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2013 BMW 750i Road Test

Altering the mission of the executive sedan

What It Is
An executive sedan for those who don’t want to feel seasick on the road.
Best Thing
That engine! And fantastic handling for a car the size of a Luxembourg house!
Worst Thing
Steep price and not as refined as other sumo-sized sedans.
Snap Judgment
A Maserati Quattroporte for those who’d timidly trade a little excitement for a safer bet.


This is not a Mercedes-Benz S-Class competitor. Nor is it a Lexus LS competitor. At least not in the traditional sense.

Sure, the 2013 BMW 750i falls into the same segment, and bridges the gap between the two in price. But where those are coddling, the 7 Series’ Comfort mode doesn’t feel like you’re on a Carnival cruise. And despite the ability of the car’s suspension to smooth out the road, you can still feel it under you as though the car still wants to participate with the world around it rather than isolate you from it. It’s a different take on the full-size luxury sedan, self-segregating in an oversaturated class of executive cars with a more sporting demeanor to stand out from the pack.

Heavily revised for the 2013 model year, the BMW 750i doesn’t look much different on the surface: a new chrome strip on the back, a revised front bumper, and mildly changed headlights and tail lights. But it packs a lot of new technology compared to the model that came out in 2009. From an upgraded twin-turbocharged V-8 engine that now brings horsepower to 445--up 45 from last year--to LED headlights, the 2013 750i throws in dozens of small changes that on their own might not be noticeable. Combined, however, they add up, but the competition is already pretty darn good, and is going to get a lot better very quickly. Is the BMW 7 Series any better?

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What We Drove

The BMW 7 Series has always had a long list of engine options around the world. We’ve never gotten most of them, as most engines haven’t always made sense in the U.S. with our once-cheap gas. Now, however, they do.

The 2013 BMW 7 Series range starts with the 315-horsepower 740i, then moves up to the ActiveHybrid 7, the 445-horsepower 750i, the sporty 540-horsepower B7 Alpina slotting above it, and the 760Li topping off the range with a smooth 535-horsepower V-12. For 2013, all engines come paired to BMW’s new eight-speed automatic transmission, abandoning the six gears that were deemed too unsophisticated. All-wheel drive is available on all but the short version of the 740i and the 760Li.

For our pick, we went straight to the middle of the lineup, opting for a rear-wheel drive 750i. Starting at a hearty $87,195, including $895 for destination and handling, it represents a significantly higher cost of entry than the Lexus LS but comes in at about the same price as a similar Jaguar XJ Supercharged or Audi A8. A comparable S-Class would come in at about $10,000 more, but the big Benz only comes in its long form for the U.S. However, with all the options ours had, the numbers change quickly.

Including a $1,900 Driver Assistance package that includes lane-departure warning and blindspot monitoring; a $4,600 Executive package that adds BMW Apps, ceramic finish on controls, power sunshades, and cell phone integration among a long list of features; the $3,300 M Sport package; a $3,700 Bang & Olufsen stereo; full LED headlights with automatic high beams for $1,900; another $2,600 for night vision; a $500 parking assistant; $2,500 worth of Adaptive Roll Stabilization; and $219 in carpeted floor mats--yes, BMW charges extra for floor mats even in its top-level car--our example broke the bank at $108,318. Ouch.

If you’re the sort with young kids to haul around, the 750i, as well as all other 7 Series models, features LATCH seat hooks that are fairly easy to reach in back, front seatbelts with electronic pretensioners, and airbags for front passengers in their head, side, and torso protection--all standard.

The Commute

As a supposed driver’s car--a 4,600-pound driver’s car--there are two places you touch that matter the most: The steering wheel and the seat. BMW’s always been good with the former, and despite having electric steering instead of its old hydraulic system, it’s still not bad. Especially in Sport+ mode on a winding road, we found the 750i more than willing to play. In other modes, steering effort can be softened to the consistency of warm marshmallows, albeit road feel is still decent.

As with almost all new BMWs, auto start/stop comes standard, a feature that deactivates the engine when the car is stopped to save gas. Likely because it’s a bigger, heavier vehicle than the 3 Series we had driven earlier that had the same feature, the 7 Series’ starter felt smoother. And while it can be deactivated, we often opted to keep it on for both fuel economy and the sheer novelty of it.

When piloted down the highway, it rides smoothly, but hardly wafts with aplomb the way a Lexus or Benz does. It feels more planted, with less body lean. It feels like a larger BMW 5 Series. Because it pretty much is one.

As for that driver’s seat? During our first 400 miles with the 750i, cruising down California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway back to Los Angeles, we quickly came to the conclusion that it’s minimalism at its finest; supportive but certainly not what we’d define as comfortable. And while we didn’t feel any extreme fatigue with being in the car for an extended amount of time, we certainly wished the experience were a little more cosseting.

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The Grocery Run

Showing up in a one of the four shades of black available on the 7 Series--this one called Carbon Black Metallic--our 750i looked like something some New Jersey Mafioso would drive; bold and intimidating. For a car like this, it doesn’t feel right to relate its cargo capacity in grocery bags. Try the day’s dirty work or your rival mob’s son in your trunk. Whatever you say should be worth a few dropped jaws, not diaper bags.

That said, the 750i’s trunk is as colossal as it deserves to be, given its size. In fact, the whole car is pretty massive. But it’s controllable. At low speeds, any of the drive modes but the Sport and Sport+ will yield light, sensitive steering, good for navigating parking lots. Because ours was not only equipped with front and rear cameras but also the parking radars, getting around was a cinch. Parallel parking, on the other hand, wasn’t.

