Despite their seemingly unobtainable status, full-size luxury sedans playing at the pointiest end of the socioeconomic scale occupy highly contested ground. It’s a different playing field than say, that of the affordable midsize sedan, because there are truly no losers in this group. Even the Lexus LS460, arguably the sedan with the grayest temples in this rarefied group, still impresses with its stoic competence. But competence alone isn’t enough to woo the biggest sharks in the pool to plunk down their hard-earned corporate bonuses. It takes something more, something that trades on over-the-top opulence….and the new 7-series pictured here has that in spades.

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Throughout its history, the 7-series has cut its own unique path away from the S-classes, A8s and Lexus LSs of the world. It traded on a subtle hint of sportiness; granted, few owners of the late 70s E23-generation ever explored the limits of their Michelin TRXs on public roads, but it was fun to imagine that you could. Later generations carried that torch, looking and driving like a larger version of the compact sport sedans that BMW made its name with. Those times have changed, though, and BMW is no longer the purveyor of honed, enthusiast-pleasing four-doors that it once was. Sure, the company’s M cars still fulfill that mission, but the trickle-down effect that imbued even the most basic 3-series with the kind of visceral thrills only a Porsche could match is long gone. The market has shifted, and technology is now the BMW trump card.

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No matter. With this new 750i, BMW’s engineers have proven yet again that if they truly set their minds to something, the end result will be an impressive car. The new 7 cuts a very handsome line. It no longer looks like a stretched version of the 3-series like the old model (buyers plunking down six figures to own one are probably okay with this), but the familial styling cues are certainly there. If anything, the 750i is the best-looking modern 5-series the company has yet produced, especially in M-Sport guise as pictured here. Gaping air intakes and exhaust outlets punctuate the front and rear fascias, while hockey-stick shaped accents grace the flanks. The overall effect is that of a smaller car, even though the now-mandatory long-wheelbase US model is actually an inch longer than the car it replaces.

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Because it now spans roughly half a football field, the 7-series has exemplary room in the back seat. As in, passengers sized 6-foot-3 (like myself) can comfortably cross their legs in the back. With the right options, it’s easy to believe that even the most powerful titans of industry would be impressed by the 750i’s rear cabin offering. To wit: this tester featured not just heated and cooled rear seats, but power-reclining, massaging rear thrones, all controlled through a removable touch-screen tablet housed in the center armrest. That tablet (a Samsung, in case you were wondering) also controls the power side-window shades, the rear sunroof shade, ambient cabin lighting – including a color-changing, starry-sky effect for the panoramic Sky Lounge roof – and media options. Perhaps the only seating option our car didn’t carry was the one that allows the right-rear passenger to motor the front seat up against the dashboard, deploy an automated footrest, and snooze in near-lay-flat comfort (yes, this is an actual option). An Emirates 777 has nothing on this BMW’s business class.

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It’s not only rear seat passengers that receive a pampering. All four outboard seats feature headrests soft enough to be designed by TempurPedic. All the surfaces you’re most likely to touch are lined in either Nappa leather, alcantara, wood or real metal – not metalized plastic. The iDrive system has now been refined to a high art – BMW is finally capitalizing on the sizeable head start they had on the rest of the market’s infotainment systems. The now-ubiquitous digital gauge cluster – BMW’s version of which we recently sampled in the 650i – also makes an appearance in the 7. Despite this resurgence bearing a striking resemblance to what passed as high-tech in the 80s, BMW’s got one of the slicker implementations on the market. The cluster’s appearance shifts from stodgy to sporty at the touch of button, and despite being digital, the gauges retain their signature BMW legibility and a familiar font. Less successful is BMW’s Gesture Control, which is pitched as a way to control often-used functions like answering calls and adjusting the volume without the burden of pressing a button or twisting a knob. In practice, it works more like that over-used Anchorman pun – sixty percent of the time, it works every time.

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Though they might not offer quite the same level of feedback and tactility that they used to, modern BMW sedans still hold their own when the road turns curvy. It’s important to remember that this is not a small car in either mass or volume: our xDrive model tips the scales at more than 4,600 pounds and stretches nearly 17 feet. But with Sport mode selected, the big 7 has a preternatural ability to carry far too much speed through tight turns and generally feels much lighter on its feet than a car of this size should. Part of its newfound vigor is due to a mild weight loss; up to 190 pounds depending on spec, thanks in part to increased use of aluminum (doors, trunk, suspension components) and carbon fiber (scattered through the structure and pillars, in conjunction with steel). Shaving some weight from the upright portions of the car has lowered the center of gravity, and together with a near-perfect weight distribution, the 7 is about as optimally designed as a big car gets for fun behind the wheel. Although the fun of being driven in this car closely rivals that of actually driving it.

 

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Twin-turbo V8 firepower tips the scales back in the driver’s favor slightly. BMW’s familiar turbo six is available in the 740i, and as smooth and efficient as it may be, if you fancy yourself a driver you’ll want to skip it and go straight to the eight (or wait a few months for the bombastic M760i to arrive with its 610-horsepower twin-turbo V12). With 445 horsepower and gobs of torque available from idle on up, this latest version of BMW’s 4.4-liter TwinPower turbo eight-cylinder is about as smooth as it gets. It also sounds fantastic, particularly with sport mode engaged, thanks to our M-Sport model’s free-flowing exhaust system. Twin-scroll turbos and optimized intake and exhaust manifolds boost efficiency, if you’re into that sort of thing, and helped our car return a 22 mpg average; impressive, all things considered. Also more efficient is the 8-speed automatic transmission, which features a wider spread of gear ratios and a neat party trick: its shift logic is linked up to the car’s navigation system, meaning it can predictively match the transmission’s responses to the conditions of whatever road you’re on. I’m not sure if it was this system at play or just happenstance, but on a frequently-driven stretch of twisty pavement, the 750i knew to downshift for an especially tight corner before I even began braking for it. Pretty neat.

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I could go on with effusive (and shameless) praise for the new 7’s talents, but I’ll summarize it as such: it’s one of the few vehicles I’ve driven with a six-figure price tag that actually feels like a bargain. That’s an impressive act to pull off, and for the lucky few that can afford it, know this: we are all extremely jealous.

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2016 BMW 750i xDrive

Base price: $98,395

Price as tested: $121,295

Options on test car:  Driver Assistance Plus ($1,900), Driver Assistance Plus II ($1,700), Executive Package ($2,700), Luxury Seating Package with Cold Weather ($3,900), M Sport Package ($3,000), 20″ M Light alloy Double-Spoke Bi-Color wheels with performance run-flat tires ($1,300), Anthracite Alcantara Headliner ($1,050), Ambient Air Package ($350), Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof ($900), Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System ($3,400), Rear-seat entertainment w/ 7″ Touch Command Tablet ($2,700)

Powertrain: 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive –  445 horsepower, 480 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 22 MPG

                              

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John Kucek

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