With a futuristic look and advanced onboard technology to match, the 2013 BMW 740Li is a princely German luxury limousine that should please all its occupants.
For years now, BMW's slogan, "ultimate driving machine," has set the theme for the company's entire product line. The brand's vehicles range from compact hatchbacks to ultra-powerful SUVs, but everything must be a driver's car. In theory, that should make the BMW 7 Series something special. It's a long luxury sedan that can both soothe and sprint, depending on the driver's mood. Its current generation went on sale in the U.S. in 2009, so we expect to see a redesign soon. We drove a 740Li, the most affordable and most modestly powered trim level.
Visual changes from 2012 to 2013 are few, but a new eight-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board, and BMW has enhanced the engines, interior and electronics. Compare 2012 and 2013 models here.
The 'Bangle Butt' is Long Gone
The 7 Series' previous generation was frumpy, afflicted with styling by former BMW chief designer Chris Bangle that gave it a bulbous caboose and odd-looking scalloped headlights. The 2013 BMW 740Li I recently spent a week with was anything but frumpy. The latest 740 is long, low and mean-looking, with optional LED, halo-style headlights whose menacing glare both turns heads and parts traffic. Clean surface details stretch long character lines along the smooth sides to a rear end that's also more subdued and understated. The overall look is one of restrained power, and even four years into its current design, the 7 Series still looks modern and turns heads.
As is common among high-end European luxury cars, a variety of powertrains are available in the 7 Series. It starts with a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine in the 740i making 315 horsepower, and moves up to a 445-hp, twin-turbo V-8 in the 750i. If excess is your thing, the 760Li offers one of the last remaining V-12 engines available in the world, a twin-turbo 6.0-liter unit rocking 535 hp. The range-topping Alpina B7 is the high-performance option, featuring a 540-hp, twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8. The 740i and 750i are available in regular "i" or long-wheelbase "Li" models (the 760Li only comes long), with standard rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. For 2013, a new ActiveHybrid 7 model is available with a revamped six-cylinder, gas-electric powertrain and is billed as the gas-mileage champ. All 7 Series models can be had with rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive is optional on all 740 and 750 models, carrying the name xDrive.
My tester was a 740Li xDrive powered by the sweet turbo-six. BMW has long been known for its slick inline-six-cylinder engines, and this latest iteration does not disappoint, delivering a surprising amount of oomph from its deceptively small displacement. This is the wave of the future — small, boosted engines in large, top-of-the-line luxury sedans. Thankfully, there's no lack of grunt from these high-tech motors, so the only thing you're likely to miss about having a six under the hood instead of an eight- or twelve-cylinder engine is a badge on the trunk. The 2013's six-cylinder owes its robust output to some of BMW's special engine technology: an electronic intake system with no conventional throttle valve, infinitely variable valve timing and a new twin-scroll turbocharger. What this means is that the engine now produces the same amount of power as the outgoing model, but with 20-percent less fuel consumption.
The 740Li xDrive I drove is EPA rated at 19/28/22 mpg city/highway/combined. My combined city and highway driving returned a surprising 25 mpg, a frugality I did not expect. The turbo motor does require premium fuel, and it features a stop-start system that cuts the engine off when idling. It's not as intrusive as previous BMW efforts, I found. Mileage is rated the same regardless of wheelbase or all-wheel drive for the 740 model. Stepping up to the 4.4-liter V-8 in the all-wheel-drive 750 models drops fuel economy to 16/24/19 mpg, and it plummets even further with the 760's V-12, coming in at an estimated 13/20/15 mpg. The ActiveHybrid 7 is rated 22/30/25 mpg — not bad for a big German limo, and even more appealing given you'll only pay an extra $6,700 to step into the hybrid. That's not a huge jump for a premium luxury sedan.
All these engines are mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, but to get the most out of it you have to put it in one of the two driver-selectable Sport modes. Accelerator response is quicker, shifts are snappier and the car just feels more ready to dance than when left in one of the two Comfort modes. The selectable modes make a significant difference in the feel of the car, changing everything from suspension damping to steering feel and engine response. For ferrying passengers, the Comfort modes offer a cushy, floaty ride that suits the car's limousine-like rear-passenger accommodations. If it's just you in there, however, and the road beckons with the promise of entertaining curves, switch into a Sport mode and enjoy the responsive, entertaining sedan that the 740Li becomes.
