2019 BMW 740i (USA)

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The three German automotive premium heavyweights, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi started off in very different ways, with their products targetted in different sectors of the market, but as each chases every conceivable sale that they can muster, and their ranges have filled out to cover niches that you did not even know were niches, then they have become the fiercest of competitors, with almost every model in the range of one of them having an equivalent and direct rival in the other two. Mercedes-Benz started out very much at the luxury end of the market and have expanded by reaching further down to volume segments, first with cars like the W201 190 model of 1982 and more recently the A, B and CLA Classes, whilst Audi (if you look at the brand from its creation in its current guise following the VW acquisition of the mid 1960s) started sort of in the middle with the 80 and 100 saloons and expanded both down and up and used the rally success of the Quattro to create a brand known for technical innovation. And BMW, after a near death experience in the post War recovery period making very small number of large cars like the “Baroque Angel” 501 and 502 found success with perfectly honed sporting saloons such as the “Neue Klasse” 1500 of 1961 and the 02 series of cars that begat the 3 series of 1975. BMW did re-enter the large car market in 1968 with the elegant 2500 and 2800 E3 cars, and these combined the virtues of a spacious body with a driving experience that was far more sporty than the rather stolid similarly-sized Mercedes of the period. The ante was upped in 1972 with the launch of the first real S Class, though, and this technical tour de force was a massive success, so it was perhaps not a surprise that BMW decided to compete more directly with their first 7 series, which they showed in 1977, a few months after the similar looking 6 Series Coupe hit the market. Although well received, the 7 never quite found sales success on the scale of the Mercedes, and BMW’s evolution of the car which saw more luxury and less overt sportiness did not change this. Despite the disappointment at not beating the S Class, the 7 Series has been an established part of the BMW range, as its largest and costliest saloon model now for over 40 years. there have been six distinct generations in that time. The fourth earned a certain notoriety, as the first of the Bangle-styled BMW models and many found the visual changes too radical and rather awkward looking from some angles. BMW certainly toned things down somewhat for the F01 car, the fifth of the line to go on sale, returning to understated elegance, as the visual theme of the car, whilst packing it with all the latest technology. And a similar approach was applied to the current, sixth generation car, the G11 (and G12, in long wheelbase form). It was launched at the 2015 Frankfurt Show, going on sale a few weeks later and just like its predecessor, whilst garnering plenty of praise, failed to capture class honours in the opinion of the motoring press. It continues to sell at approximately half the rate of its arch rival from Stuttgart.

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I’ve never managed to drive a 7 series of any generation before. Rental car fleets have always seemed to pick the S Class Mercedes as their offering for those customers who want a truly plutocratic saloon on hire, but as I approached the Hertz facility at Los Angeles airport on the first day of my Spring 2019 vacation, I could see one parked up on the perimeter of the site. When I did my customary wander around, I found around half a dozen more, all bearing the very latest of the more or less sequential number/letter combination of California licence plates suggesting that these were a very recent addition. All the cars on site were locked., so it was clear I was going to have to ask. And with no sign of Hertz Gold agent, Sylvia, who is used to my specific requests and always incredibly helpful, I had to ask someone I did not know. She confirmed that the cars are so new that they do not show on the website yet, which they will do in time, as they are in a group of their own, but when she came up with a surprisingly modest upgrade fee, all I had to do was to select the colour. I picked the one in Glacier Silver, as preferable for the photographer to the grey and black cars they also had. but failed to spot that the cover for the towing eye on the bumper was missing until my first photo stop (and it was pre-existing, as there was a small Hertz sticker by it to acknowledge that they were aware of this). Couple that with a day where the early morning cloud in the LA basin remained stubbornly in place and when I got far enough east it swirled more than the forecast said it would do, so there are fewer photos than usual, or than I would like. Question is, did I like the car enough to consider re-renting it for a second go?

