2015 BMW 740Ld

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Our time seems to be one of role reversal. Bruce Jenner, for instance.'17 740Ld lead

Also diesel engines.

They are work truck – and economy car – engines no longer.

In the U.S., they are primarily high-end car engines.

As in the 7 Series BMW. It’s their biggest, swankiest – and most expensive – sedan.

And now you can get it with a diesel engine.

Sure, it’s economical to drive. You’ll average over 30 MPG, which is about twice what I averaged in the V-8 (gas) Mercedes S-Class I reviewed a few months ago. But when one writes a check for nearly six figures, does it matter whether the thing gets 31.6 or 11.6 MPG?

Actually, yeah.

But not for the obvious reason.

WHAT IT IS'15 740Ld back seats

The 7 Series is BMW’s full-size/top-of-the-line sedan. It’s available in rear-drive and xDrive all-wheel-drive versions as well as standard and long-wheelbase (L) form.

It has the broadest spectrum of available engines in its class: Three gas (turbo six, turbo V-8 and turbo V-12) or – new for 2015 – a turbo-diesel six. This engine comes only in the long-wheelbase Seven and is paired with xDrive all-wheel-drive.

Base price for the new turbo-diesel, long-wheelbase 740Ld xDrive is $83,450.

Its main rival is the Audi A8L TDI diesel (also long wheelbase/also AWD) which starts a bit higher at $86,025.

WHAT’S NEW'15 740Ld badge

The addition of a diesel engine to the Seven’s menu of available engines constitutes the major change for 2015. There are also some trim tweaks across the line, including a new fitted leather dashpad and LED headlights for gas-engined 750i and 750Li models.

WHAT’S GOOD

Olympian torque (413 ft.-lbs. available from 1,500 RPM up) hauls this five thousand pound cruise ship on wheels to 60 in six seconds flat.

It can cruise for almost 700 highway miles without stopping for fuel.

Diesel delivers a more relaxed driving experience at all road speeds, but especially high road speeds. Engine RPM at 120 is what most gas engines would be turning at 80.

More backseat legroom than Audi A8L.

About $13k less to start than base-priced (and no-diesel-at-the-moment) Mercedes S-Class.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

A8L TDI can go nearly 900 miles on a full tank; has even more torque.

Cigarette box-sized center console storage cubby is ludicrous; hard to find/reach USB plug-in.

Annoying auto-stop/start in other-than-Sport modes.

Small trunk (14 cubes) for such a big car.

UNDER THE HOOD'15 740Ld engine 1

To get a handle on the why of putting a diesel engine in a car priced two-thirds of the way to six-figures – a point at which cost-to-feed is moot – one must consider the diesel engine’s other virtues.

Twist, for instance.

This comparatively small engine – only 3 liters – makes almost 100 ft-lbs. more torque (413 ft.-lbs.) than the same-size gas engine in the base 740i (330 ft.-lbs.).

And it makes all that torque right now: 1,500 RPM (idle speed, basically) and maintains it throughout the RPM range- so it’s always on tap, whenever you tap the accelerator.

High-powered diesels like this deliver the next-closest thing to the instant-on thrust of a powerful electric car like the Tesla. Both diesels and electric motors excel at making torque. Thus, the 740Ld can do zero to 60 in six seconds flat – about the same as the base (and comparably priced) Tesla.

'15 740Ld shifter

But unlike a Tesla, the 740Ld can roll for nearly 700 miles on the highway (654.1 to be precise) before it needs refueling.

Which can be done in minutes rather than hours.

Plus, you don’ have to worry about what effect running the AC – or the headlights – will have on your range.

The diesel Seven’s extremely long legs (and heavy-hitter low and mid-range punch) are the essence of its appeal. It’s luxurious to be able to drive from Washington, DC to NY City and back without stopping for fuel once (especially given  the awfulness of refueling along the Noo Joisey Toinpike, ‘dere).'15 740Dl nornal gauges

Audi’s A8L TDI Quattro confers similar bennies – and even longer legs (856.8 miles on a full tank, highway cruising). But it’s less quick – zero to 6 in 6.4 seconds – and it’s more expensive by an amount equivalent to at least a full year’s worth of fuel.

