The polarising fourth-generation BMW 7 Series (BMW designation E65) was released to public view at the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show. A rolling monument to the state of German engineering prowess, the BMW E65 introduced a host of features that can be found on many cars even today, albeit at the time was met with scepticism and even criticism.
Completely revamping the design language from its sleek James Bond E38 predecessor, it had a completely new look coupled with the now ubiquitous infotainment system known as iDrive. It was perhaps the most famous design of BMW Chief of Design Chris Bangle, with a legacy that endures to this day.
The BMW E65 arrived in Australia in three variants (3.6-litre and 4.4-litre N62 V8, with the flagship 6.0-litre N73 V12) each with differing engine displacements, standard features and optioned in long-wheelbase form. I have had the chance to own both the 745i and 735i – the latter of which is my current daily.
Standard features in even the base model extended to include cruise control, climate control (with individual fan control), bi-xenon headlights, sat-nav, front driver memory, glass sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, eight-speaker stereo, rain-sensing wipers, in-car phone (albeit 2G) and much more. My 735i was optioned with 19-inch alloy rims and comfort seats, extending the memory settings to passengers too.
Compared to its predecessor (which I have also owned – 730iL), the BMW E65 was larger in every dimension. This meant that it commanded a road presence that few can match even today, sitting low and wide – with a design that has arguably aged incredibly well. BMW needed to make a clean break from its consistent yet conservative roots, and the E65 delivered on that in spades.
The animal-esque halo lights; the broad angular nose that shapes across the aptly named ‘power dome’ bonnet dominates any rear-view mirror. At the time, criticism was mounted to the design of the rear, with the boot sticking up and out in contrast to the fastback design of the car. Nicknamed the ‘Bangle Butt’ after the Chief of Design Chris Bangle, it was said by BMW to enhance aerodynamics and improve luggage space.
Seventeen years on, the E65’s design and even the boot has managed to blend into the current automotive landscape. Common cars such as the 2003–2009 Nissan Maxima, 2008–2013 Honda Accord and even the Hyundai Veloster all have key design cues that originally started with the BMW E65. The E65 completely redefined automotive design, from the round jelly bean trends of the 1990s to the angular, ‘flame surfaced’ modern designs. Whether someone loved it or hated it, they still left with an opinion on it, and a generally passionate one at that.
BMW’s iDrive multimedia system made its debut in the E65, centred on the goal of removing the increasing amount of buttons to control features found in luxury cars. Controlled by a central knob that looks similar to an upturned pie dish (leather covering added in the 2005 face-lift), the driver or passenger could manage all aspects of the driving experience.
Changing the climate-control fan angle, the radio, entering in a sat-nav address or even changing the percentage of seat heating from your backside to bottom, it all could be done via iDrive. While it helped aggregate key luxury functionality in the one interface, it was not without its pitfalls.
The lack of a menu button can make it challenging for operators to go from one section to another (needed to remember which angle to move the knob), while changing the radio can be an exercise in frustration. BMW partially addressed these concerns in the 2005 face-lift, with the addition of shortcuts and a menu button. In today’s current car models, nearly all have some sort of infotainment system – a trend that can be directly traced to the BMW E65.
No review can be complete without mentioning the powerhouse sitting underneath that long bonnet. My 735i example, with the 200kW/360Nm (270hp/265lb.ft) 3.6-litre N62 V8 is coupled with a six-speed ZF transmission, the first of its type in the world and later used in the BF, FG and FG-X Ford Falcons.
Power delivery is super smooth, with a Teutonic burble when planted onto the highway. 0–100km/h is rated at 7.5 seconds, with the 4.4-litre V8 shaving another 1.2 seconds off that. Steering-mounted gear shifters enable a degree of control when rapidly accelerating or overtaking, all helped with the dynamic drive suspension set-up that wafts over even the most challenging of Sydney’s roads.
Cruising at 110km/h down the Hume Highway, the German Panzer sits at just over 2000rpm with nary any wander. There isn’t as much road feedback compared to its predecessor, however compared to the Mercedes W220 it’s definitely oriented as a driver’s car.
Fuel consumption is surprisingly frugal, helped with VANOS and variable valve lift (Valvetronic) that effectively replaces the traditional throttle butterfly. I’ve managed to hit the late eights on highway cruising, with around-Sydney inner west/city hovering between 12–13L/100km. An 85L fuel tank ensures Melbourne to Sydney can be done on the one fuel-up of 98 with ease.
If considering one of these, ensure a proper pre-inspection is done, as there is a lot to inspect and review prior to making a purchase. The reliability of the drivetrain is generally pretty good, with none of the timing chain guide issues that plagued the previous generation.
Regular maintenance is key, as regular oil changes can go a long way to alleviate known valve stem seal issues (burning oil and blue smoke is a tell-tale sign). The transmission valve body is known to be hard on torque converters, so check that the transmission has been serviced regularly – ensure there’s no RPM bouncing at over 40km/h.
Interior bits can be worn with lots of prior owners, however that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker as they can be sourced from overseas. The best thing about these cars is the modularity – practically anything from a higher model can be retrofitted into it. Heated seats? Sure. Bluetooth? Go for it. (Now that 2G is switched off in Australia, Bluetooth is the best way to go for in-car connectivity now.) Adaptive cruise control? Import from Germany and you’re set. Getting the appropriate software to code the features in is not too challenging, and you will not be able to cause any damage to the electrics since it’s an entirely different code set.
The E65 was a testament to the cumulative knowledge built up by both BMW and the German car industry, ushering in a new generation of design and usability for the 21st century. For a fraction of the new car price, someone who has a vested interest can own this monument to German engineering for years to come.
I have loved my ownership experience, and have learned that if you are willing to invest some time in understanding these rolling wonders, the rewards are worth it.