In May of this year, I took a trip to Europe, my first time ever traveling internationally. I wasn’t alone, of course: the other characters in this performance include my best friends Austin and Jonathan, who are married, and Austin’s mother, who goes by Big Momma (“What? I’m big and I’m a momma!” Her words, not mine). We had already traveled to London, Paris, and Rome, and our final destination was Munich. We were to be there for just the weekend, from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. This was specifically because I wanted to both drive on the Autobahn and see the homeland of one of my favorite automakers, BMW.
When I’d booked and prepaid for an Avis rental several months prior, it had been for a “Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse or Similar,” and actually showed an image of a Mercedes-Maybach. I doubt they actually have one of those, I thought to myself. It’s not that I even wanted such a luxurious car, but they had a deal I just couldn’t refuse at the time. The day before we arrived in Munich, Austin suggested I buy their damage waiver, since it was an expensive car and an unfamiliar country. When I went to add that online, my reservation had changed to a “7er (Siebener) or Similar.”
Fitting, since we were to be in the land of its maker.
A polite gentleman named Ralph greeted me in the garage of the Avis, and handed me the keys to a Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d. Nice, useful, comfortable, suitable…but not what I had reserved and pre-paid for. After I reminded him of that fact, he checked his drawer and found that a set of keys had been specifically assigned to me. “It’s a BMW 7,” he said approvingly, “Space 656.”
When we’d rolled our suitcases to the big sedan, I saw “750d xDrive” across the back, which told me a few things. I immediately recognized that this was not a car you could buy here in the ‘States. BMW USA briefly offered a diesel on the previous (2009-2015) “F01/F02” 7 Series, in the form of the 740Ld, but not on the current (2016+) “G11/G12” model. In any event, this 750d was something else altogether. It turns out that BMW offers three levels of diesel in its domestic 7 Series. The 730d gets the B57 diesel straight-six engine with a single-scroll turbocharger. The 740d uses that same engine, but with twin dual-stage turbochargers. Finally, the 750d, as in our example, houses a B57 engine with four (?!?!?!) dual-stage turbochargers. It boasts a ridiculous 400 horsepower and 564 pound-feet of torque. As it stands, BMW does not make a rear-wheel-drive 750d, and so all versions come with their xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
Another thing is that this was a short-wheelbase (SWB) model. See, up to the current generation, the 7 Series USA lineup consisted of a short-wheelbase variant and a long-wheelbase (LWB) one, which would have an uppercase “L” in its nomenclature. So, you could get a 750i or a 750Li. But they’ve since simplified things in the U.S. by only letting you get the long-wheelbase body. You may see a 2019 750i in the US, but it corresponds to a 750Li overseas. Likewise, Audi and Mercedes-Benz continue to sell short- and long-wheelbase versions of their A8 and S-Class, respectively, in the European market, but no longer do so in the US.
Lastly, this one was not an M Sport, and so bore the 7 Series standard look. It’s actually a bit underwhelming, but with black exterior paint, it’s hard to tell. So there’s that.
The first task was getting all of our luggage into the 750d’s power-operated boot. We each had a midsize rolling suitcase and a carry-on bag. While Big Momma wasted no time dashing into the backseat–because of course–Austin, Jonathan, and I all played tetris for several minutes with the suitcases and bags. Thanks to the machinery needed to power-operate the decklid, it was a lot smaller than you’d expect for this class. I had just about given up and was going to ask Ralph for the GLE 350d (or maybe one of the new Touaregs), but Austin was damned if he wasn’t going to fit everything in there, and he mostly did. My bag and jacket ended up in the backseat, but everything else fit. However, the 7 Series’s decklid would not close on its own as full as it was, so we had to shut it manually. Pulling out of the cramped space in the garage and around to the exit gave me an early indicator of just how wide the 750d’s turning radius was, and this was with it being the SWB and equipped with the rear steering system.
We set off toward our Airbnb, which was in the picturesque village of Volkenschwand, about 45 kilometers from the Munich Airport. Once we were underway–and once I’d changed the language settings to English–the big car began to shine. And as we hit the unrestricted sections of the Autobahn, I was delighted to see the speedometer reach 220 kilometers per hour, which was as fast as I dared go, in short order. There was an abundance of power, all the time. I never had to wait for those turbos to spool up when I pressed the accelerator.
I also got a chance to test some of the 750d’s safety systems. There was a full-color heads-up display in front of me, which didn’t work so well until I realized that I was wearing my polarized sunglasses. After I swapped them for a different pair, the heads-up display was excellent, bringing up relevant information immediately. The adaptive cruise control was positively brilliant. It kept sight of the car in front of it, despite curves and hills, and was as intuitive as ever to operate. The traffic-sign recognition system was right every time.
In the front, the 750d’s Multi-Contour seats were all-day comfortable, adjusting every which way. These were like the ones in my old 2011 X5, but better. We even got the benefit of a massage function, which I put to good use in order to keep my legs from falling asleep. Almost at once, Big Momma complained that there wasn’t much legroom in the backseat. Austin agreed with this sentiment.