The 740Ld ‘s turbo-diesel six is paired with an eight-speed automatic and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system. There are four driver-selectable modes that alter engine operating characteristics and transmission shifting patterns, ranging from the most aggressive (Sport+) to the most economy-minded (Eco), with two Comfort settings in between. As you toggle through the various modes, the LCD dash display changes in tandem. In Sport and Sport+, the default chronometer facings switch to red backlit digital; in Eco, you get a hybrid-looking “efficiency” panel backlit in cool blue. In either Comfort setting – which are the “normal” modes – the instruments revert to traditional BMW analog speedo and tach – rendered electronically. '15 740Ld fuel door

A footnote: One downside to all current diesel-powered vehicles sold in this country is that diesel fuel is pricier as well as (in some areas) harder to find. Also, every diesel-powered 2015 model year car – whether High Born or Low – now requires diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), an additive made de facto mandatory because it’s the only way to get them past the government’s emissions gantlet. Every several tankfuls of fuel (the interval varies depending on how you drive) you’ll need to top off the DEF tank.

It’s not a huge expense or major hassle – but it is an expense (and hassle) you don’t have to deal with if you drive a gas-engined car.

Thank Uncle for making life harder on diesel owners – and for making them economically viable to sell mostly to affluent buyers only. Now you know why diesel-powered passenger cars are chiefly high-end cars… in the United States.

ON THE ROAD'15 740Ld road 1

Before I get deeper into the diesel stuff, let me just say that the handling/cornering capabilities of the Seven are nothing short of miraculous. How the hell did they get a 5,000 pound  sedan (the car itself plus 200 pounds of me) that’s two feet longer than a 3 Series (and about 400 pounds heavier) to handle like a 3 Series? I did my usually thing and put the Seven into a series of tight switchbacks on Bent Mountain Road in rural SW Virginia (Google it; see what I mean) fully expecting the Wide Slide and other unpleasantness. But it took all my skills (cue Don Corleone talking with the mortician) to get the Seven close to being unsettled. It doesn’t roll; it’s damned hard to get it to lean. The contrast between it and the Kia 900 I wrote about a few weeks back is as stark as the difference between Rosie O’Donnell attempting to twerk and Madonna (in her prime) voguing.'15 740Ld sport gauges

This isn’t to say the K900’s not a fine car; it’s just not a fine handling car. Like most big sedans, it’s at home on the straights and not really meant for the curves.  Not the way I drive them, anyhow. But the BMW eats ’em alive at velocities you will not believe until you experience them for yourself. If I were going to be a hit man – and needed a serious getaway car that could handle my four accomplices that could rock up to 150 before Johnny in his craptastic Crown Vic got near 100 and which (unlike the fabulous but sick-thirsty Mercedes S) could make the next county before running out of fuel… well, this would be it.

The diesel is without flaw. Pulls like a monster truck coming off the line – and revs to 5,500 RPM. Which would have been fast-spinning for a gas engine 30 years ago and is only slightly less revvy than many gas engines today. Bu the thing is, there’s no need to rev it – and that’s the whole point. It’s like a a guy with 18 inch biceps beating you at arm wrestling. It doesn’t take much work.'15 740Ld road 2

Nor does it use much fuel.

Even driven the way I drive. Trip computer never fell below 31.6 MPG, average – no matter how hard I tried. And – believe me – I tried. They gave me this car to play with for a week. What would you have done with it? Yup. But when I did the same in gas-engined Sevens, the fun ended sooner. Run a 750Li (4.4 V-8) like I did the 740Ld and you will drain the tank dry in about half the time. 

But wait a minute, you say. The EPA stats for the gas-engined 750Li are 16 city, 25 highway – which doesn’t seem that far away from the diesel-powered 740Ld’s 23 city, 31 highway. True, but the real-world thirsts of these two are very different, because no matter how hard you beat on the diesel it is pretty much impossible to average less than 30 – while (I assure you) it is very easy to average teens in a gas V-8 powered 750Li.

The only way to achieve the EPA’s numbers in the gas Seven is by driving it Clover-style.

In which case, why bother?

AT THE CURB'15 740Ld curb 1

The Seven – even in “L” long wheelbase form – is a dignified-looking car, but not as incandescently expensive-looking as the Benz S. 

This is both good – and bad – depending on what you’re after.

On the one hand, drive an S and you’ll be noticed. On the other… you’ll be noticed. Everywhere you go. All eyes will be on you. Some of them envious; some of them vengeful.

The S is not a car you want to park on the street – or even toss the keys to a valet to park. When I test drove one last summer, I felt like a guy in a tux headed home after a night of partying who got lost and found himself wandering through a really bad neighborhood at 2 in the morning with one hundred bills falling out of his pockets.

But the Seven can mingle among the masses. It’s still an extremely impressive car (same stately 124.6 inch wheelbase as the S) but – like the Audi A8L –  it’s subtler.

Which is also good – and bad – depending on what you’re after.'15 740Ld dash close up

If you want to park on the street without people waiting expectantly for Donald Trump to disembark, you’ll dig it. But if you want to be treated like The Donald wherever you go, you might be a little disappointed.

