It's packed to the gills with comfort and amenities, but BMW's big diesel 7 Series handles corners like a much smaller sport sedan.
There's no getting around the fact that the BMW 7 Series is a big luxury sedan (hunk of metal), but the one quietly appeared in the Car Tech garage is somehow even larger. The elongated model adds 5.5 inches to the wheelbase which directly translates into extra legroom for rear seat passengers. It's packed to the gills with comfort and amenities, but BMW's big diesel 7 Series surprised me with its ability to handle corners like a much smaller sport sedan.
The big Bimmer is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged diesel engine in an inline six-cylinder configuration. At a stated 26 mpg combined (which breaks out to 31 mpg highway and 23 mpg city) the 740Ld isn't a fuel sipper, but it is the most fuel-efficient variant of the 7 Series long wheelbase chassis -- beating the ActiveHybrid 7 by 1 mpg across the board.
Like most turbo-diesels, the 7's 3.0L (codenamed N57) boasts modest power, but big torque. We're talking 255 horsepower and an impressive 413 pound-feet of torque -- the latter being available as low as 1,500RPM, which makes the 740Ld a great freeway cruiser. There are few situations where the 740Ld finds itself short on torque; it's almost never in too tall a gear for a pass. The big sedan pulls away from the line with satisfying thrust, reaching 60 mph in a respectable 6.1 seconds.
Torque gets sent through an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission manufactured by ZF, which is the only gearbox available for the 7 Series, before being split between the four contact patches by BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system. This setup defaults to a rear biased 40:60 torque split, but under slip can theoretically direct 100 percent of available torque to either the front or rear axle -- though, in practice, such extremes rarely occur.
The driver can select from five configurable driving modes to customize the character of the Bimmer's drive. Eco Pro is the mode most focused on maximum efficiency and tweaks the throttle response and climate control systems to save fuel. This setting also changes the digital instrument cluster to an eco-driving gauge and offers the driver fuel saving tips on the infotainment display. Comfort is the default setting, focused on casual driving and shifting that coddles the driver and passengers. Comfort Plus further smooths the shift pattern, throttle response, and (if equipped) adaptive suspension.
Sport is a more responsive mode for spirited driving, tweaking the throttle curve, suspension and steering, and shift pattern for better responsiveness where acceleration and handling are concerned. The instrument cluster becomes an aggressive and minimal red display that highlights engine RPM, speed, and gear selection. Sport Plus further loosens the reins of the Dynamic Stability Control system to allow a bit more rotation when cornering hard and a bit more wheel slip before the xDrive system starts intervening.
When I think big sedan, I don't typically think "sport package," but our example was equipped with the M Sport edition package ($4,000). This suite of upgrades mostly consists of styling tweaks to the interior and exterior, as well as the addition of a few Executive package amenities that we'll get to later. Where performance is concerned, going M Sport unlocks access to our 20-inch light alloy wheel and performance run-flat tire upgrade ($1,300).
Responsive dynamic damper control and a self-leveling rear air suspension are standard features, but an optional upgrade to Adaptive Drive with ARS ($2,500) adds a truly adaptive suspension setup that can be tweaked via the drive mode selector to actively the characteristics of the sedan's handling.
Thusly equipped, the 740Ld surprised me with its road handling when piloted down my favorite testing grounds. The big sedan is not what I'd call a canyon carver, but the suspension setup and stickier tires grant the saloon the tenacious grip of a car half its size. The ride is still soft and still largely isolates the passenger compartment from and texture of the road. There's a noticeable amount of lean in the turns and float over undulations, but the suspension setup keeps the tires stuck securely to the tarmac and the chassis going where you point it.
In its Sport setting, steering is responsive, but feedback is a bit lacking. You can't really feel the road through the tiller, but you can at least trust that the Bimmer will respond to your inputs. The optional M Sport edition wheel is thick and falls nicely in the hand and puts paddle shifters at the driver's fingertips. The brakes leave very little to be desired, with great stopping power without sacrificing smooth application in traffic.
Spacious and comfortable during relaxing passages, yet powerful and quick when taxed, it's almost as though the gigantic 740Ld shrinks into a slightly smaller, slightly sportier sedan the faster you push it. The plentiful torque of the diesel engine is the icing on the 740Ld's cake, adding an effortlessness to the acceleration that constantly had me glancing at the speedometer and exclaiming, "whoa, I didn't realize I was going that fast!"
Being a modern Bimmer, the 740Ld features the latest generation of the automaker's iDrive infotainment system, version 4.2. With twist and a click of the iDrive control knob on the center console -- the BMW's display is not touch sensitive -- the driver gains access to excellent web-connected 3D navigation, digital media, vehicle information and settings, and even a digital vehicle manual.
