BMW's latest 7-Series has arrived in Canadian showrooms and I've just returned a long-wheelbase 750Li after a week spent in the form-fitting lap of German-style automotive luxury - something I've never been able to afford, but always found myself delighted to be treated to from time to time.
In fact I've now road tested an example of every 7-Series going back to the gen-one version of 1977. But sitting here in front of my computer preparing to pay the piper for this latest opportunity to drive one of the world's great cars, I find myself at a loss.
Where should I begin to describe this fifth-generation example of the jewel in the Bavarian motorcar maker's tiara? This is a car with more facets than the Hope diamond, but more affordable and attainable, of course. Prices will start at $104,900 for the soon-to-arrive 750i and the extended-wheelbase 750Li goes for $112,900. Options boosted the sticker on the test car to $126,000.
I could easily spend much of my 1,000-word allocation on the powerful, yet elegant, styling statement it makes, which was penned, or pixilated, by Montreal-born Karim Habib.
This one won't generate the controversy created by its predecessor's rather startlingly nouveaux look, but that's likely a good thing as far as the oberklasse (or at least ober-achieving) buyers in this category are concerned. You'll likely agree it's simply a great-looking car.
Or I could wax both technical and lyrical about the new, smaller, more-powerful twin-turbo V-8 (with six-speed automatic transmission), which generates 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. This is now the only engine available as the 6.0-litre V-12 is no longer available.
With the new engine, fuel economy is rated at 14.4 L/100 km city and 9.2 highway (12.0 L/100 km combined), which is far from egregious as luxury vehicles go. But not as good as the numbers turned in the by previous model's 4.8-litre V-8 (13.8 city/8.6 highway), though that only made a measly 360 hp.
But the price you pay for the engine's extra urge is akin to the pleasure of sipping an 18-year-old Macallan out of a Waterford crystal glass versus a bar shot of a "scotch" bottled in some Glasgow industrial estate.
The refined, yet relentless, torque delivery experienced at full throttle - to help you safely merge with 401 traffic after topping up the tank at a service centre, for example - is worth dropping a dime to enjoy occasionally.
At a normal Highway 401 cruising speed, the 750Li feels like, and in fact is, running at about half of what it would be comfortable doing on a de-restricted stretch of autobahn. Official 0-100 km/h time is 5.4 seconds.
Then there's the redesigned and aluminum-intensive, stiffer and safer structure and body - at 2,005 kg, some 60 kg lighter than last year.
And the clever new suspension system that incorporates speed-sensitive active rear steering and offers three driver selectable ride and handling levels. On the sportiest, this big luxury sedan feels like a 3-Series on steroids.
Or perhaps I should concentrate on the package of updated driving dynamics electronics that react in a nanosecond to changing road conditions, steering input, acceleration and braking to help maintain control.
And BMW didn't stop there in downloading the latest electro-gimmickry into the car - although how much of it is actually of any real use to a driver who is awake and paying attention would make a good beer-fuelled debate.
You can order your 750Li with active cruise control with stop-and-go capability for heavy traffic situations, lane-departure warning and active blind spot detection systems, a head-up info display, high-beam assist to actively switch between high and low beams and infrared night vision with pedestrian, side-view and back-up cameras.
But maybe I should just focus on the leather-swathed and feature-laden interior, which, in the 140-mm-longer 850Li, offers a limo-like rear-seat area complete with DVD screens for those who might prefer to be driven. Back there, you'll also find a second controller for the revised and operationally-eased iDrive system with which you operate a variety of audio, HVAC and communication functions.
The iDrive system, you may recall, generated as much auto-journo-penned pique as the styling in the previous car.
And, given my predilection, and apparently increasing need, for keeping things simple, I still find it challenging.
The list of interior features, including navigation and a superb audio system, would fill this space, so suffice to say this tastefully lavish and ultra-quiet interior matches the rest of the car in over-the-top technology.
Maybe though, the best place to have started a piece on the 7-Series would have been at the beginning, 32 years ago, when the 7-Series was launched as BMW's new flagship.
In the postwar years, BMW had experienced more ups and downs than a $2 used tire, but by the early 1970s was slowly emerging as a successful and increasingly sophisticated player in the sports sedan business.
The introduction of the 7-Series was a big step up-market, positioning the company for the first time alongside the likes of Mercedes-Benz on the world stage. And its success has helped drive BMW to become what it is today, one of the world's leading purveyors of luxury-class automobiles.
BMW now makes a very full range of interesting vehicles, but you get the feeling the 7-Series remains at heart its showpiece, the model that highlights its capabilities and its pride as an auto maker.
2009 BMW 750Li
Type: Four-door luxury sedan
Base Price: $112,900; as tested, $126,000
Engine: 4.4-litre, DOHC, V-8
Horsepower/torque: 400 hp/ 450 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.4 city/9.2 highway; premium gas
- Styling that reflects exactly what the car is all about
- Rock-solid 200 km/h cruising capability (of which I'll only admit to sampling about half)
- Superb audio system and the quiet, leather-wrapped cabin to enjoy it in
My only negative thoughts concern the relevance (except in marketing appeal) of so much of the high-priced technology in the car