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The badge on the boot said 740i. For years now, this tells you nothing about the actual size of the engine under the bonnet, but everything about the relative potency compared to other models in the range. A 740i these days has a 3 litre turbo petrol engine, which BMW call “Twin Power Turbo”. It generates 320 bhp, and it is coupled with an 8 speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels. Whilst it’s certainly not anything to special to look at, as a quick glance under the bonnet will reveal, it certainly is once you have pressed the keyless start button. There’s that distinctive sound of a 6 cylinder being brought to life which many – me included – find so appealing. Though you are going to have rev the car really hard to hear much of it once underway, as this is one quiet car. Indeed, when cruising on the freeway, the only significant sound was that of the climate control doing its thing. Engine, road and wind noise are all extremely well suppressed. At 70 mph, the engine is spinning at just 1600 rpm, so it is not exactly working hard, but it can if you want it to. The red line is at 7000 rpm, and if you were to go there at anything other than a standing start, I could be sure of having a less than agreeable and unwanted conversation with the California Highway Patrol. Put your foot down at any speed, though, and there is a real surge of power. That 8 speed gearbox will find the most appropriate ratio, even though you probably won’t be aware what is has done, as the gearchanges are mostly incredibly smooth indeed. There are paddles on the wheel, but good luck trying to do better than the electronic brain of the transmission. When I got in the car, the fuel gauge told me that there was a range of 580 miles, and I did wonder, as a large heavy car – and despite all the weight-saving tricks that went into this generation of 7 series, it remains a heavy car, weighing in at a minimum of 4200 lbs – if this could really be the case. I drove 373 miles during the day, and the gauge was still showing not a lot under half full when I refuelled it. And no, the tank is not so enormous as to flatter to deceive on the economy. I put in 13 US gallons, which computes therefore to 28.69 mpg US or an incredible 34.28 mpg Imperial. Granted that most of the test mileage was at a steady speed on the freeway, and as this was a Saturday, there were not the urban traffic queues that can bedevil LA, so the standard Stop/Start system had little need to cut in and out (though when it did, it was speedy and barely obvious) but even so this has to count as an impressive result. Who needs diesel?! Some of BMW’s recent models have had a rather baffling gearlever with it being unobvious how to get it into Park, but this one was very straightforward, with a button to press which engaged it. Otherwise, just press the release button the side of the lever and pull back for Drive or push forward for Reverse. If the performance and economy were impressive, then so were the rest of the driving characteristics. This really did feel like driving a larger 3 series, though it actually did not feel anything like as large as it actually is. There is a chunky leather wrapped steering wheel, as the interface to a steering set-up which, weighting and assistance wise, is perfectly judged, never feeling unduly light and certainly never feeling too heavy, even though those steered wheels have got a lot of car to move. It could perhaps do with slightly more feel, but this is a minor observation rather than a complaint. The 740i felt surprisingly nimble on the twistier roads that I took it on, with very confidence-inspiring handling and plenty of grip. A wet winter seems to have made LA’s roads even worse than before, with more cracks, pot holes and worse, and yet the 7 series has a very composed ride, thanks to its standard air suspension. The car came on 245/45 R19 wheels, and they seemed to soak up all but the very worst of the surfaces that the car was exposed to. There are three drive settings, selected from buttons in the centre console. I left it in Comfort all day, and this was fine for everyday use. Needless to say, the brakes are perfect for the job, well able to stop the car from speed very quickly, though I had no cause to test out just how good they are in an emergency. There is an electronic parking brake in the centre console. Visibility is generally good, and there are a number of technology aids to help you. The rear view camera and parking sensors will help you to judge exactly where the back of the car is, and the door mirrors tilts down when you select reverse, giving a better view of the kerb. A blind sport warning illuminates in either mirror when vehicles are alongside. I did not try the acid test of parallel parking a car this big – you rarely perform this manoeuvre in the US – but I could well imagine that provided the space was big enough, it would not be that hard.

