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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Richard Truett
February 12, 1998
If I ever hit the lottery, there will be a BMW 7-series car in my palatial driveway, along with a Jaguar XJR, a Range Rover and several motorcycles. The 7-series is precisely the kind of car you want to put your family in. It feels as strong and
safe as your average bank vault. With six air bags - and 2 more as options - in addition to traction and stability control systems, it seems unthinkable that a driver or passengers could get seriously injured in anything short of a freak accident or
natural disaster - such as an airplane crashing on the car or the ground disappearing from underneath it. PERFORMANCE, HANDLING The 7-series comes in 740 and 750 models. The 740 sports BMW's 4.4-liter four-cam 32-valve V-8 engine. Horsepower
is rated a robust 282. The 750is outfitted with a 5.4-liter twin-cam V-12, an engine that cranks out 322 horsepower. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that drives the rear wheels. Stretched models are given the "il''
designation. Our 740il test car's V-8 engine purred when driven easily. And if BMW hadn't done such a fine job making the car so quiet, it would have growled when accelerating quickly. Under hard acceleration, you could hear the engine's lovely range
of mechanical noises only with the radio off. For those of you who love what goes on under the hood, there are few finer sounds in this world. For those of you who care more about what goes on behind the wheel, rest assured that the 740il delivers
ample power and performance, respectable fuel economy and a good mixture of refined luxury combined with BMW's traditional sporty ride. In other words, this big, handsome sedan does it all. The 740il weighs a hefty 4,300 pounds, yet it doesn't
feel like a lead sled. The superbly tuned four-wheel independent suspension system and the car's great weight iron out most bumps. When you drive over a pothole or a speed bump, all you feel is a slight inconsistency in the road's surface. And the
ride is exceptionally quiet, with only the sound of the tires rolling over the pavement reaching the inside of the car. Unlike an antiseptic Lexus LS 400, which deprives the driver of all sensations of piloting the vehicle, the 740il leaves something
for the driver's senses. For instance, aim the 740il into the middle of a tight curve, and you'll feel your pulse increase slightly. The car is so flat-footed and stable, you just know instinctively that it will see you through safely. Though you
won't typically drive this way - one hopes - it's reassuring to know that you can count on the 740il if you suddenly have to swerve to avoid an accident. The 740's standard Dynamic Stability Control system automatically receives information from the
car's steering, brakes, wheels, and speedometer and uses the brakes to ensure the car goes where the driver steers it. Speaking of steering, the power-assisted system
in the 740il did not feel as crisp and responsive as is typical for a BMW: I had to turn the wheel more than usual to execute a turn. But the power-assisted four-wheel anti-lock brakes were superb. Nobody makes better brakes than BMW, and they're the
most confidence-inspiring thing about driving the car. FIT AND FINISH Not only is the 7-Series BMW's flagship, it's also the German automaker's rolling technology showcase. Our test car came with the optional ($2,900) built-in navigation
system. In its current form, the system has limited use and, for most drivers, probably is not worth buying. But testing the system indicates where BMW is headed in terms of integrating sophisticated technology into its cars. The navigation system,
which uses the government's system of Global Positioning Satellites, gives a driver turn-by-turn visual and audio directions to his or her destination. The information is displayed on a small screen in the center of the
dash. If you're familiar with the city in which you live, you wouldn't use this function very often. However, there are other tasks the automated system can be programmed to carry out that have little to do with navigation. For instance, if you
want the car's interior to be cool when you leave for lunch or go home for the day, you can program the ventilation system to cool the car at two preset times each day. Or you can enter a special code that will prevent the engine from being started.
That function is in addition to BMW's superb anti-theft systems. The navigation system's other functions allow you to listen to television programs, set an audible warning if you exceed the speed limit and fine-tune the radio electronically, instead
of by turning knobs or pressing buttons or moving switches. The navigation system is a bit clunky to use. You have to turn and press a knob to select the function and to enter addresses. It's slow and cumbersome and not nearly as efficient as
touch-screen systems. But the system does show that computers are likely to take over more and more of a car's functions. All models of the 740 come with BMW's unique HPS, or Head Protection System. Two tube-shaped air bags are concealed in the
windshield frame. In the event of a severe side impact crash, they deploy and protect the driver's or passenger's head from striking the car. BMW also outfits the 740 with door-mounted side-impact air bags and driver and passenger front-mounted bags.
Rear-door air bags are optional. The leather seats are firm, comfortable and supportive. The 740il has plenty of room between the front and rear seat. In fact, riding in the rear is like being chauffeured in a limousine. The 740il comes with every
power accessory available. Though I sometimes find it difficult to define value in a luxury car, I can say that the 740il is as complete a car as I have ever driven. Its quality is beyond reproach. Its performance and handling leave nothing to be
desired. And its safety systems are the best on the road. Specifications: Base price: $66,070. Safety: Dual front and side air bags, plus BMW's HPS head air-bag protection system, anti-lock brakes, side-impact protection and
electronic traction control. Price as tested: $71,390. EPA rating: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Incentives: None. Truett's tip: The 740il, BMW's biggest sports sedan, is a spacious, high-tech luxury cruiser
loaded with safety items.