The 1991 BMW 735i is a great $40,000 car. Unfortunately, it starts at $51,500. The Toyota Lexus LS400 sedan has set the standard-luxury, room, comfort and performance for around $40,000. What does the 735i have that Lexus doesn`t for $11,500 more? A BMW grille.

We test drove the 735i sedan and found it in the same league as the Lexus. The 3.5-liter, 208-h.p., 6-cylinder engine is responsive, and the four- speed automatic is quiet. The gas-filled shocks, anti-roll bars, computer- controlled shock damping for soft or firm suspension settings and speed- sensitive power steering contribute to the 735i`s boast of one fine road machine.

Traction control is a $1,290 option to ensure the 15-inch steel-belted radials don`t slip or slide when taking off from the light or lose grip with the pavement in a wet corner or turn.

Goodies include ABS brakes and driver-side air bag as standard, along with a specially formulated gel-filled rearview mirror that automatically reduces glare from trailing car lights without you having to fiddle with it.

Standard equipment falls into the you-name-it category.

But the price versus Lexus lingers. The first question almost every onlooker asked was, ``Does it cost more or less than a Lexus?`` Interest waned when told the Lexus was less expensive.

One more negative. The 6-cylinder and automatic (so much demand for automatic, the five-speed manual was dropped) is rated at 16 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway and is saddled with a $1,300 federal gas-guzzler tax.