The lightly adorned skin and softly molded body work of the 2010 BMW 750i brings to mind mercury, an appropriate element to describe it as this car is like a messenger for the gods. Looking up and down its silky smooth body we can find no flaw. And that perfection extends to the driving experience, as the 750i is as solid a car as you can imagine, gliding effortlessly down the road.
As BMW's flagship sedan, the 750i competes with the Mercedes-Benz S550 and the Audi A8. All of these cars hang around the $100k price point and don't give a damn about fuel economy. And like its competition, the 750i's cabin is made up of quality materials, including soft leather and wood with a glossy finish.
But in the 21st century, luxury doesn't just mean natural materials; electronics complete the picture. BMW has been obsessive about embracing and pioneering new technology for its cars, and the 750i benefits from the latest. The LCD at the top of the stack boasts 10.2 inches of screen real estate, the software interface controllable with voice command and an improved iDrive knob.
A split-screen feature let us assign about a third of this screen to showing trip data, audio information, or a different map view. But the navigation maps look so good that we tended to use the whole screen.
The 750i comes with an 80GB hard drive, which stores maps, music, and the owner's manual. In 3D view, the maps show topographical features, letting us see every mountain peak and canyon. In the city, it renders some buildings in 3D, but not the full urban landscape, as we saw in the BMW 550i Gran Turismo.
This navigation system also overlays traffic information on the map, and dynamically routes around problems when a destination is set. We find the new iDrive control more usable than the previous generation, and entering a street or city name while driving is not too distracting, as BMW superimposes the currently selected letter or number over the image of the controller on the screen.
Adding to the usefulness of the route guidance graphics on the LCD, our car had the head-up display option, which also shows route guidance. These graphics are surprisingly detailed for a windshield projection, even showing lane guidance.
But one of our favorite new features in the 750i, and one that probably should be implemented by all automakers, is the inclusion of the owner's manual on the hard drive. This digital format makes it very easy to find information, as it is well indexed. The online manual includes pictures and hyperlinks, demonstrating the many features in this car. It beats having to dig through a paper manual of Russian novel length.
The LCD also showed phonebook information for our paired iPhone, but it was easier to place calls with BMW's new voice command system. It's similar to Ford's Sync and new Bluetooth phone systems from Kia, Nissan, and Lexus; we were able to say the name of the person we wanted to call, and it dialed the associated phone number.
But unlike Ford Sync or the Song By Voice feature of the Acura MDX, we couldn't request specific music playback by voice command. iPod integration is done the old-fashioned way in the 750i: onscreen. Although we could view an iPod library on the BMW's big screen, the interface proved frustrating. Choosing a genre essentially created a filter, so that looking under the artists or albums category, we only saw entries that fit the previously selected genre. BMW should realize that people driving cars shouldn't be setting up complex data filters just to play music. Every other automaker starts a fresh index when the driver chooses to view albums or artists.