2014 BMW 7 Series Driving Impressions

BMW's 7 Series sedans are satisfying machines to drive: superbly comfortable and quiet and impressively quick and agile. From a non-dynamic standpoint, however, driving one can be frustrating, because the engineers and designers sought to re-invent and BMW-ize so many things.

The 7 Series suspension is nearly as flawless as its engines, whether cruising in a straight line on a rough road or tossing through curves. The 7 Series has the first double-wishbone front suspension ever in a BMW passenger car, and the package delivers what might be the best blend of ride comfort and handling response available in a large luxury sedan.

The Driving Dynamics Control system offers four suspension modes: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. The different modes change the performance characteristics of the car in the areas of shock absorber firmness, throttle response, transmission shift characteristics, power steering assist level, and Dynamic Stability control points (how much the electronic stability control will allow the car to slide before it engages).

The 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine in the 740i is our favorite. It costs less than the V8-equipped 750i, and it's got plenty of smooth power. This twin-turbocharged engine produces 315 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, and accelerates the sedan from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds. Highway passing response is immediate and plentiful, and torque off the line is more than willing, because all 330 pound-feet are available from 1300 to 4500 rpm. Its exhaust note is a subdued scream, when you're on the gas. Mostly, the engine is incredibly silky, and the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission has the silkiness to match. The 2014 BMW 740i rates an EPA-estimated 19/29 mpg City/Highway. With this sweet six-cylinder engine available, the V8 is hard to justify.

That said, the 4.4-liter V8 engine in the 750i and 750Li models is brilliant. Generating 445 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, it's close to flawless. BMW claims that the 750i will shoot from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, on par with sports cars such as the Porsche 911, and we don't doubt it. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg, or 16/24 mpg for the 750i xDrive with all-wheel drive. We got 19.4 mpg, driving it casually using the Eco Pro mode, which cuts power; but we were never hindered by loss of acceleration.

The V12-powered 760Li raises the acceleration bar even further. It's powered by a 6.0-liter turbocharged V12 that's turbine smooth, and it bumps output to 535 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque, starting at just 1500 rpm. BMW reports a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, almost as fast as the M6. It feels like a jet engine pulling you forward with awesome power. The V12 is as silent as the hybrid at idle, and silky at all other times, even full throttle. Fifty miles per hour is a mere 1500 rpm, barely over idle. Curiously, there are no paddles for the 8-speed transmission, although there is a sport mode allowing floor-shifting. The lever feels great in your hand. The standard leather is Alcantara, and it's beautiful in black. It has black mesh air dams in front, like the M6. Fuel economy is a thirsty 13/20 City/Highway miles per gallon, according to the EPA. We got less: 10.7 mpg. For 2014, only the 760Li is saddled with the federal Gas Guzzler Tax, amounting to $1,700 on top of the purchase price.

The Alpina B7 is the closest BMW will come to an M version of the 7 Series. The aftermarket company has been working with BMW since 1975, and they're trusted; so with Alpina doing the hot-rod 7 Series, BMW didn't have to make the investment of an M version. The 7 is so big and heavy anyhow, that BMW probably wouldn't bother.

The B7 uses a pumped-up version of the twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, now making 540 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque. Bigger turbochargers, bigger intercoolers, high-performance pistons, beefed-up cylinder heads, and oil coolers for the engine and transmission. BMW says the Alpina is capable of reaching 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, which makes it as fast as the 760i.

The Alpina B7 is also lowered front and rear, rides on 21-inch wheels, and features BMW's Dynamic Damping Control and Active Roll Stabilization systems. The suspension is tuned by Alpina to balance ride and handling, and it does so impressively.

During a few hot laps in the Alpina B7 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it sounded like a junkyard dog compared to the V12. You can feel the greater torque. The transmission feels different, too, with less compromising mapping. In Sport Plus mode, the shifts are super-fast and sharp. The B7 also has ceramic brake rotors and pads, which the car needs for the track.

Out on the road, we found the ride quality of the Alpina B7 firm but surprisingly forgiving, considering its shorter springs and larger wheels. Handling is sharper than that of the other 7 Series models.

We haven't driven the ActiveHybrid 7 model, but we have driven the ActiveHybrid 5, with the same powertrain, so we're sure it will be similar, only bigger. Super smooth, and fast, but don't expect outstanding gas mileage.

The 750i xDrive and 750Li xDrive are the first 7 Series cars with all-wheel drive. While the AWD system is similar to that used in the BMW X5 SUV, on the 7 Series it's tuned more to enhance performance than to optimize traction on low-friction surfaces (though it can do that, too). The 7 Series xDrive more thoroughly integrates all-wheel drive management with other electronic systems, like stability control and the 7's optional Active Roll Stabilization anti-sway bars.

Like other all-wheel-drive BMWs, the 7's system starts at a 40 percent front/60 percent rear default power split. But when the driver applies power more aggressively, especially through bends, the xDrive 7 adjusts torque distribution to maintain the sporty handling dynamics of rear-wheel drive. Through a hard bend, its control system seeks a steady power split of 20/80 to optimize handling.

On a closed course, or in sloppy road conditions, the 750i xDrive does a lot more of the car-control work for the driver than the rear-drive 750i. It balances itself more readily, with less need to be really delicate or active with the gas pedal. With xDrive, the steering feels heavier than that in rear-wheel-drive models with the optional Integral Active (front and rear) Steering system.

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