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The interior of the 740i looks very much like lesser BMW models, except that the quality in here is superlative, whereas lowed-end 1 and 3 Series cars tend to feel cheap. Lashings of leather cover much of the dashboard and door casings as well as the seats. There is a choice of wood inlays, and the darkish wood on the test car was perhaps not to my taste, looking a bit like the highly polished plastic that it almost certainly is, but I have seen far worse. Many of the individual buttons as well as some of the highlighting rings are a sort of gunmetal colour which provides some colour relief from what would otherwise be quite a dark interior. Though if you open the blinds on the massive two part panoramic sun roof, you will not think this a dark and gloomy cabin at all. There is a single curved binnacle around the electronic dials. A large speedo and rev counter have fuel gauge and water temperature dials sat beyond them, and there is a small analogue clock between them. As with the last 3 Series I drove, with the seat set where I wanted it, I could not read the odometer display as this is set at the very bottom of the centre of the cluster, hidden by the steering wheel. Two conventional column stalks are used, for indicators and wipers, the one-touch items having been consigned to history. Lights operate from a rotary on the dash to the left of the wheel. Steering wheel buttons, of which there are mercifully only a small number operate the adaptive cruise control, on the left hand spoke and audio repeaters on the right hand one. The upper centre of the dash contains the large 10.2″ colour touch sensitive display screen. You can also operate this from the iDrive controller and buttons in the centre console, and I was pleased to see that there are still individual buttons and knobs for the audio unit, as well as an array beneath them for the automated climate control. There are a lot of functions in this screen, as you might expect, with the radio (AM, FM and Satellite XM) and map/navigation being the ones I used. It also includes Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, voice and gesture controls, a Wi-Fi hot spot, Bluetooth and two USB ports. In case that is not enough, there is BMW Connected Drive, which gives you weather forecasts and news reports, and there are menus and sub-menus for vehicle settings and information. Somewhere in there may be something I needed, as my biggest gripe of the day was when I tried to lock the car and walk away, the alarm went off. It happened every time, and was doubtless a setting reflecting how you needed to lick the car, rather than an electronic gremlin, but would have been a problem had I needed to leave the car with anything valuable in it. The audio system seemed to have a mind of its own, too, and often after restarting the engine, the channel selected would advance by one (this was XM Satellite radio). That apart, the sound quality from the 16 speaker Harman Kardon system was excellent. And the infotainment system as a whole was very good: easy to use, responsive and with very crisp graphics. BMW seem to have found the way to incorporate a lot of features and functions into the car without it looking unduly complex or bewildering, a feat that eluded Porsche until very recently, and which others have struggled with.

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Getting in the 740i for the first time, I needed to get my driving position sorted. There is standard 14-way electric adjustment of the front seats, with buttons on the side to allow you to make all those adjustments, including a lumbar support, and once you’ve found what you want, there is a 2 position memory, with switches on the door, to store it. The steering column also adjusts electrically. The seat itself was quite large, clearly designed to accommodate those who are physically larger than me, but whilst I could have done with it being a little more wrap-around, it proved very comfortable for the hours I spent sat on it. Needless to say, there are seat heaters included as standard.

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Those in the back of this car probably get an even better deal. All 7 Series models in the US have the long wheelbase body. When I opened the rear door and looked at just how much room was there, I could barely believe it, as passengers here would get more space than I had enjoyed in a Premium Economy seat on BA’s finest A380 flying out to LA the day before. For sure, I set the driver’s seat well forward, which means that there is usually a decent amount of space behind where I sit, but even with the seat set well back, there is masses of space. Really masses. The rear seat backrest is slightly reclined, so you sit less upright than you do in some cars, which means that there is ample headroom, too, and the car is wide enough that three would fit easily across the seat. There is not much of a transmission tunnel to get in the way. Occupants here get plenty of features to make their time in the car feel luxurious, too. There are climate control settings on the back of the centre console with air vents and more in the door pillars, there is rear seat heating, the drop down central armrest has a lidded cubby in its upper surface and cup holders pop out of the front, there are drop down roof mounted vanity mirrors and map pockets on bins on the doors will give them plenty of place to store odds and ends. There is a pull-up blind for the rear window and there are shades available for the side windows as well.

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In capacity terms, the boot is big, though it is not as deep from top to bottom as you might expect. There is a floor which covers the spare wheel, leaving a sizeable underfloor stowage area, but it does mean that overall height is not that generous. But it is long from front to back and wide, so total capacity is good. The rear seats do not fold, but there is a ski flap for longer items. There is electric closing of the boot lid. Inside the cabin, there is a decent glove box, pockets on the doors, a deep cubby under the central armrest and more space under a lidded area where you will find the cupholders in front of the gearlever.

