Introduced during the 2002 model year with V-8 engines, the fourth generation of BMWs largest series comes in regular- and long-wheelbase forms. The regular-size 745i went on sale in January 2002, and the longer-wheelbase 745Li joined the lineup in March 2002.
Styling that departed from BMW tradition, especially at the rear end, has drawn both praise and consternation. The innovative iDrive control system, which places the most-used controls in and around the steering wheel and others in a rotary-dial controller on a console, has also caused a stir. The six-speed-automatic transmission operates with shift-by-wire technology and an unconventional electronic control system.
A 760Li sedan with V-12 power (which is covered separately from this report) will join the 2003 lineup; no other significant changes are coming for the 2003 model year.
Available only with rear-wheel drive, the 7 Series comes in two sizes. The 745i rides a 117.7-inch wheelbase and measures 198 inches long overall. Its extended-length 745Li companion gets a 123.2-inch wheelbase and stretches to 203.5 inches long overall.
Some critics have faulted the new styling, especially the rear end. Styling elements follow BMW tradition and include the familiar twin-kidney grille and a reverse kink in the C-pillar. Bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights operate with both high and low beams. Standard tires measure 18 inches in diameter, and 19-inchers are optional. An optional Adaptive Ride Package includes electronic damping control and a self-leveling rear suspension.
In both regular and long forms, the new 7 Series seats five occupants. The driver gets a 14-way power seat with microperforated leather upholstery. Seats with 20-way adjustment and articulated backrests are standard in the 745Li and optional in the 745i.
Standard features include a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, a navigation system, automatic climate control and a 10-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer.
Under the Hood
BMWs 4.4-liter V-8 engine cranks out 325 horsepower; the previous generation produced just 282 hp. The six-speed-automatic transmission works with adaptive technology.
Antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats and BMWs Head Protection System are standard. Optional rear-seat side-impact airbags extend BMWs inflatable tubular structure to the rear passengers.
Because its packed with so much technology, the first-time driver needs a bit of instruction before his or her inaugural drive. The drive-by-wire technology used for the throttle doesnt feel especially strange, but the electronically operated steering does. Staying in your lane demands more attention than usual until you get used to the unconventional steering feel. Once you do, it imparts a highly secure sensation.
The best suggestion is to forget the electronics and iDrive for a while and just concentrate on the magnificence of the car and the alluring road experience it provides. With so many ratios, the automatic transmission seems a trifle busy, but each gear change is easy.
Ride comfort is satisfying, but on rougher pavement the optional 19-inch tires may jostle passengers. BMWs 7 Series is a serious road machine and has always been among the most luxurious models on the market. BMW promotes the fact that the new version lays utterly flat in curves. The ability to slice through curves considerably faster than expected, with no hint of body lean, is a welcome bonus.