2006 BMW 7-Series

2006 BMW 7-Series 2006 BMW 7-Series
First Drive Review

BMW won't exactly admit that the 7-series introduced in 2002 suffered from a face only a mother could love, a rear end only Marc Anthony could get used to following, and a computer interface with the ease and clarity of James Joyce's Ulysses. Quite to the contrary, BMW ballyhoos the current 7 as the most accomplished version yet of its top-dog sedan. It points to increased sales numbers, growth in emerging markets, and newfound owners enamored by its full size and unmistakable presence. So now that the 7-series is in the middle of its life cycle, we must ask: Why the new nose, tail, and restructured iDrive scheme?

Well, it seems that despite its popularity with consumers the Munich automaker is about as sensitive to criticism as a teenage girl-those "frumpy frau" remarks really hurt. So designers and engineers addressed some of the more complained-about issues and improved what was already good, and the result is now closer to reaching the unconditional love BMW thinks automotive writers should feel for its flagship sedan.

The most obvious work that has gone into the 2006 7-series can be found on the exterior. There's a new hood that is about an inch higher around the windshield. It slopes at a greater angle into a larger grille that better lines up with the new, more conventionally shaped headlights. Throw in the new front bumper, and the mug looks sportier, less imposing, and more graceful.

Along the sides a more pronounced rocker panel lends some length and reduces the visual heft of the sedan. Alterations to the much maligned rear end extend the taillights into the trunklid, and a new bumper tapers inward from the side to expose more of the rear tires. The changes have a slimming effect that makes the 7-series appear more aggressive. Park last year's 7 next to the new car, and the previous model looks like it slipped out of the studio unfinished. We're happier with the fresh skin, but the real joy for enthusiasts is under the hood.

One thing we never carped about was the 325-hp, 4.4-liter V-8 that powered last year's 745i and 745Li. The last 745i we tested [ C/D, December 2003] ran to 60 mph in a respectable- for a 4545-pound sedan -6.0 seconds. But arch-rival Mercedes-Benz will introduce an all-new S-class sedan this fall, so the folks at BMW have added displacement and power to the all-aluminum V-8 in hopes of staying out front. An extra 401cc brings the engine up to 4.8 liters and 362 horsepower and 361 pound-feet of torque. Aside from some minor intake modifications, this is the same engine introduced in the '04 X5 4.8is SUV, and it growls more menacingly than the outgoing 4.4-liter. The jump in power is noticeable at all speeds and especially if you're partial to accelerating from 100 to 130 mph. (The 760 models get the styling tweaks but keep their 438-hp V-12.)

A 0.5-inch-wider rear track is the primary chassis change bestowed on the 7. The 750i models we drove had the active and adjustable shocks from last year's car and the active anti-roll bars that effectively kept the 750i we drove as flat as a week-old open bottle of tonic water. The chassis and the steering are in such close cahoots that negotiating narrow, blind mountain switchbacks at 8/10ths in the big Bimmer is easier and more satisfying than most cars at 5/10ths. It might be a heavy luxury sedan, but the 750i we drove never felt overweight.

Compared with the work done on the exterior, interior changes are quite minor. A few trim pieces are now lighter in color, and the iDrive knob is a little less antiseptic with its new leather cap. Put the knob to use, and you'll find that, although the menus for selecting the various functions are the same (except for new color coding), the primary difference is that submenu choices are easier to negotiate because all selections can be accessed by merely turning the iDrive controller. You used to have to push the knob up or down, left or right to access sub-submenus. Further facilitating the knob twisting is an arrow that lets the user know which way to turn the knob (clockwise or counterclockwise) to navigate through the menu. It's still daunting and confusing to the uninitiated, like reading Finnegans Wake instead of Ulysses, and mastery continues to be elusive, but work with it long enough, and operation sans analgesic assistance is within reach.

So do we now feel unmitigated love for the mitigated 7-series? After years of gushing over nearly every one of its cars, BMW must have felt jilted by our criticism. But now that the 7-series is making an effort to change, we're again ready to take up where we left off. If they'll take us back.