Big cars are not supposed to be agile. But BMW's 7 Series sedans hustle down winding roads like two-seat roadsters. The BMW 740i is powered by a 4.4-liter V8; equipped with an optional Sport Package that offers great handling, it is a luxury car for the enthusiast.
The short wheelbase 740i is hardly a runt, riding on a 115.4-inch wheelbase and stretching 196.2 inches from stem to stern. It has those BMW trademarks, the dogleg C-pillar and the classic double-kidney grille flanked by quad-headlamps served under glass. The 7 Series is distinguished from smaller Bimmers by kidneys wider than tall, though still with the obligatory vertical slats.
The 4.4-liter V8 that powers the 740i (and the 740iL) produces 282 horsepower. Swiss watches should have the same engineering elegance. Bosch HFM-Motronic M5.2.1 fuel injection with adaptive knock control and VANOS variable valve timing improve torque at lower rpm (324 pounds-feet at 3700 rpm). The V8 engine provides good acceleration performance and is certified for the government's LEV, or low emission vehicle, standard.
All 7 Series models come equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The 740iA Sport Package ($2800) adds Steptronic transmission control. This transmission allows the driver to change gears using a semi-automatic mode. After sliding the shifter to the left, the lever can be moved rearward to select a lower ratio; moving it forward shifts it into a higher gear. Steptronic can be overridden; sudden full throttle will cause it to downshift, and it will upshift when maximum revs are reached.
The Sport also has a shorter final drive ratio, 3.15:1 instead of the usual 2.93:1, for quicker acceleration. It also includes a torque converter with a higher stall speed for a quicker jump off the line. Underneath, the 740i Sport retains the basic 7 Series suspension: double-pivot strut-type front suspension with forged aluminum lower arms, and four-link independent rear suspension with twin-tube shocks, and anti-roll bars front and rear. But the front suspension is lower by 0.8-inch, springs are 10-percent and 25-percent firmer front and rear while shocks are twice as firm as on the standard 740i. The 740i Sport Package also gets a bigger front anti-roll bar - 22 mm vs. 20.5 mm.
The sharp-eyed may notice the lowered front end and Shadowline exterior trim (matte-black replacing chrome around the side windows, body-side molding and windshield washer jets). The most obvious external cues to the Sport Package are the elegant 18-inch M Parallel Spoke wheels, eight inches wide in front and nine and a half inches at the rear. The front rims are mounted with 235/50ZR-18 performance tires while the rears are wrapped with fantastic 255/45ZR-18 performance rubber.
It's obvious to anyone who slips into either front or rear seat that the 740iA is a luxury car, something that adding performance bits won't change. Back-seat passengers in the shorter 740iA won't get the legs-out-straight room or footrest of the longer L models, but the 740iA offers room enough for three authentic adults to be comfortable in back.
The Sport Package has its own version of sport front seats that, in addition to providing lateral support for enthusiastic driving, have an articulated backrest that flexes up to 27 degrees for more or less shoulder support as desired. Thigh support - the forward portion of the seat cushion - may be extended up to 2.4 inches. Including the other 14-way power adjustments, including 4-way lumbar adjustment, that's a total of 18 adjustments and more accommodation to one's physique than a waterbed. Full leather is standard. Appropriate to this executive hotrod, the interior is warmed with Vavona redwood trim in place of the usual burl walnut.
This may be a roomy and luxurious sedan, but that's moot for the driver who wants to see if the 740iA Sport lives up to its moniker. The short answer is, "Yes, indeed." We were able to sample the Sport on the Il Potrero Highway, a sinuous California two-lane snaking through the mountains between Route 166/33 and Pine Mountain Club. The road is an excellent test of suspension, in many places broken and uneven, while twisting with some corners posted with recommended speeds as low as 10 mph. The BMW took to it like a magic carpet, whisking over the rough stuff with, if not a total absence of feel of the road, at least an insulation from the worst of the impacts. The solid chassis doesn't quiver or shake, providing a stable base for the suspension.
The suspension is remarkable for a large sedan. One might expect a safe but boring understeer designed to keep all but the talented out of trouble. Not so with the 740iA Sport. The Sport turns in like a sports car, answering commands from the steering wheel with a reaction from the car as a whole unit. Instead of wanting to push straight ahead, the 740iA swings around corners, taking a set, the rear end moving out to point the car in the desired direction. It's uncanny, almost as if the big car had the telepathic qualities usually found only in two-seaters. It's a perfect example of how a well-designed suspension doesn't need electronic assistance for outstanding performance. The big Bimmer also generates impressive raw cornering forces as well, with more rubber on the ground than a tire store after an earthquake. We found ourselves swinging around corners much faster than the posted advisory speeds and with more confidence than one would expect with a car this big.
There are drawbacks to the Sport Package. The ride is firmer than that of its standard siblings, and the lower final drive ratio exacts a penalty of two miles per gallon in both the city and highway EPA tests. The Sport Package adds $2,800 to the $62,900 list price of a 740iA, but also requires a $1,700 gas guzzler tax that the regular 740iA avoids. (750 models get stuck with a $2600 gas guzzler tax.)
The engine is an even match for the chassis, a rolling cornucopia of flawless torque. Silent at idle or cruise, at full throttle the engine emits a mellow V8 burble with nice round vowel tones. The 740i weighs more than two tons, but there's torque abundant to push it through a 0-60 mph sprint in a quick 6.8 seconds, according to BMW, the shorter final drive ratio clipping a tenth off the run.
Using Steptronic to control the transmission yields a more sports car-like experience with the 740iA Sport. It responds quickly, shifting up and down without the delay of an automatic shifted manually. Purists will still pine for a clutch pedal, but the Steptronic is a reasonable compromise and possibly the best you'll get in a luxury car here in America. And anyone driving in stop-and-go traffic will appreciate the left thigh-saving feature of the automatic.
The standard automatic that comes in the 750iL and other models is a fantastic transmission. The shifts are just buttery smooth.
BMW's 7 Series sedans are wonderful luxury cars. The 740iA comes with an optional Sport Package that provides terrific handling.
The 740i Sport is hardly inexpensive, but it's the perfect luxury sedan for the enthusiast. After all, sometimes you need that back seat that the M Coupe just doesn't have.
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