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Old 04-30-2010, 09:35 AM   #1
7 Series Outsells Major Competitors - The Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS
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BMW's Big Sedans are Executive Rides

By ANN M. JOB - The Associated Press
Bumper to bumper, the BMW 7-Series cars are as long as sport utility vehicles. They weigh as much as SUVs, too. But despite starting retail prices over $80,000 and dismal gasoline mileage, the big BMW sedans continue to sell.

In fact, in the first quarter of this year, 7-Series sales in the United States tripled from the year-earlier period to total nearly 3,000. The 7-Series' U.S. sales surpassed those of major competitors - the Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS sedans.

Some of the appeal has to do with the serious, sleek BMW look and roomy, leather-swathed interior that remain in fashion with captains of industry who patronize these cars. And even in economically distressed times, some people and companies can afford to fill the tank on a car that's rated 16 to 17 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving by the federal government, incurring a federal gas guzzler tax.

The rear-wheel drive 750i with 400horsepower, twin-turbocharged V-8 and automatic transmission has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge and mandatory gas guzzler tax, of $83,875. An all-wheel drive 750i xDrive model starts at $87,175.

This is the first time that BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system has been installed in the 7-Series.

The competing 2010 Mercedes-Benz S550 has a starting retail price of $92,475 with rear-wheel drive and 382-horsepower V-8 and $96,475 for a model with all-wheel drive. The 2010 Lexus LS 460 starts at $66,255 with rear-wheel drive and 380-horsepower V-8. It starts at $69,780 with all-wheel drive.

Neither the Mercedes nor the Lexus incurs the federal gas guzzler tax.

The hallmark of the BMW 7-Series is a palpable sense of solidity. The doors of the test 750i xDrive sedan feel heavy. There's nothing flimsy here, and the doors' serious way of closing, with an automatic "soft-touch" mechanism that's part of a $1,700 option package, adds to the vault-like feeling inside.

I heard the twin-turbocharged V-8 start as soon as I pressed push-button start, but the sound insulation for the car's interior made the engine seem distant - at least until I pressed the accelerator.

The power from the 4.4-liter, direct-injection V-8 with BMW's variable valve timing was awesome. It moved the more than two-ton car briskly in all kinds of traffic and up twisty mountain roads.

The forceful "oomph" whenever my foot pressed the accelerator was almost addictive; it was difficult to keep the car at legal speeds (top speed, it should be noted, is 150 miles an hour).

Mated to a six-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission with quicker shifts between gears this year, the engine puts out 400 horsepower, which is more than either the Mercedes S550 or the L S460.

Torque is forceful, peaking at 450 foot-pounds starting at a low 1,750 rpm and available all the way to 4,500 rpm, so there's no real lagging in this car.

And given that this all-wheel drive sedan can go from standstill to 60 mph in just 5 seconds, gasoline consumption akin to that of a Cadillac Escalade SUV is understandable.

Still, the driving range is only about 380 miles, and premium gas is specified.

The ride is first-class, with supportive, wide and comfortable seats and a suspension that manages road bumps impeccably. A nearly 200-mile round trip amid busy highway traffic was not taxing.

Yes, the car had BMW's iDrive system, which uses a large knob on the center console to scroll through menu screens on large, colorful dashboard display and adjust everything from navigation to audio and ventilation.

But there are enough redundant controls, if needed, on the center stack, and BMW made the system more intuitive. The 7-Series owner's manual even is accessible through iDrive.

The onboard hard drive has 80 gigabytes, including 12 gigs for music storage.

xDrive provides power to all four wheels, generally distributed 40 percent to the front and 60 percent to the rear. In fractions of a second, power can be redistributed where needed if a loss of traction is detected. The driver doesn't have to do anything.

Electronic damping control ensures the shock absorbers adjust for the car's load of passengers and cargo as well as road conditions.

The test car's brakes worked well, aided by a long list of electronic brake features including cornering brake control and brake fade compensation.

Though the U.S. government hasn't provided crash test ratings for the 7-Series, there is a lot of standard safety equipment, including extra-bright Xenon headlights and front, side and head air bags.

A final note: BMW is adding to the 7-Series line with turbocharged, six-cylinder-powered 7-Series cars with 313 horsepower. Available as early 2011 models, they start at $71,025 for a 740i.

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