The Morning Call and's view

Imagine you’re a CEO.

It’s been a long day, and you’re beat. The finance guys are up in arms and the sales department can’t get its act together. It’s a relief to be going to that dinner party tonight. You climb into your new BMW 745i to head to the party.

You start the car. But rather than inserting and turning a key, this car requires you to insert a remote and hit a starter button. The transmission lever, a short stub on the steering column, toggles until one hits the desired gear.

You tune in a new radio station someone told you about. Using a single twisting knob that toggles like a joystick, you must flip through four menus on a dashboard screen to get to the manual radio tuning mode. Then you can tune in the radio station.

Next, you try to get directions to the party by toggling in the address in the car’s navigation system. You get the directions from the car’s computerized voice, but the system tells you to turn left instead of right. You end up at the wrong house. The navigation system obviously used an old map for its data.

This is life with the BMW 745i, whose engineers have mistaken sophistication for complication. It mars an otherwise exemplary automobile experience.

Keeping in mind that most people can’t tune their VCR clock, you’ll understand why this car is so over the top.

iDrive is BMW’s system of eliminating dashboard clutter that could easily overwhelm a weary CEO. It controls seven functions: the built-in, voice activated cell phone, navigation system, audio system, climate controls and heated front seats, BMW roadside assistance, maintenance menus, vehicle settings and explanations of how all this works.

But, be sure not to do any of this while driving.

Once you figure out the system, you’ll wonder why you need to push the iDrive joystick four times to tune a radio, when a simple knob accomplishes the same thing.

But, when you shove the accelerator, all is right with the world. The superb dynamics that mark all BMWs is apparent. While not as hard-edged as a BMW 5 Series, it’s every bit as sporty. However, the 745i has a bit of refinement in its suspension settings, being just a bit softer. Cornering is almost flat; braking is instantaneous. The vehicle makes you a better driver than you really are.

Power from the all-new 4.4-liter V-8 is rated at 325 horsepower, the same as the old 750IL’s V-12 engine. Yet it returns mileage of 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway. Its power is creamy smooth, yet ferocious and it’s all fed through an excellent six-speed automatic transmission. The transmission is always in the right place for your driving mood.

Operating the transmission is another story. It’s controlled through a short stub of a lever that takes some getting used to. Want to park? Push in for park. Want to drive? Press downward. Want reverse? Press up. But to hit the gears, one must look at the indicat or to see if you’re in the correct gear. You don’t feel the lever shifting into a slot.

Of course, that’s not the only electronic aid for driving. There’s a host of electronic aids to make sure you stay on track.

Active Roll Stabilization uses numerous sensors and two active anti-roll bars to keep the car flat in corners. Electronic Damping Control continuously measures road conditions and adjusts the ride accordingly. Dynamic Stability Control helps prevent unwanted skids, while Electronic Brake Proportioning helps prevent over- or under-braking, while Dynamic Brake Control makes sure that you’re braking as well as possible in emergency situations. In addition, the vehicle offers traction control, a tire monitoring system, parking distance control and anti-lock brakes.

If all that is enough to make your head spin, just get in the car and get comfy. You won’t have to slam the door, since the car has ”soft close doors.” The final inch of travel on a d or is shut by a small motor. That also goes for the trunk lid as well.

The seats are incredibly comfortable. The famous, as well as rich, will appreciate the power privacy screens that shield one from view, but allow the driver to see out.

All of this is controlled by 54 fuses and relays mounted in the trunk on the inside of the right rear fender. If you happen to get hit in the right rear fender, you might need the number of a good electrician in addition to a good repair shop.

What all this electronic decadence hides is a great sports sedan, one that used to have the simple, yet elegant, personality of its stablemates. But the engineers had too much free-rein here, and the result is overwhelming, a feeling that the engineers were trying so hard to prevent.

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