There’s no way to get around the fact that its VIN number ought to be a five-digit ZIP code; the long version would have been even more troublesome. Alas, if you have the money for a BMW 7 Series, you’re not going to mess around. You’re going to have your own driveway, and you’re going to valet your car whenever possible.

The Weekend Fun

For all the nitpicks on this car’s size, mass, and seats, none of it seems to matter when you’re on a winding road overlooking the Pacific Ocean, driving alongside its seemingly endless hypnotic luster. I take that back; the road ahead matters. And the occasional driver with whom you share the road. But I digress.

With windows rolled down, the cool, ocean breeze billows through the car’s interior, touching your skin the way the BMW’s Bang & Olufsen stereo touches your eardrums. I imagine it’s similar to what heaven would be like; I’d have a slightly smaller car, though.

At speed on the winding mountain roads, the 750i shrinks around its driver. Its difficult seats demonstrate their functionality, showing ample support in corners; its brakes reassure you that they’ll be there when you need them. Quickly, changing the 7's mode from Comfort to Sport+ yields a playful side, the suspension firmed up and steering heavier, more focused on divebombing corners. That engine--one of the best V-8s on the market today--never feels out of steam, much less like it has any limit to its muscle.

As nightfall comes, the car’s adaptive LED headlights activate automatically, turning on high beams whenever the car senses no oncoming traffic and turning them back down as soon as it senses other cars on the road. If surely other automakers’ flagship sedans provide a certain personality or gobs of luxury or a certain style, the BMW’s trump card comes by way of how it annihilates a two-lane ribbon in the middle of nowhere just as well as it does a 10-lane Interstate.

Towards the end of my journey, having been on the road for 10 hours as I made my ascent of California’s coast to get back to Los Angeles, I was fatigued. And the car knew it better than I did. By the time I had reached the edge outer boroughs of the county, the car had sensed my reactions dulling. It flashed notice on the iDrive screen that I should pull over and take a break, signaling between my gauges with a picture of a cup of coffee, too.

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Summary

The 750i is by no means perfect, but it does have some more endearing qualities to it. Behind the wheel is where you’ll find most of them. But as much as we love driving it, plunking down the sort of cash BMW expects for this car sounds a little absurd when outside its own universe, its Lexus and Mercedes competitors are slightly better all-arounders. The BMW plays by its own rules because it doesn’t stand a chance of winning at everyone else’s.

For example, it’s a much sportier car than you’re going to get from most of the company outside Maserati, Porsche, or Jaguar without a spendy upgrade. But if you want a $100,000 sports sedan, we’re thinking you’re probably going to go with a slightly smaller, much more powerful BMW M5.

Then there are the BMW’s luxury traits. They’re good to be sure, but they’re not fantastic. The leather in the BMW is of the glove-soft Merino variety, and it covers everything. But it’s not worth the premium of what Lexus and Mercedes-Benz offer at no additional charge. While iDrive is easier to use than Mercedes’ COMAND, Lexus technology, for instance, is just that much more intuitive. And the BMW rides like none of those vehicles.

That leaves the 7 Series in a tough spot, justifying it as a car for someone who wants a sporty full-size luxury charter sedan--someone who honest-to-god would get a Maserati Quattroporte but either doesn’t have the extra $30,000, or doesn’t want to get to know his mechanic on a first-name basis. On its own merits, the 750i is a very good car with an exceptionally punchy twin-turbocharged engine. And if you’re in the market for such a car, you owe it to yourself to drive one.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $108,318
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 17
EPA Highway: 25
EPA Combined: 19
Estimated Combined Range: 412
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor (2012 data)

Notebook Quotes

"Acceleration is the second best thing about this car behind night vision. You put your foot down, wait a half second, and then all of a sudden you're thrown back in to your chair and off you go." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"Overall, I don't think it's as good as the S-Class. I would reluctantly take it over the brand new LS, but NOT over the LS F-Sport." -Jason Davis, Associate Editor
"I like the way the door pull is incorporated into the trim, for example, and the metal knobs for the audio system are a nice touch. But it feels behind the times. The screen for the nav is small, for example. As good as iDrive has gotten, it feels a bit antiquated compared to the Lexus and Cadillac systems." -Keith Buglewicz, News Editor
"Drove primarily in Eco Pro mode. Five modes total. Can really tell the differences between the different modes." -Joel Arellano, Associate Editor
"I can’t help but shake that feeling that tech and buttons aside, there’s nothing this car can do that a marginally cheaper, easier to park 5 Series can’t unless you get the big-mutha 760Li with the silky V-12. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class feels more special. The 7 Series? Well, it’s sporty--but if you want sport, get a 335xi." -Blake Z. Rong, Associate Editor
"The 7 Series is gorged with technology. Not the obvious tech: navigation; sat radio; Bluetooth. But a lot of neat features: the seatbelt tightens once you get moving; the lane departure warning is effective; the door handles illuminate and unlock once sensors detect your hand is near; there's pedestrian detection; a great head-up display; etc." -Matt Askari, Associate Editor

3 comments
Aaron Henderson
Aaron Henderson

Unless the American/Canadian version comes with a diesel engine, like in Europe, no thanks

Hagar Kovach
Hagar Kovach

I would prefer a convertible (hardtop version), nothing better on nice day

Kevin Melby
Kevin Melby

A hardtop droptop sedan would be amazing.

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