Where BMW Stands in the Battle of the Bulging Sedans
Mercedes-Benz has led the sales charts among super-luxury large sedans for a very long time. During the first three quarters of 2015, that remained true; Mercedes sold 15,994 copies of the S-Class, more than double the 6,363 BMW 7 Series cars that moved off dealer lots during the same period. Does the new 7 Series have what it takes to challenge the status quo leader simply because it brings a few new technologies to the game?
Admittedly, both the S-Class and 7 Series cosset customers with a similar set of available features. These include front and rear seats with multiple massage settings as well as heat and ventilation. And let’s not forget a rear-seat entertainment system, personal concierge service, and a cabin fragrance system. In the BMW, you can simply press a button to spritz the cabin with a bit of perfume if you grow weary of the smell of new leather.
For 2016, the 7 Series’ claim to fame is its pioneering technologies, including remote control parking (not on our tester), a built-in wireless phone charger in the center bin, and alas, the world’s first gesture control system on a production car.
As I hopped into the 750i for the first time, this was the first thing I wanted to explore. I was able to intuitively figure out the gesture for adjusting audio volume by twirling my finger in a circular motion. Another two-finger gesture can be used to activate one special control of your choosing, such as changing the radio station or navigating to the previous menu screen. The most finicky gesture was a pinching motion that allows you to see a 360-degree view of the entire car while parking.
Our staff had mixed opinions of the gesture control technology. Many of the gestures are admittedly redundant, and we found out it is much quicker to use traditional buttons on the console or steering wheel rather than try to target the gesture sensors and wait for the car to respond. “Unnecessary; tech for tech’s sake,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman noted. Associate editor Christian Seabaugh was equally unimpressed. “This is stuff the dealer shows you to wow you into a purchase or stuff you show your buddies at a country club to show off,” he said.
The tech showstoppers continue with adjustable ambient lighting on the roof and a high-quality 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround system with settings for Concert and Studio. There is also an available fancy key fob called the Display Key, a smartphonelike device that shows range, fuel status, and other important information about the car and controls remote control parking. One feature that may be seen as superfluous is the 7-inch screen allowing passengers in the back to change lighting, audio, and seat controls via the touchscreen on the removable tablet unit.
As it strives to pave the way in technology and comfort, the 7 Series must also live up to BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine promise. So how does the 750i drive compared to its most formidable competitor? More quickly, for one thing. Our 750i xDrive, packed with a 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine delivering 445 hp, hit 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.3 seconds. That time comes in ahead of the 455-hp Mercedes S550 4Matic we tested at 4.7 seconds. The BMW also outperforms the Merc on the quarter mile, making quick time in 12.7 seconds at 111.9 mph (180 km/h) versus 13.3 seconds at 107.4 mph (173 km/h). Point, BMW: The luxury saloon shows signs of its M influence.
“Effortless acceleration, quick shifting, planted—this is where the 7 is most at home,” Seabaugh said after taking the 750i around the high-speed oval at the Hyundai Proving Grounds. Whether on the road or on the track, you’re never wanting for power in the 750i.
But not all is fun and games. Seabaugh and other staff members took note of the car’s vague steering and general lack of sportiness. “This thing is all over the road,” Lieberman said. “How does this happen? Every time you move your eyes, the car slides into oncoming traffic.”
Body roll was also an issue on the track. And even though, like the S-Class, the 750i has technology that continuously scans the road to adjust the drive experience based on conditions ahead, this feature isn’t enough to help it match the ride quality of the Mercedes.
“The 750i xDrive suffered from speed-sapping midcorner understeer on the track—to the point where both front tires were trashed—and numb steering everywhere else,” Angus MacKenzie noted after his latest round driving the 750i. “The ride was good, though not as good as that of the S-Class.” One exception: Some found that the rear seat in the 7 Series is quieter than the S-Class, although the back seat trimmings in general aren’t as plush as its Mercedes rival’s.
Perhaps the BMW’s fatal flaw is its lack of a strong identity. Although many of its new technologies are driver-focused and genuinely helpful, including a new touchpad that allows drivers to write navigation commands with their fingers, other features have more flash than function. And although the 7 Series drives better than its predecessor and goes quickly from 0 to 60, it misses the boat in terms of steering feel and overall drive experience. “It’s quiet enough, smooth enough, and quick enough,” editor-in-chief Ed Loh said. “Nothing more.”
Seabaugh was also left wanting for more than just enough. “The 7 Series was much more successful when it was a driver’s car first, luxury car second,” he said. “This car is plain confused.”
That’s not to say the car isn’t memorable. More memorable than the S-Class? For me, personally, yes. Ten years from now, I probably won’t remember the specific moment I drove the current S-Class model, but I will absolutely remember the first time I used gesture controls on a car. Many features in the BMW make it feel like a true experience, not just a vehicle. At the end of the day, though, that may not be enough of a reason to purchase the 750i over the S550.
“BMW takes aim at Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And misses,” MacKenzie concluded. “It’s not enjoyable to drive as you’d expect and not as comfortable as BMW wants it to be. This is a 7 Series in a curious no-man’s-land.”
|2016 BMW 750i xDrive (M-Sport)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$127,545|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||4.4L/445-hp/480-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,832 lb (47/53%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||206.6 x 74.9 x 58.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.7 sec @ 111.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.88 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.4 sec @ 0.75 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/25/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||211/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.02 lb/mile|