BMW has bolted into 1995 with Car of the Year awards coming in pairs and sales ahead of all luxury imports but Lexus. The new 740i should slow the tempo some.

Not that this performance sedan is a horror, because BMW hasn't consorted with Dummkopfs since the Goggomobil and Dixi Roadsters of 1928. Reduce a modern Bimmer's quality, performance and engineering thoroughness by half and it still whomps a Taurus. There are those who sincerely believe that BMW stands for Beauty, Muscle and Wunderbar.

But the redesigned 740i sedan, the $58,000 flagship of BMW's large and luxurious 7-Series, has been muted and definitely spayed.

It has put on 250 pounds. It is taller and broader and longer. Top speed is tamed by a governor from 144 m.p.h. to 127. The growl is softer, the V-8 pounce hesitant and fur on the back of its neck stays flat.

There are more buttons on the steering wheel--for radio, telephone, cruise and climate controls--than Mars has M&M's. The five-speed automatic is a thinking transmission that second-guesses a driver's right foot and decides when to hold, when to fold a particular gear.

Which would seem to recast the BMW 740i as a Bavarian car in akimono.

Yet for BMW, with its front-runner's view of the luxury competition in America, this might not be a bad tactic. Lexus and Infiniti are a formidable combination and closing. Cadillac rules the domestic roost, with Lincoln not far behind.

So why not broaden your product base, and de-tune the 7-Series that goes bumper to bumper with Infiniti's Q45, Lexus LS400, Jaguar's XJ6 and Mercedes-Benz's E420? Then stuff the 740i with electronic conveniences and aim it squarely at a dollar-endowed population that prefers effortless elegance and driving with both wrists on the steering wheel.

The downside, of course, is that the 740i is a definite detour from BMW's half-century dedication to building cars that bring fun and excitement to evenboring interstates.

We are left top resume BMW is placing a small bet--but certainly not the farm--that enthusiasts will find enough paprika for their driving habit with the M3 and in the V-8s and six-speed manual transmissions of the5-Series.

Signs are everywhere of the 740i's move toward comfort and away from truth and dare. A little Jell-O has been added to the steering. Sling this motorcar around, and it becomes the first Bimmer in memory to lean and wince at such indelicacy.

The Montana leather seems softer and the walnut much richer and the carpets piled thicker. Gone are grumble and rumble from the exhaust unless you really boot it. Outside the world is a whisper; inside, the snuggle factor and graceful curvature is definitely Lexus.

The console between the ample front seats is pre-wired for a phone. That has meant relocating the hand brake. It now lurks in the darkness of the foot well as a stupid, cumbersome, cuff-catching, foot-activated parking brake and a sad reminder of the dullest domestic.

Although overall look and styling accents are almost identical to its predecessor--and with the same 4.0 liter V-8 producing 282 horsepower--the 740i's fittings and functions are new sorcery.

Locking the car from the outside disables the engine, which will make car thieves consider new careers in purse snatching. In addition to anti-lock brakes and traction controls taming wheel spin, the 740i has sensors watching over lateral forces--side pressures that produce under- or over-steer-that in the event of a slide will reduce engine power and feather the brakes to stabilize the car.

A $2,000 optional sound system has 440-watt lungs and digital sound processing to place Charles Osgood anywhere from Preservation Hall to the bottom of a rain barrel. At the first whiff of diesel smoke from a Peterbilt--or any brown day in Los Angeles--climate sensors close external air sources and switch to recirculatin air.

There are individual temperature controls for driver, passenger and rear-seat occupants. Turn the key in the door, hold the pressure, and forgotten windows will close. Press a button marked "rest" after shutting down and engine heat will continue warming your bod for 16 toasty minutes.

And when engaging reverse, the far side mirror tilts down so you don't back over Fido.

Clinching all this techno-trickery is a five-speed automatic with an IQ of 120. Depending on your mien, it is the best and the worst of electronic brains. The system--known as Adaptive Transmission Control, a brain fryer by itself--speed reads pedal movements and foot pressures when braking, driving downhill, cornering, even your daily stop-and-go on the Golden State.

Downhill, no matter grade or speed, the logic will recognize descent, hold the gear and block up-shifting. Touch the brakes, the transmission downshifts and engine braking is added to the tug of disc braking.

Pull away hard, the system senses our friskiness, and up-shifting will occur at sportier speeds. Rubbing fenders in crush hour traffic, the adaptive transmission blocks out first gear to avoid all that fussy up and downshifting.

And there's a major rub. You are barely rolling when a lane opens. You move for the hole. You look really dumb because the Bimmer is in second where it is capable of nothing but dry heaves.

Still, there are thousands who prefer to leave the driving, thinking and messy shifting to sensors and chips. They want to point, go, relax in country club comfort and call The Donald on the cellular.

The 740i, two tons of sophisticated pace that will never pant or perspire, clearly is for them. So is the longer-wheelbase 740iL and the 750iL with its 322-horsepower V-12 that will be in showrooms this week.

See this 7-series as consummate touring automobiles--but no longer to be counted among ultimate driving machines.

1995 BMW 740i

Price: $57,900

The Good: Endless luxury. Full inventory for safety equipment, and few conveniences left uninstalled. Secure, comfortable, quiet, fast interstate cruiser.

The Bad: Tricky electronics and a transmission that thinks too much. Gas consumption, price.

The Ugly: Paying luxury and gas-guzzler taxes.

Cost As tested, $67,992. (Includes gas guzzler and luxury taxes, leather upholstery, adaptive automatic transmission, two air bags, premium sound with digital processing, cruise and automatic climate controls, heated power seats, anti-lock brakes and traction controls.)

Engine 4.0-liter V-8 developing 282 horsepower.

Type Front-engine, rear-drive, luxury performance sedan.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 9 seconds. Top speed governed to 127 m.p.h. Gas consumption, EPA city and highway, 16 and 24 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 4,300 pounds.