2009 BMW 740Li Quick Test Drive

By James Wong

02.03.2009

The new 7-Series was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 2008 with much fanfare. After which, it was to make a tour around major markets in the world to introduce would-be buyers to BMW’s flagship sedan. The second country in the world to receive the 7-Series after Paris is – unexpectedly – Singapore. Singapore represents one of BMW’s largest markets for the 7-Series after China, despite its sky-high taxation making luxury cars accessible only to the most affluent. A soft-launch of the F01/02 Seven was held in the fourth quarter of 2008 in Singapore to invited guests and the press. Several months later leading up to today, I was finally able to get behind the wheel of the new 7-Series. Being one who has been eagerly awaiting for this car for the longest time, I was happy to have the opportunity.

While both the 750Li and 740Li was available for a test drive, we brought out the 740Li which was probably going to be the larger volume seller locally, with its smaller engine capacity and prodigious power output. The 740Li is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3L inline 6 producing 326PS and 450Nm of torque. This engine, also used in the BMW 335i, has been tuned slightly to produce more torque and horsepower in the 7 to handle the extra weight. What surprised me the most is how a large sedan like this can do a century sprint in 5.9 seconds. What surprised me even further is how it can manage a combined fuel consumption of 10L/100km on paper. A luxury sedan that is both fast and frugal – things are looking good so far for the new 7.

Sitting in the car for the first time, one is just impressed by the amount of space afforded to the passenger. Every seat in the car will not be a disappointment, but it has to be the backseat that is truly spacious. Like the previous E65 7-Series, the sloping, seemingly endless roofline gives a whole new meaning to the word “stretched”.

One’s attention is then drawn to the huge LCD screen now housing BMW’s revamped i-Drive system. The interface is flawless and fully integrated, offering GPS navigation, a built-in hard-disk, a Bluetooth function, amongst other functionalities. What’s new with this i-Drive is that instead of just offering maps to Singapore and Malaysia, one can even find his way all the way to Thailand, an unprecedented improvement to a GPS system that is already class-leading in every way. The resolution, ease-of-use, functionalities and intuitiveness of the new i-Drive is so impressive that you wouldn’t be too far off in imagining BMW invested heavily in an Operating System that rivals that of Apple’s Macintosh. One is easily won over by the new interface, which is a vast improvement over the previous generation i-Drive.

One disappointment though – and this is no fault of the car – is the lack of options in the 740Li. The rear seat area is Spartan at best, having only dual climate control. There are no rear-seat entertainment screens here; nor adjustable reclining seats (because this is a 5-seater bench) and no fan-cooled seats. All these are costly options which are otherwise a standard option on a similarly priced A8L 4.2 Quattro. I wouldn’t be complaining if this is going to be BMW’s base long wheelbase model, but sooner or later a 730i/730Li will be coming. For now, the 740i/740Li are BMW’s base models.

What BMW has standard in the local-spec 740Li though, is Dynamic Drive and Integral Active Steering. These two options alone make paying for the long wheelbase model worthwhile because they do so much for the drive of the car. Taking the 740Li on bends, the car’s steering is so direct and precise that it offers an entirely unexplored proposition to the term “driving pleasure”. The car goes where you exactly want it to go, and the steering so beautifully engineered you can literally feel the wheels on the road as you navigate the serpentine paths. After several drives in disappointing steering feel (particularly, in its rival the A8), this is like a breath of fresh air, a new hope for big luxury cars that they can still be fun to drive. Dynamic Drive keeps body roll in check, allowing you to take corners at speeds you wouldn’t believe. However, this is a long car and one still has to face the realities of physics that it won’t exactly go like a sports car. But for its size and weight, its handling is very commendable. The laws of physics are not broken, but they are bent in the new 7-Series.

BMW’s four-wheel steering is also a new feature that none of its rivals can boast about. Doing a U-turn, one realizes that the turning radius is so small, you can almost forget that you are driving one of the largest cars on the road today. This invention makes maneuverability a cinch, especially in small city roads and clogged streets. This, again, is a standard option. The adjustable suspension works very well, though on “Soft” the car gets a little too much bounce on uneven roads. On “Sport +”, the car isn’t too uncomfortable yet balances much better on sharp turns.

Doing a cruise on the freeway, one becomes accustomed to the drone of the turbochargers working, especially at the rear. Road roar also becomes quite apparent. On normal driving conditions, the refinement of the car suffers marginally at the noise coming from the engine. Its more noisy than one would expect from a 7-Series, noisier than even the S350L or A8L 4.2 Quattro that I have tried before. This is one drawback of the F01/02 – the noise insulation could have been better. If one orders the 7 with the extended rear air-conditioning, a significant amount of boot space is also sacrificed for the extra cooling equipment.

In conclusion, the new 7-Series is a better driver’s car than the E65 ever was, and most certainly trumps the S-Class and 7-Series in the handling department. However, what is most treasured and sacred in this segment – the ability to cover vast distances with absolute ease and minimal fuss or stress – is a little lacking in the 7, especially with the heightened noise levels. What is absent is also the feel of a finely-tuned suspension that can do many things well (not just handle the corners), able to both take the freeway or B-roads with finesse. Although BMW has probably created the best 7-Series in the F01/02, in this segment, nothing less than excellence is expected. And excellence is creating the ultimate balance in luxurious, comfortable motoring as well as a sporty drive, of which the 7-Series still needs a bit of work.

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Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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5 Comments

  1. I did a double take on that last picture…

    Bangle paying homage to Lexus on his way out? But didn’t Lexus cop the S-series? So does that make it a homage to MBZ-Lexus? Utterly confused.

  2. Whoops just read the Bangle article again and realized its the other guy’s design. Which certainly doesn’t bode well.

  3. The scary thing is the LAST 7-series was designed by the new guy, van Hooydonk. Now he’s in charge of the whole thing.

    I really expect BMW to keep a similar design language for at least several more years, since I’d assume that van Hooydonk believes in the Bangle-era cues, as he was a prime user of them.

  4. indeed…very nice and very Lexus like. Loud cabin noise = no good.

    S class is still in class of its own but this is a nice evolution.

  5. The best seat in a BMW is behind the wheel.

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