We get our hands on the new BMW 740Li and discover what the new top end contender brings to the competition with the S-class and A8
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Elvis John Ferrao
We are moving to a new paradigm in automobiles, where the very concept of premium and luxury will be challenged because of the shifting sands of measurement. Do we judge a car solely by its badge? Do we factor in perceived value for cutting-edge technology and transitioned consumer electronics? Or do we now begin assigning an edge for the presence of alternate drivetrains and autonomous drive? Of course the regular features still have an import – the product has to be mechanically superior, should match or define the driving norm for the segment and should have features that are recognised as cutting-edge. However, the strength of brand value association often defines all of this in one basket.
For the bulk of the car market, the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes-Benz S-class define the flagship competition. The Audi A8 has consistently played catch up with the two and often manages to deliver a car that somehow seems even better that the brace. The latest generation of the three cars between them offer the very best in terms of technology, alternate drivetrains and autonomous driving.
The new BMW 7-series seems to be at the head of the list for all these parameters.
While the 7-series still looks very recognisable, the sixth generation of the car debuts on an all-new G11/12 platform that uses BMW’s new modular platform. What’s really unique about the platform is its use of multiple structural materials, with a focus on providing the best of ultra strength steel, aluminium and carbon-fibre composite components.
The basis of this new approach is aimed at a lighter structure that is inherently more rigid and safer. The use of a carbon core is taken from the brand’s i8 development. The final structure is almost 130kgs lighter.
The styling is very current generation, with the large kidney grilles flanked by the prominent wings of the headlight assemblies. The twin headlight arrangement has both the top and bottom trimmed short and are now in full-LED kit, or offer the optional Laser beam. In addition to the slightly busier fascia, the grille gets the active air flaps that are meant to cut down on air resistance when the engine’s ventilation needs are lower.
The hood is now slightly more muscular, partly as a result of the lowered fenders and the complementary power bulge, with the rising hood sweeping outwards to the A-pillars. The general proportions remain the standard 7-series but this time the front axle looks thrust a little further ahead and the enlarged wheelbase is bridged by a strong horizontal sipe. This time around, the rear of the car is almost as interesting as the front, set off by a large horizontal chrome strip that defines the width of the car from taillight to taillight.
The interior is a classy upgrade over the previous generation – with the layout decidedly driver centric. The dashboard is made with a centre console tilted towards the driver, with even the pop out screen taking the same alignment. However the interior flavour is carried over, with a rich wood inlay defining the separation between the black upper zone and the lighter treatment of the cabin basin over the doors and seats. Our test car had the light tan leather and that is nicely set off against the dark top leathers, wood and the brushed aluminium inserts.
The main theme here is a simplification of layout, with clear zones on the centre console for the screen, air-conditioning grilles, media and air-conditioning controls. Even the IP binnacle is largely cleaned up and clarified with a combination of twin roundels and LCD panels.
The main display also gets touchscreen input and gesture control that can bring up certain pre-programmed modes, depending on how the camera reads the position of your fingers, including such features as swipe and pinch.
The longer wheelbase Li that we drove has an almost limousine like interior, complete with touchscreen control, two high-resolution monitors and individual seat controls. This is part of the Executive lounge package that includes four zone air-conditioning, individual seat controls with massage function.
However, despite all of this the car remains a driver’s delight. Let us for a moment forget that one of the claims to fame for this car is its ability to park itself, or indeed the very elaborate ‘key’ that sports its very own screen and a touchpad ability. From the curve of the seat, its support and elaborate adjustment mechanism, the size of the steering wheel and the drive mode all build into the immediateness of the drive experience. The drive mode now has an adaptive mode in addition to the regular Comfort, Sport and Eco modes. What this mode does is learn from your driving pattern and adapt the car’s chassis and gearshift patterns to optimise the experience.
Engine and chassis
Although the new 7-series comes with a whole range of engine choices, including the V8 750 and a new advanced hybrid system that incorporates an electric drive that offers a useful electric only range, the 740Li looks like it will be the most popular version with its combination of boosted 3.0-litre inline-6 performance and economic operation.
The engine is equipped with a twin scroll turbocharger, BMW’s valvetronic valve control, Double-VANOS camshaft timing adjustment and high-pressure injectors with a very fine control on the demand curve. The maximum power on offer is 326hp with 450Nm of torque available through 1300-5000rpm. The engine is mated with an intelligent 8-speed automatic gearbox that uses navigation system inputs along with the feed from the drive control system to optimise the gearshift pattern.
It has also been a few generations since BMW set the benchmark for how adaptive a large sedan’s chassis could be. Other cars have played catch up while BMW still manages to keep ahead in terms of firmness of response, four-point selective cushioning and the ability to iron out a centrifugal force induced sway.
The combination of air suspension and dynamic damper control allows a certain degree of height control as well as self-levelling the car with very quick responses. In certain grades the car also offers the latest generation of active roll stabilisation that along with motorised stabiliser bars uses a predictive mode that makes the changes almost instantaneous.
You can also get active steering control that is made possible due to the new rack and pinion nature of the steering linkage. Rear wheel steering is part of the package when taken with the all-wheel drive XDrive.
With the ambience being what it is in the Seven, you would expect the feel of quick intense acceleration that the engine provides. The combination of sport mode on the gearbox and tapped over to manual shift just holds the gears that much longer. The 740 has the ability to rocket ahead with the downshift paddle held, although you will find that the box upshifts to prevent hitting redline.
We like the fact the NVH is still so effective. You feel the rising notes from the engine and the rumble of the tyres come through, while the snappy gearshifts serve to highlight the sporty nature of the transmission.
Initially we thought that the driving wheel had too much of an assist element thrown in, but realised that the car’s adaptive nature compensates depending on input. When you need to steer hard the wheel is very precise, allowing for firm steer in and an immediacy of feel from the front axle. The suspension never really flattens out even on humps, you get the micro hard bump as you go over and begin to understand the way the shock curve has been damped.
The Amerat hill climb is really interesting in the car. For all purposes, you feel like you are in a 5-series or smaller car, since other than your point of rotation you barely feel the rear of the car at all. Weight distribution is supposed to be a perfect 50:50, with the paddle-shifter at hand to throw in the little bit extra torque that some of those corners demand.
While the engine’s automatic on/off character is not extremely intrusive, you do tend to cut out the mode as soon as you can. It does remain operative in Sport mode although any significant revving switches it off.
The gesture control takes some getting used to – initially we would get tired of waiting for the system to recognise our volume up and down gestures and just do it manually. Voice control is a lot more adaptive and intuitive. But once you drive the car for a couple of days, you reach the perfect space where you adapt to the system’s idiosyncrasies as well. So rotating fingers became the norm.
The car offers both heads-up display and night mode, but our test car did not have the fancy James Bond –ish version of the auto park mode, which you can operate from your key. Of course autonomous driving in a limited fashion is available. The car will trundle along in a well-marked lane, with appropriate gaps maintained, gearshifts and braking, as well as parking the car for you while you are in the driving seat.
In simple terms, if we had the money this car would have already been in our garage. It has the right badge, power, control systems, technology and future proofing to ensure that it will remain competitive for the length of its immediate life cycle. Yes, the S-class does have some goodies of its own, including what would effectively be an I-Max type interface, but we cannot see how the S would be a better drive than the 7. If we get the opportunity, we’ll certainly give you feedback on that aspect. In the meantime, let’s say we are intrigued by the carbon core approach to structure, love the way the BMW inline six engine has evolved and really like the limousine like feel of the cabin.