Some reviewers fault BMW for not putting more stylistic (and “gee whiz”) distance between the 5 and the 7. Both cars look similar on the outside – and have essentially similar interior layouts. In contrast, the Mercedes S is clearly a step up from an E (as it ought to be, given the $40k difference in base MSRP). Flat screens large and glowing, touch/swipe/mice inputs abounding. Sit behind the wheel and you feel as though you just plopped down into the left seat of a Gulfstream IV. It’s a little intimidating. You pilot that car as much as you drive it.

More accurately, it pilots you.

The A8’s cabin, too, is a lots of bells-ands-whistles space, though not quite to the extent that the S’s is.'15 740Dl center stack detail

BMW went the less over-the-top route, which is a plus if you prefer to just get in and drive the thing. The controls and gauges are familiar BMW, not all that different from what you’d find in a 5 or even a 3. The main cluster is a configurable LCD, but looks  BMW analog – at least in default mode . (As described earlier, you can toggle through to a red backlit digital numeral Sport display or a blue-backlit Eco display.) The center stack also has the same basic information/audio/GPS LCD screen as in the 5 and 3 and other BMWs, controlled by a simplified iDrive mouse to the right of the gear selector. It may be a bump up in price from a 5 to a 7, but if you’ve driven a 5 (or a 3) you already know how to drive the 7.

There are some Seven-specific features, though – including no-door-ding doors (all four) that can’t get away from you because they’re electrically damped and will gently hold position in whatever degree of arc you like. Crack the door a little – and it will stay exactly there. Open it a bit more – and the same. You will never again have to worry about holding the door open by hand – or about it swinging wide and scuffing the car next to you in the parking lot.

Night vision pedestrian detection, a 16 speaker Bang & Olufsen ultra-premium surround-sound audio system and massaging/reclining rear seats are – naturlich – among the available options.'15 740Ld back seat 2

Backseat legroom in the 740Ld is class-best – 44.3 inches vs. 43 in the Mercedes S (which only comes in one long-wheelbase version).  But the S, as mentioned previously, starts at  $95k – and (at the moment) doesn’t offer a diesel engine option.

The Audi A8L is available with a diesel engine – and though more expensive than the Seven, is at least price-competitive. But it’s less athletic and comes in third, rear legroom-wise (42.9 inches) though to be fair all three of these cars have limousine levels of space in the rear. A six-foot-three man (me) will enjoy almost a foot of air gap between the front seat backs and his knees. Prop your feet on the Rolls Royce-esque footrests, put on some Vivaldi, turn on the back massager and … relax.'15 740Ld lead 2

Where the BMW – and the Audi – fall short is trunk space-wise.

Each of them has a much smaller trunk than you’d rightfully expect to find in a stretch job sedan: 14 cubes for the big Seven and a fractionally larger 14.2 cubic footer in the A8L. To get a handle on just how little this is, a Toyota Camry – which is a mid-sized car – has a 15.4 cubic foot trunk.

The S-Class is the only car in this class that has a proper-sized trunk: 16 cubic feet. So, you get something for the extra $13k you spent.

THE REST'15 740Ld door pull

BMW offers a self-parking system in the Seven, but it’s not available in the 740Ld due to conflicts with the standard xDrive AWD system. Don’t worry, it’s not a hard car to park yourself. The fairly formal roofline and BMW-typical fairly low door height (and so, taller, more expansive door glass) provide top-shelf visibility without electric assistance.

The integrated/hidden door pulls are supremely clever. At first, you wonder – how the hell do I close the door? There appears to be nothing to grab hold of. Then you notice the upper door trim belt has a hand-hold discretely built into it.

It’s functional, subtle – and very elegant.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This pretty much sums up the Seven. Functional, subtle – and very elegant.

It’s not a particularly showy car. But then, the truly excellent don’t need to show off. They’re just effortlessly excellent; in a class by themselves.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful car, but I wouldn’t get the diesel. And 740s plummet in value much faster than Japanese cars, especially Japanese luxury cars. Craigslist is full of ghetto 740s well under 10 grand that have seen multiple owners after 10-15 years.

  2. Auto Start/Stop on a diesel seems like an even worse idea than in a gas car.

    Diesels consume less fuel than gassers at idle, so savings will be less.

    And restarting a high compression diesel has got to be much more stressful on all components involved. Although you didn’t mention it, I bet such restarts in this 740LD are NOT subtle or pleasant.

    • Hi Mike,

      They’re not subtle! Some have called it The Paint Shaker… you can guess why.

      Plus, there’s a delay getting going. Not huge, but it will bug you if you’re a non-Clover. That is, someone who anticipates the green and is ready to go before the light changes…

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