forward; electronic throttle; 14-way driver’s seat adjustment; dynamic brake control that assists the driver with panic stops; dynamic brake lights that vary in intensity depending on how hard you’re braking; and a telephone key pad that pops out of the dash.

The dash is trimmed with beautiful wood strips that really look like wood instead of glossy plastic. There is also a handy collection of drawers and cubbies. Even the cupholders are marvels of beauty and functionality.

But the 745i is about power and performance. This big car launches like a rocket from a standstill and cruises effortlessly at autobahn speeds. The 325-horsepower V-8 is enhanced by variable valve lift and timing and hooked up to a unique six-speed automatic transmission.

It corners like a sports car, and the brakes would stop a freight train. Despite the awkward mouse, the high-tech features are impressive.

For the lucky few who can afford it, the 7-Series pretty much has it all. And then some.

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