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Something Old, Something New, Something Memorable
Touring Italy in the 2002 BMW 745i

by BJ Killeen

2002 BMW 745iHaving the opportunity to drive BMW's new flagship 2002 BMW 745i first is
exciting enough; now throw in a trip to Italy, and you have the recipe for an adventure fantastico! For three days we had the chance to wander along the stradas in the new BMW around the resort town of Fiuggi, Italy.

It's hard to say which was nicer, the beautiful weather, kind people and enchanting scenery, or the powerful, smooth engine, useful iDrive system, or the myriad "surprise and delight" features that only BMW engineers can create.

Let's start with the car: the new BMW 745i replaces the 740i, and not only has the vehicle improved, but the good folks in Germany have gone a step further and created a technological marvel that rivals the inner workings of the space shuttle. While some people shy away from new ideas and inventions, I thrive on what's new out there to make my life easier.

The basics: The 745i will be on sale in mid January, and should be
base-priced somewhere around $66,000, give or take a few grand. BMW plans to sell about 370,000 units worldwide, with about 40 percent of those in the States. There also will be a 745Li long-wheelbase model, as well as a 760i and Li versions powered by V-12 engines coming next year. The new 7 features over 90 innovations and 60 significant improvements, all of which we can't cover here because it would take you the better part of a week to read
through them. Take my word, they're all great and help make this the best BMW on the market.

Design wise, BMW has been taking some slack for the styling at the rear, but it's a no-win situation. If Chief Designer Chris Bangle stayed with a tried-and-true evolutionary design, the critics would have been yelling for something more adventurous. As it stands, BMW wanted to shake things up a bit, and went for a revolution instead. And, let's get real; on the Aztek-ugly scale, it's not even close to the top. For those who have seen Bangle in action, and understand what he tries to create with his designs, you¹ll understand the styling of this vehicle much better.

Overall the goal was no compromises, and BMW achieves this objective loud and clear. There are things this car can do that you'll first wonder why it was done, but end up loving the feature down the road. For example, the
windshield wiper system.

On the 2002 745i, it features an electronically controlled reversing motor which not only allows the wiper to come right to the driver's side A-pillar for more glass coverage, but also will flip over the wiper blades every three days if the system is idle. Why? To produce even wear on the blades, so when the wipers sit idle most of the summer, you won¹t have to waste money on new blades for winter because they're cracked and dried out on only one side. I love stuff like this...shouldn't you?

Of course, if you think this is gimmicky, then the new 7 is not the car for you. Go buy yourself something predictable and boring and 20th Century. For the rest of us who want to fly to the moon, this is the closest we're gonna get for now.

Fiuggi and its surrounding towns are like a studio backlot of what Italy should look like. There are little old men with canes sitting together on short stone walls chatting about the weather, the world, and the cars that go by.

2002 BMW 745iThe laundry drying in the sun off the balconies of apartments makesthe villas almost seem like a parody of themselves. Round, native women in skirts and aprons pass the day with brooms in their hands, sweeping away the dust from the door. The stucco buildings are pale shades of sand, orange, and yellow, faded from age and weather. You get the feeling time is slower here, and for those of us who rush through each day, it's hard to get used to at first, but even harder to let go of when it's time to leave.

The town of Fiuggi as seen from a Grand Hotel Palazzo Della Fonte hotel room.


Our first day in Fiuggi, we were given a one-on-one tutorial on the new 745i, where we learned how to operate a vehicle all over again. The BMW does not have a key, it has a multi-function remote control that is inserted into the ignition slot. You push a button to start the engine, although you have to have excellent hearing to know if it started; that's how quiet the interior and engine are.

The remote control also locks and unlocks all doors, electronically opens and closes the trunk so there are no dirty fingerprints on the trunklid, opens and closes the windows and moonroof, features a rolling code so the thieves are deprived of the privilege of your vehicle, and includes a long-life battery that charges anytime the remote is inserted into the ignition slot.

The transmission shift lever is new and different as well, with a short column stalk topped by another Zippo-lighter-sized pod that electronically controls all shift functions. The selector only shows three positions: Neutral, Reverse, and Drive, all of which can be selected by apply upward or downward pressure on the pod. For Park, move it in and left. It's simple, straightforward, and easy to use, but is somewhat foreign until you get the hang of it.

One of the newest features is AutoHold, which automatically holds hydraulic pressure to the four-wheel brakes anytime the vehicle comes to a stop. This eliminates the vehicle's tendency to "creep" when the engine is idling and the transmission is engaged. This feature also can hold the vehicle when it's stopped on a hill.

Part of the one-on-one time included a briefing on iDrive, the center
command knob that controls all communications, navigation, and audio functions of the BMW. The iDrive system moves in eight different directions. BMW refers to them as compass points, and the system is divided into two separate menus: primary and secondary. The primary functions cover the more frequently used items.

