Ever since Lexus entered the luxury fray, pundits, including yours truly, have claimed that premium brands require a V8-powered full-size flagship sedan within their ranks in order to be taken seriously.
Hyundai Motor Company’s new Genesis brand appears to concur, bravely launching its new two-model luxury division with just a mid-size and full-size sedan at a time when compact D-segment cars and all manner of SUVs dominate the luxury sales charts, and a quick look at the highfalutin sector’s top-selling brands will show that Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Audi rule the roost, all of which offer large four-door flagships.
Of course, success may have a lot more to do with three-quarters of these sales leaders being traditional German brands with long, rich histories, all epitomizing luxury and therefore appealing to those trying to set themselves apart from the unwashed masses, the latter Japanese building its reputation on precision engineering and quality, traits sought after by the well-to-do, although this notion isn’t backed up by Jaguar that languishes on the sales charts despite always having a large saloon in its model mix. Still, contemplate mobilized luxury and thoughts of big, otherworldly Rolls-Royce and Bentley sedans tend to fill our collective imaginations, so until this mindset changes automakers will likely maintain the status quo despite slow sales.
While BMW’s 3 and 4 series combo controls the aforementioned D-segment, edging out runner-up Mercedes’ C-Class Sedan and Coupe last year with 106,221 U.S. deliveries to 77,167 respectively, and the Bavarian automaker found more subcompact and compact SUV buyers as well with 27,812 X1 and 49,185 X3/X4 sales compared to 24,545 GLA and 47,872 GLC/GLK-Class takers, M-B drives the much more profitable large car and SUV segments. Specifically, the three-pointed star brand’s GLE/GL/GLS-Class SUV sales totaled 82,381 units in 2016 compared to 54,758 for the blue and white roundel-badged X5/X6 (Lexus should be noted for its no-contest dominant 134,583 RX/GX tally), while the E/CLS-Class found 54,700 buyers compared to just 36,355 for the 5 and 6 Series models. As for flagship sedans, the big S-Class was koenig as usual with 18,803 sales compared to 12,918 for the second-place 7 Series.
Take note of just how small these last numbers are, and then contemplate that these are the segment leaders. Some would argue that Cadillac deserves top-spot for its CT6 and XTS duo which combined for 31,340 deliveries last year, the older front- and all-wheel drive model good for 22,171 all on its own, but being that its more often purchased en masse for limousine and funeral home liveries than personal use, similar to the old Deville and Lincoln Town Car, it’s hard to factor it into the equation (we’ll wait for a full year of CT6 sales and let you know how it fares). Therefore the more directly comparable CT6 came third, selling a commendable 9,169 units for its first partial year, while Lexus’s LS was fourth with 5,514 deliveries, Lincoln’s Continental fifth at 5,261 units (although this very impressive car’s sales will grow considerably this year), Porsche’s Panamera sixth at 4,403 (it’s big enough so I threw it in), Audi’s A8 seventh at 4,149, the big Jaguar eighth at 3,834, Maserati’s Quattroporte ninth at 2,268, Hyundai’s Equus 10th (despite being cancelled) at 1,361, Kia’s K900 11th at 834 (it’s big, luxurious and surprisingly refined, so its included), Genesis’ G90 12th at 782 (its sales will grow like the Continental’s, albeit not considerably), and Bentley’s Flying Spur 13th with 400 sales (a different league, but hey). As you may have noticed, Acura, Infiniti and Volvo don’t have full-size flagship sedans in their lineups, although they all have long-wheelbase mid-size four-doors that come close in length if not pure luxury and street cred.
In this category, respect matters more than just about anything. Seriously, when Suits’(USA Network) Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) started pulling up to his NYC law office in a chauffeur-driven Lexus LS instead of an S-Class I started to wonder if Pearson Spector Litt was about to go sideways (it may have been an omen as business soon dried up, as did the quality of the show in season six), but he certainly wouldn’t look out of place in the new 7, especially while seated in back with its outrageously opulent Executive Lounge seating package added.
That’s how BMW supplied my 2017 750Li xDrive tester, this latest G11/G12-coded version arriving in late 2015 for 2016 model year, replacing the eight-year old fifth-generation F01/F02/F03 body style as sales were beginning to fade—BMW sold just 9,292 in 2015.
It’s difficult to imagine a luxury car being any better than this 750Li. Along with its “Li” moniker comes a 5.5-inch longer wheelbase for extended rear legroom, and BMW has taken full advantage of that extra length by adding the aforementioned Executive Lounge package that provides one of the best first-class airliner-style reclining passenger seats that’s ever been integrated into a car.
The simple press of a digitized button integrated into the removable rear iDrive tablet resting atop the fixed center console powers the front passenger seat forward while automatically lowering an ottoman and simultaneously positioning a fairly large TV screen at just the right angle for easy viewing, while various massage features do wonders with one’s tired aching back, seat heating or cooling keeps stressed execs at the right temperature, and of course powered memory functions get the seatback into the ideal position and keep it there.
To be clear, my tester was actually fitted with the $3,900 Luxury Rear Seating package and the $5,750 Rear Executive Lounge Seating package, which means additional rear controls are added for the four-zone auto HVAC system, again adjustable via the tablet or iDrive tablet, while that previously noted console includes a beautifully finished pullout table, device chargers, and more, plus the passenger compartment surroundings include a beautiful dual-pane panoramic moonroof overhead, framed by a sumptuously soft Alcantara psuede roofliner held up by equally decadent psuede-wrapped pillars, powered sunshades all-round, thicker glass for better sound insulation, the best quality quilted perforated leathers, satin-finish metals, lacquered hardwoods, vertical parlor-style lights, and the list goes on.
