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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.
740iA ($62,900) is the shorter member of BMW's big 7 Series sedan line.
740iL ($66,900) and 750iL ($92,100) have a longer wheelbase for limousine-like rear legroom.
740iA and 740iL are powered by a 4.4-liter V8; 750iL comes with a magnificent 5.4-liter V12.
740iL and 750iL Protection Line light-armored vehicles ($99,100 and $124,400 respectively) improve security with body armoring, bullet-resistant glass and run-flat tires.
No major changes were made for 2001, though a Motorola digital StarTac cellular telephone with a Mayday feature has been added to the long list of standard equipment. Other features include high-pressure headlight washers, auto-leveling Xenon low-beam headlamps, a six-CD changer with 14 speakers and four subwoofers, onboard navigation, rain-sensing wipers. Also standard: front side airbags and head protection system. Like other BMWs, the 7 Series comes with free scheduled maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles.
A Sport Package is available that includes l8-inch wheels, redwood interior trim and, depending on the model, a sports suspension or Steptronic transmission. Other options include a cold weather package ($950) that includes heated front seats and steering wheel, headlamp washers and ski bag; rear side-impact airbags ($550); break-resistant security glass ($2,600).
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.