Yes, min­is­ter

BMW 740d xDrive

NZ Autocar - - Contents - Words Peter Louis­son Pho­tos Tom Gas­nier

The new 7 Se­ries may in­tro­duce some fancy tech giz­mos but it’s the lightweight­ing and 4WD of the diesel en­try model that in­trigue us. We check out BMW’s xDrive 740d.

The new 7 Se­ries may in­tro­duce some fancy tech giz­mos but it’s the lightweight­ing and 4WD of the diesel en­try model that in­trigue us. We check out BMW’s x-Drive 740d

BMW and Mercedes-Benz con­stantly go head-to-head over which car­maker can build the world’s best sedan. With May­bach mod­els now com­ing un­der the Mercedes ban­ner you’d have thought that the bat­tle was won by Stuttgart but those sol­diers at Mu­nich never raise the white flag. The lat­est 7 Se­ries in­tro­duces a host of new tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing self park­ing which you can watch from the street – this op­tional party trick be­comes avail­able in June – ges­ture con­trol of some in­fo­tain­ment func­tions like au­dio vol­ume, in­com­ing calls and other stuff (the mind bog­gles), frickin’ laser lights (claimed dou­ble the range of LEDs), and lightweight­ing through the use of CFRP in the chas­sis (car­bon core). It’s not pure car­bon of course (alu­minium and steel are still used) but is said to strip the 7 of roughly 130kg of sur­plus weight.

While the new tech is ad­mirable, it wouldn’t be a BMW if it didn’t drive well, and that’s what we’re here to find out. Does the new 7 Se­ries cut the Di­jon? And to de­ter­mine that we got a few days be­hind the wheel of the $199k 740d x-Drive sedan. There’s no rear drive ver­sion of this, and hav­ing driven it we’re not likely to lose much sleepy time over that. For with 235kW and 680Nm ooz­ing out of that 3.0-litre twin-turbo in­line-six, four-wheel drive is com­fort­ably the best way to get the grunt to the ground with­out the trac­tion con­trol sys­tem for­ever go­ing ba­nanas.

The 7 Se­ries has al­ways been the most con­ser­va­tive look­ing of BMWs and this new one con­tin­ues in that vein but its blue-hued laser lights and grille shut­ters im­bue it with a high-tech aura from the out­set. And while it’s no big­ger than the out­go­ing model you’re in no doubt this is a large lux­ury car that in some cir­cum­stances will be driven by some chap with a silly suit and cap. Prob­a­bly around Welling­ton, with a par­lia­men­tary type do­ing of­fi­cial things in the back seat. Per­haps not if it’s the Min­is­ter of Trans­port, who will be driv­ing an EV. Other cabi­net mem­bers might fancy a steer them­selves for the pow­ers that be have cho­sen to re­tain the 7 Se­ries (in this case the 730d long wheel­base ver­sion) as Crown cars. Ap­par­ently it was the best op­tion when whole of life costs were con­sid­ered. What­ever, the BMW was the best fit.

Reg­u­lar spe­cial peo­ple, how­ever, get the big­ger diesel, in the 740d. Or more ac­cu­rately the proper oiler. It’s spe­cial for it doesn’t even re­ally sound like one. There’s a solid wedge of stuff­ing un­der the hood, and atop the cylin­der head, ex­plain­ing why it seems more like a petrol IL6 in op­er­a­tion. It’s dead quiet, and right quick too. BMW rates its 0-100 time at 5.2sec and they’re right; we man­aged 5.1sec. That’s more in line with a sprint time that a petrol V8 might pro­duce. That makes it the fastest diesel we’ve ever driven, eclips­ing the X3 35d. With so much torque on tap, it feels im­mensely quick. Be­ing overgeared will also give that im­pres­sion. The rev counter sug­gests 100km/h re­quires just 1200rpm in top gear (eighth) so in the in­ter­ests of sci­ence we won­dered what speed it would be do­ing at 2000rpm. Try 167km/h. When we picked it up and drove it around some, the trip com­puter sug­gested an over­all fuel use fig­ure of 10.4L/100km. Af­ter a re­set the first num­ber that flicked up on the mo­tor­way was 4.6L/100km. BMW quotes a com­bined fig­ure of 5.3L/100km, and 4.2 on the open road. The worst we could man­age was just into dou­ble fig­ures. That’s pretty ab­stemious, and if most of your trav­el­ling is done on the open road, you might ex­ceed 1500km on a tank of fuel. Few MPs would grum­ble about that. Course they will be as in­ter­ested in the four zones of air con­di­tion­ing, the stretch room in the rear and the ex­tra­or­di­nary seat com­fort af­forded to all pas­sen­gers, es­pe­cially those up front given the seats are ad­justable in just about any di­rec­tion. A pity so many of the crea­ture com­forts one might ex­pect in a lux­ury car are con­fined to

the op­tions list, like the heat com­fort pack­age, sun glaz­ing and roller blinds. That sort of thing.