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In Europe, the 7 series is most commonly encountered as a diesel, but these versions are – not entirely surprisingly – not offered to American buyers. For the US market, BMW offers the 2019 7 Series in five trim levels: 740i, 750i, the plug-in hybrid 740e iPerformance, and the high-performance M760i and Alpina B7. Each trim features a different engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive (xDrive) is available. All of them have the long wheelbase. The 740i, like the test car, is the entry level car, if you can call anything at this price point “entry level”, that starting MSRP being $83,650. Fitted with a 3.0-lirtr twin turbo inline six-cylinder engine rated at 320 bhp, this car features leather upholstery, 14-way power-adjustable front seats, heated front seats, quad-zone automatic climate control, proximity keyless entry, push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, a hands-free power boot lid, a panoramic moonroof with a power sunshade, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, a 10.2-inch touch screen with navigation, Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a Wi-Fi hot spot, two USB ports, wireless device charging, satellite radio, HD Radio, and a 16-speaker Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system. BMW’s Active Driving Assistant is also standard, offering driver assistance technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and pedestrian detection. All-wheel drive is available for $3,000. BMW also offers several packages. The Cold Weather package ($400) adds a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, and the Luxury Rear Seating package ($3,900) adds ventilated and massaging rear seats. The Driver Assistance Plus package ($1,700) adds the Active Driving Assistant with the semi-autonomous Traffic Jam Assistant for steering aid, side collision avoidance, lane keep assist, front-cross traffic alert, and stop-and-go capability for adaptive cruise control. The Executive package ($4,000) offers a head-up display, rear-window sunshades, and ventilated front seats. A Parking Assistance package ($700) adds a surround-view parking camera. As far as I could tell, none of these featured on the test car. Next up is the catchily named (in full) BMW 7 Series 740e xDrive iPerformance Plug-in Hybrid. With a starting MSRP of $91,250, the BMW 740e switches the base powertrain for a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. Together, they make a combined 322 bhp. All-wheel drive is standard. Otherwise, the plug-in hybrid has nearly identical standard and available features as the base 740i, though you do lose some of the boot space which is used to house the batteries. Like the entry-level 7 Series, the BMW 750i is a rear-wheel-drive sedan. Its window sticker price is $96,950, with all-wheel drive offered as a $3,000 option. Perhaps the most notable difference between the 740i and 750i is the engine. The BMW 750i features a V8 that makes 445 bhp. Outside of upgraded Nappa leather upholstery, 20-way power-adjustable front seats, and larger wheels, there are few notable upgrades. However, it is the first model available with the Rear Executive Lounge Seating package. For $5,750, you can treat back-seat passengers to a power-adjustable seat and footrest, a foldable table with cup holders, and an entertainment system with a 7-inch tablet. The BMW Alpina B7 xDrive starts at $139,350. It features a 600 bhp 4.4-litre V8 engine and lavish interior touches such as Nappa leather seats, massaging front seats, and a hand-finished myrtle wood trim. The M760i xDrive is the most powerful car in the 7 Series line-up. It has a 6.6-litre V12 engine with a 601 bhp rating. This performance behemoth features M badging and styling tweaks, as well as power-adjustable rear seats. It has a base price of $156,700 – nearly double the base price of a 740i.

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Not all BMW models that I have driven have impressed me, but this one certainly did. Whilst you might tend to think of the 7 Series as a large car, and one crammed with technology therefore something which could be a little daunting to drive, at least until you are familiar with it, that was not the case here. The 740i felt smaller than it looked and actually is, so it was perfectly manageable on America’s roads, and whilst there were far more features and capabilities than I was able to discover and test out in one day’s testing, it simply felt like getting in a slightly larger 3 Series, and there was no particular need for extensive pre-departure familiarisation. That meant I could enjoy the strong attributes of this car: the engine is definitely among them, with more than enough power available, a pleasant noise when you start up, and extremely serene and refined cruising on the freeway, with a particularly comfortable ride. Combine that with the impressive levels of economy I achieved, and this really is a great long distance companion. It is comfortable, and those in the back would luxuriate in more space than they would get in your average aircraft seat. But when the roads get twisty, the 740i is pleasingly alive, too, with good steering, handling and grip, so the keen driver need to feel that they have lost out unduly by going for the Extra Large sized version of a BMW saloon. Indeed, the only significant thing that went on my demerit list for the day was that cursed alarm that went off whenever I locked the car, and its annoying tendency to change the selected radio station soon after restarting the engine and moving off but I am sure that both of these were some form of set-up or user error (even if reading the handbook did not help me to solve either!). There were even more of these cars at the Hertz facility when I returned it than when I selected it, so they’ve clearly acquired quite a few, and I can see that they will prove popular. As the skies were not as blue as I would like for photos and some of them show that annoying lack of cover over the towing eye, I may yet be tempted to source another one for a day of sybaritic luxury with a dose of added driving fun.


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