Test Drive: The New BMW 7-Series

This very smart car is a funhouse of automotive technology. But does any of it make driving easier?

When even an $18,000 Honda offers a navigation system, an $81,000 luxury sedan has to work harder to impress. For BMW's 7-Series, the techno lures include computer-enhanced performance from the twin-turbocharged V8 and enough gizmos to equip the cockpit of the Starship Enterprise. We spent more than 1,000 miles testing and grading the 750i.

Our conclusion: It, along with its sibling, the long-wheelbase 750Li, ditches the silly-gadget overload for technology that actually makes driving safer and more fun. Some fancy bits, such as the Pedestrian Detection system, remain undercooked or unsatisfying. Where it counts, though—in power, handling, and the navigation and multimedia systems—the technology makes this a BMW worth every penny.

Engine

Grade: A With direct fuel injection and two turbochargers nestled efficiently between the "V" of the cylinder banks, a new 4.4-liter V8 produces 400 horsepower. It also generates a prodigious 450 pound-feet of torque, more than BMW's 6-liter V12. The engine hurtles the 750i from 0 to 60 mph in an improbable 5.1 seconds, yet it's quiet and civilized in everyday driving.Courtesy BMW of North America

Controls

Grade: A The rotary iDrive knob that manages navigation and other functions—and once made even basic radio tuning complicated—is suddenly intuitive. The fourth-generation iDrive banishes buried submenus and illogical functions. Old-fashioned buttons for often-used functions surround a slimmed-down console knob. A huge, 10.2-inch high-res screen displays easily readable graphics.Courtesy BMW of North America

Four-Wheel Steering

Grade: B When you make a turn at low speeds, the BMW's rear wheels point in the opposite direction of the fronts, tightening the car's turning circle to 39.4 feet. That's better than any comparably large sedan, and it makes parking surprisingly easy. Still, it's not a home run. The system adds cost and complexity, and at higher speeds the benefits are subtle.Courtesy BMW of North America

High-Beam Assist

Grade: A A truly bright idea: The car detects approaching vehicles from more than half a mile away, using a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. The system automatically dims the high beams until the oncoming vehicle passes and then switches them back on. The result: no more on-again, off-again with the high-beam lever on darkened roads.Courtesy BMW of North America

Night Vision

Grade: C- BMW's thermal-imaging safety system adds Pedestrian Detection, in which the navigation screen shows an animated outline of people and animals lurking at up to 1,000 feet in front of the car. If it detects a person 330 feet or less away, it flashes a warning on a head-up display. But the novelty fades quickly—for the system to be truly useful, you'd have to stare at the screen instead of the road.Courtesy BMW of North America