I told them both to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Once we got to our Airbnb, our lovely host Melissa showed us to our floor of the giant three-story house she and her family owned, and then pointed us to some restaurants, which were in the next town of Mainburg. So we hopped back into the 750d, with our sights on the Gasthof Seidlbräu hotel and its well-reviewed restaurant. The address included a “ß” or “eszett”, which is a grapheme exclusive to the German language, and shorthand for a sharp-s (ss) sound. For whatever reason, the iDrive unit’s handwriting recognition feature would not recognize my eszett (I was probably drawing it incorrectly to how a native would) so I had to write “ss” to get the address to pop up. But after that, we made it just fine, and I had myself a lovely Wiener schnitzel, which, as I understand it, is essentially the Austrian ancestor to our southern chicken-fried steak.
Our bellies full, we returned to the 750d’s luxurious cabin, where we did some sight-seeing, and eventually it grew dark. I’m not read-up on the latest matrix headlights sold by the German luxury automakers–chiefly because they aren’t DOT-compliant in the U.S. and so we don’t get them. But my understanding is that they use several individual LED assemblies to create an adaptive and complete vision of whatever you need to see. At night, you get the benefit of always-on high-beam lighting that can actively reshape itself to not blind an oncoming car, while still lighting up your side of the road. This all worked spectacularly in our 750d rental. I also noticed it light up road signs as soon as we encountered them, which was lovely even though I also had them on the instrument cluster and HID. Beyond that, the sedan shrank around itself on the tight, curvy two-lane roads between towns, and I found myself highly appreciative of the competent cruiser and road network that wasn’t so straight it would put me to sleep.
The next day, we set off for breakfast and then for the city and BMW Welt. Our resident BMW expert, Brendan Saur, has already been there and told you a bit about it, but I’ll elaborate. BMW Welt is basically a giant conglomerate in Munich that includes a museum, a delivery center, an experience/demo area for each of the BMW Group product lines (BMW Cars, MINI, Rolls-Royce, i and BMW Motorcycles). I parked the 750d in the adjacent garage, and we toured the entirety of the premises, drinking it all in. Getting out of the tight parking garage was achievable enough, thanks to the 750d’s every-which-way camera setup, but I would not have wanted to be in anything larger.
After that, Jonathan–channeling his inner Harry-Potter fandom–suggested that we go and visit a castle. The only one that was remotely close and that wouldn’t close before we got there was Neuschwanstein Castle, in the southwestern village of Hohenschwangau, and effectively on the border between Germany and Austria. As there was no mileage limit imposed upon the rental, we decided to go. The drive was spectacular, one of the most picturesque I have ever taken, and the gleaming 750d gobbled up the 100 kilometer distance like it was nothing. It even started to rain a bit, but that didn’t detract from the beauty of the Bavarian countryside or the Bimmer’s surefootedness in its natural element.
Neuschwanstein Castle itself was a 19th-century structure (I did not know anyone was building castles by then), constructed on the ruins of the older Schwanstein Castle and commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Unfortunately, King Ludwig II was deposed by the German government and soon after died under mysterious circumstances, so the castle was never fully completed. The king spent just 11 nights there, in fact. These days, it is presentable enough, and falls under the jurisdiction of the Bavarian Palace Department, who hosts tours. So, we toured it.
What we did not consider in all this was Big Momma’s limited mobility. I’m not sure why the four of us thought that we could just mosey on up to the castle’s front door, where there’d be close parking and everything. ‘Cause, you know, for security reasons, apparently they tended to put castles on big giant hills and mountains and not flat ground, where they could overlook the surrounding land and see everyone coming and going. Or something silly like that. Thus, we were forced to part ways with the 750d in a parking lot in the village, then walk to a bus stop and take that halfway up the giant mountain, and then climb the rest of the way by foot, which took a good 20 minutes. This was very taxing on Big Momma, but she made it, and we were quite proud of her for it. Our collective band of about fifty people was the last tour group of the day, and Neuschwanstein Castle was a real sight to behold.
It was starting to get dark as we headed back into Munich, and night had fallen completely by the time we arrived, hungry and ready for food. This is when I discovered, as one does, that parking on a Saturday night in a major city is rather scarce. Google took us to a good restaurant, and I was fortunate to find a parking space on the next block. It was just big enough for the 750d, I thought. I’ll admit that parallel parking is not my strong suit, a curse of living in the suburbs most of my life. With the 750d’s arsenal of cameras and self-parallel parking it probably had, the procedure should have been effortless, but I just had to do it the hard way. I cut the wheel in far too soon and heard a sharp crunch as the wheel scraped hard against the curb. It sounded pretty bad.
