“It’s a space ship!” exclaimed the young lass as she slid into the back seat. The car had hardly been in motion before the youthful woman was almost forced to express how she felt. The dim, serene lighting created an ambiance that could be extraterrestrial and the unique glow from the front exemplified that feeling. As the car continued on its journey, it made another impression on the lady to which she made a request: “Go fast again.” The car in question is the 2011 BMW 740Li.
Released in 2009, the current generation BMW 7 Series is the first car to be coded as an F-chassis. Both the short wheelbase (F01) and long wheelbase (F02) ride on a new platform and are dressed in clothes not designed by Chris Bangle. Unlike the previous E65 7 Series, the F01/02 is much more subdued in its looks. The front face slopes ever so slightly while the slanted headlights give the 7 Series an almost shark-like look. More than once did we find ourselves thinking about the original 6 Series from the 1980s when looking at the 7. The side panels do a wonderful job of drawling attention to the rear which is wide and muscular. This is a much better looking vehicle than before.
One reason for our tester’s good looks can be found in the options list. Our 740Li long wheelbase came equipped with the M Sport Package which added M 19” wheels, aero kit, steering wheel, shadowline exterior trim and special headliner. The wheels are muti-spokes and add a nice touch while the aero package gives the 740Li an injection of aggression. The face itself might be enough to justify the M Sport Package’s $6,500 price tag as it will surely make drivers second guess merging into the same lane as the 740Li. Other options included the Camera Package ($1,200), Convenience Package ($1,700), Premium Sound Package ($1,800), Ceramic Controls ($650) and Integral Active Steering ($1,750). Equipped, our test car ran out the Dingolfing, Germany factory door with a MSRP of $89,025.
Setting our tester’s fresh looks aside, what makes it truly special is under the hood. For the first time since 1995, an American 7 Series is powered by a six cylinder. The N54 is a very sophisticated direct injected, DOHC 3.0 liter twin turbocharged straight six that makes “320” horsepower. That number is a bit questionable as people in the aftermarket have discovered BMW has been rather conservative with the N54’s power rating and the 740Li sure feels stronger than 320 horsepower. It is paired to a six speed ZF built automatic transmission with manual shift mode. This transmission, even though a little old (released in 2000) is still very responsive and up to the task of hauling around the 740Li’s heavy weight.
Our tester featured dynamic ride control which offered four demeanor settings: comfort, normal, sport and sport +. In all honesty, not much difference was felt in ride quality between the settings but they did alter the engine responses and steering feel. In both sport modes, the engine was more eager to rev and held onto gears longer if left in full automatic. If put in manual mode, the transmission would allow for redline revs and basically left the decision making to the driver. Up shifts could get rather harsh if the engine was in full boost however. And ever so often, a slight hint of turbo lag would remind us that we were driving a turbocharged car.
The 740Li’s biggest party favor is its ability to gobble up highway miles. The ride is oh-so smooth and it holds onto speed with incredible ease. A careful eye was often needed to ensure that the 740Li stayed within the speed limit as it never indicated a difference between 55 mph and 85 mph. But, if you dare turn down the beautiful sound of the HD surround sound system with integrated iPod connection, you will hear the added road noise of the larger M wheels. And for a “limousine”, the engine does make itself known if put in sport + mode.
Those quips are rather small compared to this car’s biggest downfall: its first impression. On first start up, the 740Li was actually offensive. The electric active steering is strange, especially at parking lot speeds. BMW’s iDrive computer control system has been extensively tweaked since its debut 10 years ago but it is still not the easiest system to use. Every action seems to have a “trick” to it and there isn’t much to the iDrive operation that is intuitive. That being said, as long as you sit down in the wonderfully comfortable leather seats with numerous adjustments and take your time to learn how things work, everything seems to come into its own. After a while, the “tricks” to the navigation and stereo controls became easier to grasp and would surely become second nature if driven longer. This car is something to be learned but once you do, its character begins to shine through.
It’s that character that makes the 740Li special. It is a remarkable car but it doesn’t go about its business in a shouting manner. The 7 is quietly fierce, powerfully sophisticated and urges special outings but at the same time it is tame enough to be used everyday. The twin turbo straight six is surprisingly efficient as its EPA estimates are 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Our tester averaged 20 mpg in mixed driving and in numerous driving modes. Those ratings are mind-boggling considering the 740Li’s curb weight of around 4600 lbs and its limousine size. And despite those high fuel mileage ratings, the 740Li is still plenty powerful to make driving enjoyable. This could easily be a daily driven car.
For years, the BMW 7 Series has been the battle-ground to test out new technologies and features. No one would call out the 740Li for lacking luxurious technology as it does such things as make sure your doors are fully closed, tighten your safety belt when moving and when things get too “sideways”, and unlocks the doors when the bearer of the key touches the handle. These little things initially add to the wonderment of the 7 but after a while, they become exceedingly refreshing. The sheer convenience of these features becomes so intuitive that they almost go unnoticed.
The biggest appeal to the 740Li is its realistic nature. Full size luxury “limousines” can reach as high as $150,000 and run extremely powerful engines that would be better suited in a race car. Without the M Sport Package, a base 740Li is $74,550 and will still achieve 20 + mpg. It will also give off that special presence that will satisfy any passengers and make any driver feel special. The 2011 BMW 740Li may be one of the least expensive 7 Series, but no one will know; not even the driver.