Spending as much on a luxury sedan as you could on a small house should mean the car feels like something special, and the 740Li does not disappoint. Interior materials are top-drawer, with an impressive build quality and attention to detail. Soft-touch plastics, high-quality leather and wood, and smooth motions on buttons and knobs reinforce the 740Li's status as the company's highest-model sedan. Some of the interior controls are a little questionable in their function, such as the transmission gear selector that does not have the traditional PRNDL gates, but rather requires different motions for different functions. It looks like something out of a Toyota Prius; "Park" is activated by a button on top, for example, which is too easy to push if you rest your hand on the shifter to change the stereo.
My test vehicle also had a special "ceramic controls" option package, which replaces some of the plastic console knobs with glossy ceramic-coated metal ones in an attempt to do something different for interior finishes. It's classy in here, and extremely comfortable.
Backseat passengers have it even better. The extended wheelbase adds 5.5 inches to the cabin, all of it behind the front seats. Changes to the roof of Li models add another half-inch of headroom. The result is a deceptively large car on the inside that doesn't look that huge on the outside. Rear seat passengers also have their own iDrive multimedia controller and 9.2-inch "floating" display screens, which are able to replicate most of what appears on the front multimedia screen.
BMW's once-infamous iDrive multimedia system works fairly well in its latest iteration. Not perfectly (it still requires multiple steps to do things like adjust radio presets or switch among media), but for functions like navigation and vehicle adjustments, the iDrive system works acceptably well. What works far more than acceptably, however, is the optional Bang & Olufsen premium audio system in my test car, which was one of the most outstanding sound systems I have tested in an automobile. Exceptional clarity, bone-shaking bass, and a high end that makes the hairs on your arms stand on edge. It was simply fantastic. The 740Li's navigation system also earns praise for its clarity, sophisticated graphics and the repetition of directional graphics in the car's head-up display projected on the windshield. Unfortunately, that pricey head-up display disappears almost completely when you put on polarized sunglasses.
The 7 Series has a full complement of electronic safety aids, systems like attention assistant, active park assist and a backup camera. There are airbags for the driver and front passenger in the front, at the knee and from the side, as well as first- and second-row curtain airbags. No data is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on crash-test results. See the 740Li's list of safety equipment here.
7 Series in the Market
BMW has priced its sedan quite competitively, given its main competitors' range of prices. Like other vehicles in this segment, one can double the sticker price of the base model with options fairly quickly. The base 740i starts at $74,525 (all prices cited include destination charges). My 740Li xDrive started at $81,525 and included equipment like LED fog lights, xenon headlights with halo effects, heated power front seats, a power moonroof, navigation, a backup camera and keyless access. My test car included another $26,000 in options, however, including $2,800 for black Nappa leather, a $4,800 executive package that includes things like a power trunklid, soft-close doors, ventilated seats and the head-up display. That fantastic Bang & Olufsen sound system will set you back $3,700, while the rear entertainment package costs $2,800. An M Sport appearance package adds 19-inch wheels, an aerodynamic body kit, smoked exterior trim, a dark headliner and a special M Sport steering wheel for $4,600. Electronics don't come cheap, either, with active cruise control adding $2,400 and active roll stabilization suspension tacking on $2,500. Overall price as tested for my 740Li xDrive came to a sobering $106,245. This is not the top end of the price spectrum for a 7 Series, either — you could option a 760Li to nearly $170,000.
That might seem like a lot, but it's fully competitive with other vehicles at this level. One would expect the most direct competitor to be the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it starts at a significantly higher price — $93,255 for an entry-level S350 BlueTec diesel all-wheel-drive sedan, which is more than $18,000 more than a base 740i. The Benz is also more of a luxury cruiser than a sport sedan like the BMW. The sportier Audi A8 is a more direct competitor on price, equipment and sporting pretense, with the base V-6 model ringing in at $73,095 and featuring mechanicals that are more of a direct match for the 7 Series. The only other player in this rarified air is the Lexus LS 460, which itself starts at $72,900 but features far less depth of options, technology, engine choice or overall driving entertainment than the BMW.