Fancy Key Fob Computer Aside, the BMW 750i Is Just Another Car

It is smooth, calm and anonymous—like a successful medical or legal career

The new BMW 750i X-drive car is displayed at the booth of the German carmaker BMW during a press day of the 66th IAA auto show in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on September 16, 2015.
The BMW 750i XDrive seems to be misreading the digital leaves.

“This ain’t no car, this is a machine,” said the old-timer delivering my week’s ride. He slapped the key fob, bearing the BMW (BMWYY) logo, into my palm. It was like no fob I’d seen. Even in this era of push-button starts controlled by obscure valet circuitry, it stood out as something I’d never want to accidentally drop in the toilet. Fitting it neatly in my palm, I flicked my finger upward on the LCD screen. From the display, I could see that the 750i xDrive Sedan, which was parked in front of my house, was locked, the trunk was secure, and no poors were in its vicinity.

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“Wow,” I said. “That’s something.”

“OK, I gotta show you,” he said. “Else you’re not going to be able to drive it.”

We walked down my driveway to the car, which sat by the curb so low and sleek it was almost a flat plane—like it would disappear if you looked at it funny, an illusion from a (pretentious reference alert!) Don Hertzfeldt cartoon. It was long and limpidly white, lovely and rich. I clicked a button on my new-age palm pilot and the door opened.

We leaned into the car together, two grown men kibitzing over executive leather seats. He popped the center armrest. “Now you’ve got to put it in here,” he said, inserting the palm computer into a slot. “Until you see a blue light.”

We spent a couple of minutes in mutual search of the car’s G-spot. I thought I saw a blue light. But I didn’t. Then he thought he did. But he didn’t. Finally, we could both agree. There was a tiny blue light. This meant the key fob could inductively charge, and that the car could start.

As with a lot of things that are supposed to be digitally convenient, the BMW 750i xDrive Sedan—a name that just rolls off the tongue—is actually a lot of work. To my counting, the car contained five computers. There’s the key fob, a 10-inch center console screen, two “Rear Seat Entertainment” consoles that are obviously off-brand tablets, and an additional digital panel on the rear armrest, which gives passengers yet another opportunity to wirelessly manage microclimate zones. As the friend to whom I donated a luxuriant ride in this magnificent flagship through mind-numbing Friday afternoon traffic said, “All I see in this car is the shit that will break in two years.”

High-end orthodonists and plastic surgeons. That’s who will like this car.

To tinker with such a machine would require a doctorate in electrical engineering. No one’s going to be working on the 750i in his garage. The main question I got as I marched this $129,000 car around town, showing it off like the Queen’s new corgi, is: “Who would buy this thing?” Well, it’s half the price of a Bentley, about a third of a Rolls, and it’s not as cool as a high-end Porsche or any-end Ferrari or Lamborghini. So rappers are out, as are Chinese coal-fortune heirs. Yoenis Cespedes won’t be showing off his new 750i in the parking lot at Port St. Lucie.

Still, the 7-series sells between 8,000 to 10,000 units a year, so someone buys. The answer is: High-end orthodonists and plastic surgeons. That’s who will like this car. The leather is deeply Nappa, and the in-seat massagers provide a nice blood flow jolt to the perineum. It is smooth, calm and anonymous—like a successful medical or legal career. 

The BMW is more nicely appointed than your average Tesla (TSLA), where the floor mats and weather stripping sometimes peel off where the glue stick was applied. That’s not going to happen in a 7-series. All details have been rigidly controlled with Teutonic retentiveness. But the Muskman’s shadow hovers over this vehicle. BMW is clearly nervous about Tesla barking into its territory, at all price points. Hence the five computer screens, as though the car were going to be driven by an entire Starfleet crew rather than one Shaker Heights dentist. The car can even drive itself, to some extent. It takes a while to figure out the right combination of buttons on the steering wheel to make this happen. But once I did, the system worked great, as long as I was driving in a straight line. It sped up, it slowed, my foot took a vacation, and I rested my hands lightly on the steering wheel.

But BMW seems to be misreading the digital leaves. The tech is secondary in the hearts of Tesla drivers. Sure they like their floor-to-ceiling computer screens and the fact that their cars can intuitively drive them from Palo Alto to Mountain View, but the real reason they treasure their Teslas is because they’re electric, in every way. Like sex with a butt plug, once you’ve experienced the sonic magnificence of the Model S in ludicrous mode, it’s a lot less fun to go back.

The 750i, on the other hand, according to my spec sheet, has a “4.4-liter BMW TwinPower Turbo V-8 32-valve engine with variable valve control (Double-Vanos and Valvetronic) and high-precision direct injection.” It’s a highly calibrated, shockingly wasteful machine that runs on a series of tiny, controlled explosions, like motorized vehicles have for many decades, only this one is fueled by expensive premium gasoline. The 7-Series provides a fun, fast, tight ride at the height of luxury. But it’s also, fancy key fob computer aside, just another car.

BMW announced last week that they’re going to introduce an all-electric luxury sedan. That model, as nice as it certainly will be, isn’t scheduled to appear until 2021. By then, there’ll be a self-driving Tesla parked in front of every marijuana dispensary. The little blue light may already have gone out.

Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Keep Mars Weird and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology Of American Literature. For some reason, his byline has appeared in numerous automotive publications, includingCar & Driver, Road & Track, and Yahoo! Autos. He lives in Austin, Texas, against his will. 

Fancy Key Fob Computer Aside, the BMW 750i Is Just Another Car