However, I was not inclined to make a bigger deal of it than it was, so I took another try and got the car sufficiently parked. I didn’t even get out and look at the damage, once I was reassured the wheel wasn’t bent and the tire wasn’t busted. Avis, however, disagreed. Later on, when I turned the car in, they immediately charged an additional €900 on my credit card for the curbed wheel, with the justification that the damage waiver I’d bought had a €1,200 deductible for cars in that class. The deductible disclaimer, when I looked, was so discreetly hidden on the website, it was no wonder I hadn’t seen it. I successfully disputed it and got that charge removed with my card carrier. The worst part is that the restaurant ended up being too crowded to stay, so we had to get back in the car and leave, making it all for naught. We wound up eating at a convenience station alongside the Autobahn, on the way back to Volkenschwand.
Throughout most of the 750d’s tenure, we had it on Bluetooth-streaming mode, where Austin was delegated to the task of DJ. But one of the BMW’s quirks was that it would, every so often, sound a loud breaking-news-style sound intro, and then switch us over to the radio, where someone would be speaking in rapid-fire German about something I couldn’t understand. I suspected these instances were live traffic updates, and distinctly remember turning that function off in the iDrive menu, but that didn’t cease these interruptions. They annoyed me, perhaps unreasonably, every time they happened, and that amused Austin to no end.
Keep in mind that, up to this point, we’d driven several hundred kilometers and hadn’t had to fill up the 750d’s 78-liter/20-gallon tank. But the morning of our departure, we were about three-quarters to empty. I’d need to return it with a full tank. So I spent €70 on diesel on the way back to Munich. I was particularly perplexed at the post-pay system, which allowed me to go in and tell the attendant which pump I’d just used after filling up. We don’t do that in the U.S. anymore, because people are too dishonest; apparently that isn’t an issue in Germany.
We spent that final morning and afternoon driving around some, getting some lunch, and doing some sightseeing. I had a much easier time parallel parking in the daylight, so Austin, Jonathan and I parked and walked around for a bit, encountering some delightful storefronts, bakeries and–yes–cars along the way. When we were finally ready to head back to the airport, I was alarmed to find that the fuel tank had lost a quarter of its fill, and it cost me another €20 to remedy that. That said, if my calculations are correct, the 750d’s 5.9-5.6 l/100 km translates to a US MPG rating of between 39 and 42 MPG, which is deeply impressive if it actually achieved that for any length of time.
In summary, I was grateful for the 2019 BMW 750d. It proved itself an adept, quiet and comfortable ride in all environments…as it should for its €117,000 entry price. With a quad-dual-stage turbodiesel, I was always in whichever powerband I needed, and the standard 8-speed ZF transmission was so intelligent and unobtrusive, it felt like it wasn’t even there. I think we would have had a much different experience in some manual-transmission Škoda MPV, or whatever thrifty special the rental agencies were hocking at that time.
I should like to point out, by the way, that the only two current production cars in the world using quad-turbocharged engines are this 750d…and the legendary Bugatti Chiron. Quite a pedigree, then.
The biggest weakness, though, is that for all its grandeur, our 750d evidently didn’t feel all that big to my passengers. And, having given the backseat a good and thorough examination, I’m inclined to agree with them. It looked a little cramped. Quite frankly–and I think this explains BMW USA’s LWB-only strategy with the 7 Series–the SWB doesn’t seem any roomier than a 5 Series. Really, if you’re going to go this far and spend this much, you should go ahead and get the LWB model. Even if it does commit you to a five-point turn instead of a three-point one. Your rear passengers will thank you. Throw in the M Sport package while you’re at it. It looks cooler, and probably handles just that little bit better, too.
The other weakness, regarding our 2019 750d, is that it didn’t look much different from the 5 Series. Say what you want about the controversial Bangle-designed 2001/2002-2008 “E65/E66” 7 Series. But is just about the only time in recent memory that BMW ever made a 7 Series that truly looked distinct, especially inside. And I will always admire it for that. Every other 7 Series before or since has looked pretty close to, if not indistinguishable from, its contemporary 5 Series counterpart. Same sausage, different lengths, and all that. This, I suspect, is part of why the Mercedes-Benz S-Class perennially and handily trounces the 7 Series. True, its styling also isn’t too distinct from that of its cheaper counterparts, but somehow it’s just impressive enough that you know it when you see it, and you won’t confuse it with a C- or E-Class.
Enter the facelifted (or life-cycle impulse/LCI, as BMW calls it) 2020 7 Series I mentioned, sporting a giant and controversial front grille that you couldn’t miss if you tried. Again, it may not be to your liking, but you’ll notice it, it looks decent enough (if not exactly beautiful) and you’ll notice that it’s not a 5 Series. I’m told this is the exact effect that BMW’s design team was going for, and that sales have rebounded quite a bit. Indeed, roughly half of the G11/G12-generation 7 Series units that I saw on Bavarian roads were the 2020 models. They may well have been corporate cars, but it might be that 7 Series customers worldwide are taking a liking to the brash styling.