To use the phone, move the knob forward to the 12 o'clock position; the nav system is at 3 o'clock, entertainment is at 6, and climate controls at 9. The secondary points are things like BMW roadside or emergency assistance at the 2 o'clock position, a Help menu at 4 o'clock, and so on. The 7 also offers voice assistance, so if you're the type who's still trying to stop your VCR from flashing 12:00, voice commands are for you.

Armed with enough information to command this ship, we took off on the hour-long short route, which was just enough to get acquainted with the vehicle before the next day's 175-mile, four-hour-plus drive.

What we first discovered is that the majority of the vehicles on the
autostrada make a Mini Cooper look gargantuan. Fiat Unos and little

Puntas whip around narrow turns like scurrying mice, and the goal of trucks and larger vehicles is to avoid them at all costs. Which usually isn't a problem in America, with our wide roads and well-marked divider lines. In Italy, off the main highways, lines are only found in the faces of the elderly residents, and the roads are about as wide as a seat in the coach cabin of a Southwest Airlines 737. Once you get the hang of it, though, you spend more time driving with your eyes open than closed.

The short route took us through a handful of small towns, like Acuto, Roiate, and Altipiano di Arcinazzo. Only once did I get lost trying to navigate and drive at the same time, and ended up on a dead-end residential street in Acuto that was so narrow I couldn't have opened the doors to get out. I calmly backed up and turned around at the first opening wide enough to accommodate all 198 inches of the Bimmer's overall length, while astonished stares burned into the layers of clearcoat paint covering the car's exterior.

Since the short drive consisted of low-speed, narrow roads, I didn't push the 7 too hard, knowing that the next day I would have plenty of opportunity.

On the long route, we spent more time on the major roads, passing through Subiaco, Cese, Sora, Pontecorvo, and numerous other small towns that captured the charm of this beautiful country. Stopping for sheep to cross the road wasn't an unusual event, and we even had time for a quick espresso at the local automart.

Before leaving the hotel in the morning, though, we had a chance to give the stretched version of the 745i the once over. The 745Li (BMW switched from iL to Li for 2002), is due in March, and is 6 inches longer, with a backseat that does everything the front does, only without the steering wheel. There's an information screen that provides Internet access (soon to be available in America), heated seats, reclining seats, a footrest, overhead vanity mirrors, window sunshades, and numerous other features to make you feel as if you're one of the privileged class.

Now that we were accustomed to the iDrive system, the layout of the dash and controls, and even the feel of the AutoHold feature, we were able to concentrate on the handling and ride characteristics of the vehicle.

Overall, there was nothing with which to find fault. Body lean was relatively non-existent even when pushed into corners, there were no dramatic down or upshifts, the rack-and-pinion steering, seen for the first time on a 7-series vehicle, was well weighted, had good feel on center, and provided excellent feedback on road conditions.

We did not attempt to try out any of the myriad safety features on the BMW, including the new adaptive brake lights, which illuminate as usual under normal braking, but employ the rear foglights and tail lights during panic stops to help illuminate the rear and call more attention to the braking effort for the driver behind you. This system also is set up so if a certain exterior bulb burns out, anearby bulb that's normally used for a different function is commandeered automatically until the defective bulb is replaced. In terms of safety, the 745i has more airbags than a roomful of elected officials.

While some 100-mile-plus trips are draining and exhausting, in the BMW it's a non-event. The ride is not floaty, the seats provide outstanding comfort and support, and everything you could want, from music to a telephone, is at your fingertips. But it still feels good to stretch the legs, which is what we did at the lunch stop.

Trevi Fountain in Rome

In Italy, there's no such thing as a quick meal, so we stopped at Il Palentino restaurant in the town of Cese, and proceeded to feast on anything and everything that the patient owner put in front of us. We had antipasto, ravioli, another type of pasta, cheeses, and dessert. To equest anything less is an insult to the host.

After a bit of confusion which way to turn from the lunch stop, we were headed back toward Fiuggi, deciding to cut some time off the route by staying on the autostrada. The time we saved was well spent, as we commandeered a ride into Rome to do some "tourist lite" shopping before the stores closed.

Compared to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Lexus LS 430, the Infiniti Q45, or even the Bentley Arnage, the BMW 7-Series will always be the sportiest driver of the group. It offers all the gizmos nd gadgets of the Benz but in a more understandable format, all the technology and then some of the Q45, and even the build quality on par with the LS 430. And while it may not have all the panache of a Bentley, few owners will care. Those who drive and own BMWs know it's not just about having the best parking space; it's about having the best experience after you drive away.

[Get More Information on the BMW 745i]