Automobiles are big and you have to stand off a ways to see them whole, yet their magic is often found at close range.
For example, this long-wheelbase BMW
7-series features a delightful writing table in the back that airlines would do well to replicate. Made of burnished milled aluminum, lightly articulated and balanced around an eccentric pivot, this leather-padded console is part of the Executive Lounge Seating Package ($5,750). It fills me with a desire to learn calligraphy.
And before you ask, you horrible person, yes, there is an ashtray.
This is the sixth generation of BMW’s mightiest sedan (the U.S. market will get only the long wheelbase version, with or without all-wheel drive) and it has a lot of game. The marquee tech is carbon-fiber structural reinforcement. The Carbon Core elements splice into the roof rails, the B and C pillars and the transmission tunnel, helping lower overall weight 190 pounds over the previous car. Following the lead of its i Division, BMW has made no secret of its intent to generalize the use of structural carbon-fiber in mainstream cars.
Behind the flaring chrome nostrils will be a choice of three turbocharged engines: a 3.0-liter V6 (740i), a 4.4-liter V8 (750i) and 6.6-liter V12 (760i), due late this year. From the seat of the pants, the most significant upgrades in the machinery are the four-corner air suspension; and lighter suspension parts, hubs and brakes, reducing unsprung mass and increasing isolation from the road.
But that’s the big stuff. Note the details. Here you will find the best looking and feeling automotive switch, of any kind, I have ever laid a finger to. It’s a new version of the iDrive controller using a ceramic material, like a cloisonne, inlaid with stainless. The actuation and damping is perfect, and the material feels so good you want to rest your right hand upon it.
The oh-so-charismatic opera lights built into the B-pillar; the lustrous alloy door trim, speaker grilles and switch caps; the cool ambient lighting seeping into the cabin from every edge and seam; the perfume atomizer in the HVAC system, to mask the scent of class angst. A heated armrest? Now they are just showing off.
Given all this luxury you might think that our test car, a 2016 BMW 750i xDrive ($129,245), is about the most splendid and replete automobile you could buy. That’s a thorny matter. At the moment the big German carmakers are slugging it out in the segment above this car; which is to say, the prestige luxury segment, including Rolls-Royce (owned by BMW), Bentley (VW Group
) and Mercedes-Maybach
The Rolls-Royce Ghost is amazing with an incredible twin-turbo 6.6 liter V12 engine to back it up. But this 7-series has hella-engine too, a V8 worth 445 hp and 480 pound-feet of relentless torque. Both cars use tuned versions of the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. And the BMW is stupendously quick off the line: 4.3 seconds to 60 mph. The only body motion the suspension doesn’t quite quell is the lurid squat the car does as the four big tires sink their teeth into the tarmac. Don’t spill your drink, sir.
And then there is this thing BMW calls the Autobahn Package ($4,100), designed to increase high- speed stability and passenger comfort whilst hauling butt across Germany, or the U.A.E., or wherever you can get away with it: Rear-wheel steering, electromechanical anti-roll bars, dynamic dampers and air springs. This is one big, smothering stabilization system, reacting in real time to chassis telemetry and sensor and even GPS data about the coming terrain.
The effect is pretty holistic. At high speed the big car just simply glides and levitates with a low, thrumming awesomeness, like the distant song of Tibetan throat singers. These sensations come perilously close to Rolls-Royce’s patented notions of “waftability.”
And to the extent I have preferences it’s all in BMW’s favor. Zoom in again to those pleated-leather seats in the back. Note the small pair of silver zippers sewn into the seams. Pull those down and you will find Isofix connectors, those metal hoops that anchor child car seats. Isofix are usually way deep in the seat crevasse and hard to get to. That was thoughtful.
There is a limit to how luxuriously supple and poofy and connected and pillow-filled you can make a car, and that constitutes a leveling effect superluxury brands have to pretend doesn’t exist.
That leads to the crowning irony that this majestic car is not expensive, but rather an irresistible bargain. Where are you going to get the money? Details, details.
2016 BMW 750I XDRIVE SEDAN
Base price: $97,400
Price, as tested: $129,245
Powertrain: 4.4-liter biturbo direct-injection V8 with variable valve control; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive.
Horsepower/torque: 445 at 5,500-6000 rpm/480 pound-feet at 1,800-4,500 rpm
Length/weight: 206.6 inches/4,610 pounds
Wheelbase: 126.4 inches
0-60 mph: 4.3 seconds
Top speed: 155 mph (Autobahn Package)
Trunk capacity: 18.2 cubic feet