The 750Li xDrive Executive isn’t only about the rear seating area, mind you, although I could go on ad infinitum about its lengthy menu of features, its incredible materials quality, and the superb craftsmanship throughout, but such can also be said for the driver’s experience too, which provides gorgeous stitched leather across the dash and door uppers, what appears to be a different grain of stitched leather across the instrument panel, down below the knees and covering the glove box lid, yet smoother stitched leather along the bottom of the lower console, and even softer leather along the top of that center console and armrest.
These high-grade hides transfer over to the side armrests and inserts too, while the bottom portion of the door panels are finished in BMW’s usual better-than-average-quality soft-touch synthetics, the inside of the door pockets even done out in a velvet material. The carpets are ultra-plush up front, even the floor mats, albeit those in the rear are full pile, deep, and too rich for shoes. I just wanted to go barefoot and knead my toes into their fibers like a drooling feline, but my professional senses put me back in the driver’s seat to experience this big 7’s other attributes.
It starts with the smartest (and largest) smart key ever created, even capable of autonomous remote control parking before rolling down an LED light carpet upon approach. It’ll put itself back too, or self-park if you don’t feel up to it while in the driver’s seat, or for that matter self-braking if you don’t notice something in the way that might otherwise go bang. What’s more, the new 7 can drive in full autonomous mode for up to 15 seconds (it could do more, but BMW is much more conservative than Tesla).
Self-synching soft-closing doors gently pull themselves shut while a fully configurable color TFT primary gauge cluster greets your driver once inside, as does a state-of-the-art 10.2-inch widescreen iDrive infotainment system that allows hand gestures in the air for controlling its plentiful features, a shortlist of which include a surround camera, navigation, and smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. He or she will be seated in one of the best driver’s seats in the industry, replete with ventilation and massage functions (why should the rear passenger get all the goodies?), while a fragrance dispenser in the glove box wafts nice perfumes (or aromatherapy scents) through the air, and then we’ve got to factor in that it’s a BMW, so its thoroughly engaging driving dynamics might make you want to sit up front and take over the wheel more often than relaxing in back anyway.
The 750i’s 445 horsepower twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 sparks to life with a hushed immediacy, its 480 lb-ft of twisting capability unquestionable, but BMW does its best to bridle the beast in this chamber of purposeful isolation. Of course, a little extra pressure from the right foot makes this formidable mill growl as effectively in this 7 as it does in the 5, and the relatively lightweight limo, now formed from high-strength steels, complex alloys and more carbon fiber (CFRP) than any previous production car, catapults forward with a 340i’s athleticism.
Ok I exaggerated that last part somewhat. Truth be told, the sportier 3 isn’t quite as quick as this decadent luxo-barge. In actual fact, the 750i/Li is considerably faster at 4.3/4.4 seconds from standstill to 60 mph compared to 4.8 for the 340i, and if the former number set isn’t quick enough to satisfy your youthful yearnings the 600 horsepower M760Li will get the job done in a mere 3.6 seconds.
Along the way the 7’s eight-speed automatic takes care of shifting duties seamlessly in the background unless you take control via steering wheel paddles, while various performance or eco-focused driving modes join a standard all-wheel drivetrain to simultaneously maximize efficiency and grip for any plausible situation. Likewise the car’s continuously adjustable air suspension does what it’s supposed to and more, even micromanaging itself ahead of otherwise pesky pavement imperfections such as bumps, potholes, manhole covers, bridge expansion joints, etcetera. Rear wheel steering is available, all of which is designed to make the most of one of the more capable full-size four-doors on the planet, truly.
I’ve driven them all, almost, from the aforementioned Kia K900 that’s best shelved in the laughably atrocious handling category, to full-size Bentleys that are wonderfully adept despite their girth. I’ve even whisked away in the elegantly overbearing Rolls-Royce Ghost which shares underpinnings with the old 7, but nothing near as opulently attired quite matches this 7 in the corners at speed (full disclosure, I’ve yet to test the latest S-Class). That this 750Li is also fuel-efficient, with an EPA rating of just 16 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 19 combined as tested, just rubs salt into its competitors’ festering wounds.
Of course, this 750Li Executive is as over-the-top equipped as anything else on the market, so forgive me for not filling this review up with a list of standard and available features (it would take another thousand words at least), but there’s one upgrade that thoroughly shocked and awed so therefore had to be mentioned in long-form, the insanely potent Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround audio upgrade (yes, the outgoing 7’s top-line Bang & Olufsen system is now history). At $3,400 this B&W system had better be good, but this said there are pricier sound systems on the market that could never match up in a sound off competition. It boasts a 1,400-watt 10-channel class-D amp with QuantumLogic surround processing, 16 speakers, many of which get covered by stainless grilles utilizing Fibonacci-patterned holes to aid projection. The nautilus spiral mirror-sail tweeters are subtly illuminated—why not—and there are two subs that never, ever distort now matter how hard they’re cranked. The sound quality is beyond brilliant, and as satisfying when turned down to infinitesimally low levels as when shaking the neighborhood to its foundations. Damn it’s fun being a hooligan in a car like this.
So much for respectability, yet somehow the 750Li allows you to pull up like a multimillionaire whether pounding out Audioslave’s Cochise or Pavarotti’s Nessun dorma from Puccini’s Turandot. Despite continuous growth the 7’s twin-kidney grille will never have the outward nobility of the S-Class or one of the ultra-luxe machines noted earlier, but it nevertheless elicits greater deference than most in this category while outclassing anything I’ve ever driven inside, the Roller included. It’s a car I could live with each and every day and never grow tired of, so I’d better come up with $120k to partake at the minimum level required, and then start advertising for a suitable driver. Any takers?
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press