With powerful hardware operating behind the scenes, this is the snappiest implementations of the iDrive control scheme that I've ever tested. While I still think the organization of BMW's software can be a bit overwhelming, but I like that the automaker gives the driver a good deal of control over how the vehicle's amenities and systems operate and what information is displayed on the infotainment screen.
The 7er's iDrive controller features BMW's new touchpad tech; this adds touch sensitivity to the top surface of the large control knob that allows the driver to draw letters and spell out addresses or points of interest when searching. Personally, I prefer to use the excellent voice-command system when driving -- it's simply faster and simpler than inputting one letter at a time -- but the finger-scrawled recognition was very accurate and still faster than twisting the knob to make letter selections.
As I mentioned earlier, the 740Ld's instrument cluster is also a digital display that changes depending on the drive mode selected. Eco Pro is a cool blue scheme with tips to boost fuel economy; Comfort and Comfort Plus are elegant black displays; and Sport and Sport Plus use an aggressive red scheme.
The digital instruments are augmented by the optional Head up display (part of our M Sport's Executive package) which projects speedometer information on the windscreen and into the driver's field of view. The HUD can also display audio data, when changing tracks, turn-by-turn navigation instructions, and more. I particularly like how fleshed out the navigation display can be. For example, when approaching a turn, the HUD changes to a live representation of the turn, complete with lane guidance and my position relative to the turn. It's a very useful little feature that allowed me to keep my eyes up, instead of constantly glancing at the screen. An interesting side benefit of using the HUD when navigating is that I could disable the audio turn-by-turn prompts (something that I almost never do) and listen to my music uninterrupted.
In my example, that music was coming through an optional Bang & Olufsen audio system ($3,700), which replaces the Executive package's Harman Kardon setup. The B&O system both looks and sounds dramatic, featuring a metallic acoustic lens tweeter that rises from the center of the dashboard and illuminated, metal speaker grilles in the doors, a-pillars, and rear parcel shelf. All in, we've got 16 speakers and 1,200 watts of amplification. Though beautiful to look at, the B&O upgrade also sounds fantastic.
The audio system features two modes -- Studio and Expanded -- that give the driver the choice between a more compact sound stage with excellent stereo separation with cleanest, tightest sound or a broader, more cabin-filling sound stage that sacrifices just a bit of bass tightness for a more tactile experience. I preferred Studio for talk programming and Expanded for music. Both modes did a fantastic job of accurately reproducing sounds with no distortion. That the BMW's cabin is so well-built and insulated from road and engine noise give the audiophile system a great platform from which to work.
One of the benefits of the M Sport package is an upgrade to the 20-way adjustable multi-contour Sport seats, a fantastic pair of buckets for the front row that feature a good blend of bolstering grip when cornering and comfort when cruising. Heated and cooled surfaces further boost comfort for the driver and front passenger.
The 740Ld is also available with an active front seats upgrade ($1,000) that constantly and imperceptibly adjusts the seating surface from soft to firm and from left to right to prevent driver fatigue. Our example was not so equipped.
Being a long wheelbase model, the 740Ld doesn't forget about rear passenger comfort. In addition to the inherent extra legroom and already comfortable seats, we've also got $1,000 in power sunshades for the rear windows and backlight to make the rear seats even more hospitable and private.
Additionally, there are over $12,000 in options that we've not equipped which add massage function, rear seat entertainment and a host of other comfort amenities for second-row passengers. With the right boxes checked, there isn't a bad seat in this house.
A clear rear camera with dynamic trajectory guides is a standard for the 740Ld, as is a parking assist feature that sounds audible front and rear proximity alerts when approaching obstructions while parking and displays a heat map display in the infotainment display.
We've also got a $1,900 Lighting package that upgrades the headlamps with LED illumination and automatic high-beam activation.
Our model's didn't feature any of the optional driver assistance features, but a $1,900 Driver Assistance package is available, which adds blind-spot monitoring, top and side view cameras that activate at low speeds, a camera-based speed-limit recognition system, and passive lane-departure alerts. For $1,200 more, the lane-departure system can be upgraded to an active prevention system and full-speed adaptive cruise control with forward-collision mitigation system gets added to the mix.
The 7 Series sedan starts at $74,000 for the gasoline powered, standard wheelbase 740i, but our 2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive starts at $82,500 with a $950 destination charge. (In the UK, where this configuration of the sedan is known as the 730Ld, the starting price is £65,070. The Australian market doesn't offer a long wheelbase variant, but its 730d starts at AU$204,600.)
We've got the M Sport package, larger wheel and tire, and adaptive suspension upgrades, as well as LED headlamps, B&O audio, and a few other convenience options that bring our as-tested price to $98,100. Check all of the boxes and it's possible to spec your 74oLd well above the $120k waterline.