The new austerity means the horsepower wars of the '90s are over. Instead of pumping up displacements, automakers are looking for ways to generate power efficiently. For the 7 series in 2011, BMW took the relatively easy step of installing an engine previously used in the 335i and 535i. Being BMW's flagship sedan, this new model steps up to a 740i nameplate.
As for body, suspension, and cabin tech, the car is nearly identical to its heftier siblings, the 750i and the 760i. The car features the same sophisticated, European design, with a gracefully curved roof and longish nose. Of course, the grille features the traditional BMW design, while the headlight casings integrate LED turn signals.
The cabin of the 2011 BMW 740i, a large sedan, is easy to get into, while the trunk affords plenty of cargo room. Optional multicontour seats offer power-adjustable bolsters, lumbar support, headrests, and just about every other means of shaping the seat to your body. The comfortable rear bench has its own set of dual-zone climate controls. This car represents BMW luxury.
Standard in this $70,000 car is a hard-drive-based navigation system, complete with 3D maps and traffic, and a sophisticated Bluetooth phone system. But that is about as far as BMW is willing to go with freebies--even iPod integration is optional in the 740i.
Particularly amusing was the $650 ceramic button option included in the car delivered to CNET. BMW is apparently willing to let people buy a 7-series with ugly plastic buttons, which could impact people's perception of the brand's luxury and quality.
The navigation system is a treat to use, as it shows rich 3D detail for major urban areas, complete with rendered buildings on a wide, 10.2-inch screen. Using route guidance in a city, the system helpfully makes buildings in front of a turn transparent. In addition to the route outlined on the map, BMW puts turn directions on the instrument cluster, a new black panel that hides all indicator lights until they are in use.
More difficult to use are some of BMW's destination input screens, which rely on setting filters to find results. For example, when browsing the POI database for Chinese restaurants, you first have to enter Restaurants as a category, then Chinese as a subcategory. And the system doesn't make it very clear what you are supposed to do at each step. This interface could definitely be improved.
BMW's traffic reporting is quite good, and the car will dynamically look for routes around particularly bad traffic. On the map, specific incidents are shown as diamond-shaped icons, but the traffic flow is represented as a series of gray arrows. The red, yellow, and green road highlights used by competitors make for a much more intuitive representation.
Also accessible through either the iDrive onscreen interface or voice command is the standard Bluetooth phone system, which helpfully downloads a paired phone's contact list. Drivers can use the voice command system to dial a contact by name, or look one up on the screen. The iDrive knob makes it quick and easy to scroll through a contact list, and the voice command proved very accurate.
The audio quality of phone calls is excellent, aided by the standard 10-speaker stereo system. BMW offers a premium stereo upgrade for the 740i, but the base system does a very nice job of reproducing music. It is very balanced across audio frequencies, delivering highs, mids, and bass in equal detail. When we listened to tracks that emphasized a female vocalist, the system did an excellent job of making the background instrumentation pleasantly audible. Bass is not earthshaking with this system, but is very listenable.
Audio sources in CNET's review car were limited, mostly by BMW's option list. Standard sources are the onboard hard drive, CD player, HD Radio, and a USB port inconveniently placed in the glovebox, far away from the driver. BMW does not do Bluetooth streaming audio yet, and the car we tested lacked the optional iPod integration or satellite radio. CDs rip quickly and easily to the hard drive, and are easy to find in the music library interface. HD Radio is a nice treat, with very clear sound.
BMW offers an impressive set of optional driver assistance features for the 740i, although not all were present on our review car. Night vision turns the main LCD into an enhanced view of the road ahead, letting you see things you would miss with the naked eye. Blind-spot detection warns of cars in the lanes next to the 740i, and the lane departure warning vibrates the wheel slightly if the car drifts across lane lines.
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|