Review: BMW's 2020 750i is a triumph of engineering

Key Points
  • The BMW 7 Series is redesigned for 2020 with a bold, in-your-face grille that's bound to turn some more conservative buyers off.
  • The good news is that it's really impressive on the road and stuffed with amazing technology.
  • If the price and the looks don't turn you off, it's one of the most refined vehicles on sale today.
The 2020 BMW 750i
Mack Hogan | CNBC

For the last three decades, German luxury sedans have been criticized for their "same sausage, different length" approach to design. The biggest BMW sedan typically looks like a stretched version of its smallest car, with little evidence from the curb that it costs three times as much.

With the 2020 BMW 7 Series, that era appears to be over. With a mega-sized grille reminiscent of the X7 SUV and a new rear-end design, the new 7 Series is distinctive in a way that no other flagship BMW has been before. Unfortunately, unique isn't always good; The 7 Series is, without a doubt, the most awkward and unattractive BMW on sale.

The 2020 BMW 750i
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The good

If we're being generous to the design, one clear benefit is that the 7 Series is unmistakably the big, brash car in the BMW lineup. Our $126,145 750i tester wasn't even the fastest or most loaded version you could get, but it sure was expensive looking.

From the sleek laser lights to the delicate thin-spoke wheels and the massive light bar in the back, the 7 Series makes it clear that you bought the expensive one. Even the paint is special. It might look like a normal gray sedan, but the 750i's Berlina Gray Amber Effect paint has a gorgeous yellow flake that makes it stunning under direct lighting.

Inside, quilted Cognac Nappa leather and brushed aluminum trim dominate with subtle gray poplar wood accents and multicolor ambient LED lighting adding to the premium feel. It may not have the jaw-dropping aesthetics of a Mercedes S-Class, but everything inside the 7 Series looks and feels worthy of the six-figure price.

The 2020 BMW 750i
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Plus, while the S-Class has the wow factor, the BMW's interior focuses on usability. As flagship sedans get stuffed with more and more technology and convenience features, how easy they are to use becomes increasingly important. With a variety of hard physical buttons for core controls, programmable favorite keys, the fantastic iDrive controller, gesture control, impressive handwriting recognition and the "Hey BMW" virtual assistant, BMW gives drivers a lot of choice in how they use their cars.

That's true when the wheels get rolling, too. Put the car in comfort mode and you'll be treated to a sublime ride, smooth power delivery and fantastic noise isolation while massaging seats, a crystal clear Bowers & Wilkins stereo and a competent traffic jam assistant help melt away stress.

Or, dial it into Sport+ and enjoy its 523 horsepower from the turbocharged V-8. Power is sent to all four wheels via one of the best-programmed eight-speed transmissions in the game. All four wheels also assist in steering, making the 750i much nimbler than its extended wheelbase would suggest.

The 2020 BMW 750i
Mack Hogan | CNBC

If neither of those options appeal to you, hire a driver and hop in the back. You'll get quilted leather reclining seats with individual entertainment displays and a central tablet that controls core car functions. Roll up the power window shades, kick your feet up and enjoy the smooth ride.

No matter where you sit or how you drive, it's hard to find a situation where the 7 Series feels out of place. It might not be made for off-roading or race tracks, but in every on-road driving scenario, the 7 Series feels relaxed, capable and luxurious.

The bad

The biggest disadvantage is that all of this doesn't come cheap. Our $126,145 750i tester was no base model, but it's easy to add even more to the sticker price. If all you're looking for is a comfortable luxury sedan with a lot of technology features, cars like the Genesis G90 and Lexus LS 500 are far cheaper.

It also doesn't offer the same level of luxurious isolation as the Mercedes S-Class. Both cars are among the plushest rides on the market, but the Mercedes still has a noticeable edge in ride quality. Combined with that car's best-in-segment interior design, we'd give Mercedes the nod as the more luxurious option. It just won't be as user-friendly or as composed on a back road.

The 2020 BMW 750i
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Finally, we have to talk about styling. BMW opted to expand the grille to give the car a more dramatic look that stands out in a crowd as people spending six figures on a massive luxury car often don't want to look like they bought a base-model 3 Series. A bigger grille isn't always a problem, but adding the oversized schnoz onto a design that clearly wasn't penned with it originally in mind looks lazy.

On the gargantuan X7 SUV, the mega grille makes more sense. It's still not particularly pretty, but it doesn't look sloppy. The 7 Series, on the other hand, is entirely dominated by the new grille. It is, without exception, the first thing people commented on when seeing the car for the first time. Since the goal was to make an impression, we supposed that's a job done. We just think that a car doesn't have to be ugly to be noticeable.

The 2020 BMW 750i
Mack Hogan | CNBC

How we'd option it

We have yet to test other engine configurations, but the 750i's smooth V-8 feels perfect for this job. That model starts at $102,650 with the requisite all-wheel drive. We'd add the $750 Cold Weather Package, $3,900 Executive Package and the $1,700 Driving Assistant Professional Package but skip the two pricey rear-seat luxury packages unless you plan to actually be chauffeured or drive around a lot of pampered adult friends.

To get the magic-carpet ride and nimble dynamics we praised, you'll need the $4,100 Autobahn package that provides four-wheel steering and a camera system that proactively scans for bumps and adjusts the suspension instantaneously to soak them up.

For stand-alone options, we'd recommend the $1,000 LED with Laserlight system and the $3,400 Bowers & Wilkins Diamond audio system. You can also rack up a bigger bill with premium paint, wheel, upholstery and trim choices, but we'll leave that to your discretion. With the necessary destination charges, that brings our total to $118,495 before cosmetic options.

Final thoughts

If you like the looks of the 7 Series and are OK paying up for an all-around all-star product, there's nothing else here to turn you off. It has a great — if not class-leading — interior, phenomenal on-road dynamics, a knockout powertrain and best-in-the-business technology.

It may not have the mind-bending ride quality of the Mercedes S-Class or the practical luxury of BMW's fantastic X7, but it's an incredible car and a triumph of engineering.

The 2020 BMW 750i
Mack Hogan | CNBC


Exterior: 1.5

Interior: 4.5

Driving Experience: 5

Value: 2.5

Overall: 3.4

Price as tested: $126,145

*Ratings out of 5.