But the real question about the BMW 740i is, can 326 horsepower adequately move this big sedan? That is the amount of power generated by the twin-turbo, direct-injection 3-liter in-line six-cylinder engine, along with 332 pound-feet of torque. Compare that with 407 horsepower from the 750i's V-8. Or the 760i's 544 horsepower.
The answer to the above question is a qualified yes. Stomp on the gas, and the 740i digs its tires into pavement and leaps forward with a palpable feeling of acceleration. It may not feel as gut-wrenchingly strong as the 760i, but it is more than enough for the real world of freeway merging and traffic light launches. The only times when the engine begins to feel the slightest bit underpowered come when accelerating during long, steep hill climbs.
The smaller engine is intended to be a fuel saver, too, with EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. In testing over city streets, mountain roads, and freeways, the 740i showed an average of just over 17 mpg.
As part of BMW's EfficientDynamics program, the 740i does a little regenerative coasting. At the bottom of the tachometer sits an analog fuel-use gauge. At its upper end, a blue zone shows when the 740i is using its excess energy to help charge up its battery. This car is no hybrid, and there is no electric motive power to the wheels, so this extra energy merely keeps the engine from having to burn any extra gas to keep the battery adequately charged.
In other nods to efficiency, the power steering, fuel, and coolant pumps all operate on demand. Instead of keeping pressure in these systems up at all times, which leaches energy from the engine, the pumps only kick in when needed.
Although BMW offers an eight-speed transmission in its lineup, seen in both the 760i and the, the 740i is limited to six speeds in its automatic transmission. An extra gear or two might have boosted the freeway fuel economy, but other than that, this transmission performs very well. In sport mode it aggressively downshifts, keeping engine power peaked when exiting corners. Manual gear shifts are quick and snappy, and even in standard drive mode, under hard acceleration the 740i lets the tach needle tap the red.
But handling is the 740i's real strength. Equipped with the M Sport package, which gives it active suspension technology, the car scrambles through turns like a much smaller vehicle. BMW's active suspension equips the car with a toggle on the console that switches the car between Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus suspension settings. This setting button also sharpens engine response in the Sport modes.
Using the same Flex Ray bus technology as in the BMW, a ton of sensor data from the vehicles gets processed in milliseconds, and commands are sent to the active suspension components to tell the car how to handle immediate conditions. The result is excellent stability in hard cornering, allowing for surprising speed in Sport mode. Sport Plus brings in the additional fun of turning off traction control.
In Normal mode, the car strikes a good compromise between stability and damping out rough road surfaces. There is a very noticeable difference when switching the car over to Comfort mode, which makes the car feel like it is floating over the road surface. But Comfort mode can also let the car oscillate up and down when going over sequential bumps, suggesting barf bags should be an accessory.
BMW may have built its reputation on excellent driving characteristics, but the 2011 BMW 740i shows that the company is equally good at cabin tech. CNET's review car may not have been as loaded as it could be, but the standard tech is excellent, from navigation to the phone system. Add the possible extras, such as adaptive cruise control, premium stereo, and night vision, and the 740i comes out as one of the techiest cars around.
Performance tech is an obvious place for BMW to shine, and it does so with the direct-injection, twin-turbo engine. The suspension and handling are also a tour de force, although BMW engineers should program out oscillations in the comfort setting. The transmission operates very well, and has all the modes you could need, but an extra gear might have improved freeway economy.
The major place the 740i loses points is in its interface design. Although this generation of iDrive is a huge improvement over previous efforts, some screens are not intuitive enough. As a big sedan, the 740i is very practically designed, with plenty of headroom and easy trunk access. Aesthetically, the car looks nice, but isn't anything to drool over.
|Model||2011 BMW 740i|
|Power train||Twin-turbocharged, direct-injection, 3-liter straight 6-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||10 speaker, 205-watt surround-sound system|
|Driver aids||Night vision, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, backup camera|
|Price as tested||$81,625|