For a driving enthusiast the classic problem with luxury cars has been that while the passengers may be delighted with their coddling the driver risks death by ennui, a lingering and horrible way to go. But luxury cars are becoming more entertaining to drive and one of the best examples is the 2010 BMW 750Li xDrive.
The 750Li xDrive starts with the rear-wheel drive 750i. Then, it is stretched five inches (hence the "L") and it gets all-wheel drive (hence the "xDrive").
The surroundings are lovely and comfort features abound, including separate climate controls for each of the four seating positions. One nuisance is a lack of storage up front. Apparently the Germans leave all their stuff at home.
The big BMW covers ground with speed and effortless grace thanks to a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8. It is rated at 400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and a huge 450 foot pounds of torque starting at only 1,800 rpm This V-8 is dealing with a curb weight of almost 4,900 pounds, but BMW says zero to 60 mph takes only five seconds. That is very fast and easy to believe.
However, when starting from a stop there wasn't much initial reaction from the gas pedal if applied gently. It felt a little disconnected and then suddenly the vehicle would get going. This wasn't an issue when it was under way and did not seem to be related to the turbochargers.
The EPA estimate is 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway and the feds say such piggish behavior merits a gas guzzler tax, which is paid by the buyer. Premium fuel is recommended.
The standard transmission is a 6-speed automatic, which on the test vehicle sometimes showed somewhat poor manners. Several times, under light acceleration, there were noticeable and surprising downshifts. Not very refined.
The suspension is ready for all the power the V-8 can produce. A button allows the driver to select from "comfort" or "normal" or "sport" settings. That varies not just how tightly the body motions are controlled but also how the transmission, steering and engine perform.
Going straight on the "normal" suspension setting, the 750Li xDrive feels locked down, stable and a bit nose heavy. But head into a sharp turn and suddenly it feels far more eager to change direction than one would expect. The credit goes to a computer that shifts more power to the rear and may apply a single rear brake. The goal is to provide the balanced feeling for which the best BMWs are known. This is still a heavy vehicle with almost 54 percent of the weight up front. But for its size, the 750Li xDrive is amazingly agile.
What's equally pleasing is that even on the "sport" setting the ride quality remains quite good despite rutted or broken surfaces. There is play without punishment.
The AWD system is permanently engaged and varies the power between the front and rear wheels depending on the traction. The default is to send most of the power to the rear. But up to 50 percent can go to the front.
BMW appears to have made a serious effort to keep the occupants of the 750Li xDrive safe. This is a smart, long-term strategy. You want to keep people with this kind of disposable income around. There is a big emphasis on preventing a crash. Equipment to do that ranges from electronic stability control to stop skids to a system designed to reduce stopping distances by drying off the brakes in wet weather. Options include night-vision, lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection.
To protect occupants in a crash much of the body uses high-strength steel. Inside there are not just frontal air bags but side-impact protection for front occupants using separate bags for head and chest. Oddly those in the back — with all that extra leg room — have only head-protection bags.
Of course the price means there is no Bimmer, just a bummer for most of us. The standard 750Li is $86,900, including the $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. Getting all-wheel drive bumps that to $90,200, including the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax. Options on the test vehicle brought the price to just over $100,000. And, that didn't include all the available goodies. Check all the option boxes and you're suddenly close to $120,000.
I always thought that making a wonderful car for $15,000 was a far greater achievement than making a wonderful car for $90,000. But it is impossible not to be impressed with BMW's creation.
Contact Christopher Jensen at email@example.com