BMW IS ONE LUXURY AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURER THAT HAS PUT THE BRAKES ON THE PUSH TOWARDS SELF-DRIVING CARS, PREFERRING A SLOWER, MORE INCREMENTAL APPROACH, AND FOR THAT WE THANK THEM

BY MARK KEAST

The whole point of getting behind the wheel of a $150k car is to drive it. Isn’t that the reason you bought it? You should want the experience of what a car at this level has to offer. You should want to steer it through winding roads in the country, the Bowers and Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System pumping crystal clear U2 into your ears (I did this). You should want to adjust the different driving modes. You should want to open it up on a highway, blow past that transport truck, experience the 445 horsepower twin power turbo V8 engine, 480 pounds-per-foot of torque. Zero to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds means you are in Porsche 911 territory, after all.

If none of this appeals to you, then I might have the names of a few chauffeurs you can call.

That brings us to BMW’s 750i xDrive, which with all the bells and whistles came in at a notch below $133,000. The short-wheel drive version is the one I drove, more popular in Canada. The car also comes in a long-wheel version, with around 26 more centimetres of room in the rear, more popular outside this country. The car scored on so many different levels over the week word count restriction here forbids me from getting into every detail. As I was told when I picked it up, BMW takes pride in knowing that the people who buy their cars are still making new discoveries two years after they bought it. That’s the goal.

For me, what I like about what BMW is doing comes down to building up self-drive technologies slowly, incrementally. The car has your back, but it isn’t going to drive for you.

Take the car’s safety technologies. You are driving down a street in your city and a pedestrian is crossing an intersection. In a below-60 km/h scenario like that the car will break for you, coming to a full stop. Above 60 km/h the driver assistance systems are there, but it’s best when you are not noticing them. The safety systems in this car are a last resort. No one wants their car making decisions for them.

Lane change assist technology will nudge you back to your lane, the rest is up to you. Brake assist feature is there, but only as a last resort, after a visual warning, then an audio wanting, then the car will start to apply the brakes for you. Cruise control? The 750i will maintain a set distance from the car in front, set at, say, a max speed of 140 km/h, if that’s what you set it at. In a traffic jam the car will brake down to zero km/h, if you don’t feel like braking yourself. The technology is there, but it’s not an autopilot. And thank BMW for that, for going against a trend.

A favourite, unique safety feature is that little coffee cup graphic that pops up on the iDrive operating system touch screen – the car telling you that maybe it’s time for a break, after it has measured driver inputs and parameters (maybe the driver hasn’t adjusted speed in a while, or is not actively steering, or perhaps the car has bumped the driver out of two lane changes).

From a luxury standpoint, the BMW 750i screams best in class. The aforementioned Bowers and Wilkins sound system (a $4500 upgrade with a car, but a quality sound system that would run you $40,000 if you wanted to set up comparable sound quality in your home) that makes two or three hour drives far more palatable.

The 750i and 750Li remains the flagship of the BMW brand, which, along with the Mercedes S Class sets the pace for all others in the luxury category. The agility and the maneuverability makes you feel you aren’t driving a luxury car with 4-wheel steering. The car has a real fast, effortless power train. It’s fast all the time. As someone said, in the 750 Li, you don’t feel like you are carrying that extra bulk in the back. The car’s front and rear wheel air suspension – self-leveling — is great, if you are transporting something a little heavier in the trunk, or have several passengers in the back seat.

New for the car is active comfort drive with road preview, a little camera that shows the road surface conditions in front of the car and adjusts the suspension damping in real time. We are heading into winter season, and we all know the conditions of roads after the snow finally melts and the freeze goes away – pot holes that you could park the car in. The camera recognizes those and adjusts the wheels as you approach, absorbing the impact, then stiffens again once you are over it. Again, the 750i/750Li has your back.

Heads-up display continues to be one of the favourite features of these BMW cars, this time with more information on the display screen, which sits at eye level, right above your hands at 10 and 2.

Keep your hands on the wheel.