Still, the de­tail as­pects ap­peal, like the com­plete lack of any hard black plas­tics in the cabin, the soft-close door func­tion, the sur­round view that pre­vents mi­nor din­gles when you de­cide to berth the 740d your­self, the com­fort ac­cess sys­tem, am­bi­ent in­te­rior light­ing, and BMW’s truly smart key, the fob of which has an elec­tronic read­out (ready for re­mote park­ing). It’s

huge and quite heavy too, yet doesn’t seem an er­gonomic dis­as­ter when pock­eted. The boot lid is pow­ered, but split fold­ing is nowhere to be found. For­tu­nately doors are large enough to al­low big items to sit on the back seat if they don’t fit in the boot (like, for in­stance, an elec­tric shred­der).

That you get all this for un­der $200k drive away is im­pres­sive, but be­ware a price blowout when pe­rus­ing the op­tions list. For ex­am­ple, the laser lights add $3k on the 740d. Our $200k car ended up cost­ing north of $235k with all the add-ons, and any the­o­ret­i­cal 130kg of weight sav­ing from the car­bon core soon went west with the ad­di­tion of stuff like the Bow­ers and Wilkins Di­a­mond Sound Sys­tem ($14k!). At just over two tonnes it’s 40kg heav­ier than the rear-drive 730d we tested in 2010.

But we di­gress. The ques­tion for some will be whether a big diesel-pow­ered sa­loon can be an ul­ti­mate drive. The fifth-gen model had air springs at the rear but this new model fea­tures pneu­matic sus­penders at all four cor­ners. In com­fort mode – there are two,

one sump­tu­ous the other of­fer­ing bet­ter body con­trol – the road seems bowl­ing green smooth, the bumps hoovered out of ex­is­tence. So we opted for the Sport set­ting – this im­me­di­ately tight­ens the driver’s seat torso ad­just­ment, while the back­ground to the main in­stru­ments takes on a racey red hue – which still gives a sen­sa­tional mix of ride com­fort and calm body mo­tion. Set­ting ev­ery­thing to Sport, the car can be driven in spir­ited fash­ion (that’s min­is­te­rial speak for ‘balls out’) but it also re­sponds to or­di­nary in­puts nicely, the only rider be­ing you’ll not see top gear un­less you select it via the wheel-mounted pad­dle shifter. Never mind, be­cause the rev counter still reg­is­ters down around 2000rpm in sev­enth, and you’re sel­dom tempted to touch the pad­dles for any other rea­son. That’s be­cause the eight-speed auto is sim­ply ge­nius at what it does. Al­most as quick shift­ing as a twin-clutch gear­box, it knows when to down­shift or up­shift ac­cord­ing to what your foot is do­ing; push­ing hard and ag­gres­sively or gen­tly and slowly, the shifts ar­rive ac­cord­ingly.

The en­gine is as­ton­ish­ing. With two vari­able vane tur­bos, it is on the case quicker than most diesels; from stop and go at the lights there’s min­i­mal de­lay. The added urge be­gins from about 1200rpm, and the en­gine is bullish in the 2000rpm range, a tiger from 3000-4000rpm. Get this though, the big IL6 will rev to 5500rpm, un­heard of for a large dis­place­ment diesel. But the driv­e­train isn’t the only good news about this lux­ury liner. With its all-paw set-up and near even weight split, it is more dy­namic than it has a right to be, given com­fort lev­els. Yes it will un­der­steer even­tu­ally if you’re brave but in tight go­ing that can be re­versed into over­steer at the prod of the gas pedal. It turns like it has no right to for such a large ve­hi­cle, feel­ing more like a 5 Se­ries to helm.

Typ­i­cally we’re out of space, but we be­lieve this eclipses the ob­vi­ous com­pe­ti­tion around its price point and is quicker even than some of the more ex­pen­sive mod­els you might care to con­sider. And that’s be­fore it gets to any cor­ners. Mercedes com­mented re­cently that they weren’t too con­cerned about the ef­fect that the new 7 Se­ries would have on S Class sales. They should be. Lucky min­is­ters.

BE­LOW - Sun gleams off chrome as 7 Se­ries does what it does best, out-class the op­po­si­tion for on-road dy­nam­ics. Like S-Class some ver­sions can read the road ahead, and ad­just sus­pen­sion set­tings ac­cord­ingly.

ABOVE - Lots of high-tech gad­gets for the new 7 Se­ries, in­clud­ing laser lights with twice the range of LEDs, and

ges­ture tech­nol­ogy which seems like a be­cause-we-can ini­tia­tive. Self-park­ing from a dis­tance is com­ing; that’s what the over­size

fob is for.

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