1998 BMW 740iL Road Test

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1998 BMW 7 Series Sedan

(4.4L V8 5-speed Automatic)

Quite a Chariot

Men hate to ask for directions. It's a credo that must be written on every Y chromosome in existence: when in doubt, do not stop … do not ask for directions … do not show fear … always protect your ego. It drives us women crazy. Men just keep driving in circles, assuring you that they'll easily figure out the way to the out-of-state countryside home of your third cousin twice removed in a blinding dust storm. Relax, they say, it's probably just around the next bend. Well, thirteen bends and a tank of gas later, you're still driving and the family reunion you were heading to has just about ended. And as you fold yourself out of the car later that evening, clutching your Tupperware container full of uneaten potato salad, you secretly vow to yourself that next time, you'll be the one driving to the family reunion.

What if I told you the scene above will never, ever happen again if you buy a BMW 740iL with the optional GPS navigation system? It's true. The GPS system that was installed in our test car makes it virtually impossible to ever get lost. Simply punch in the address of your destination on the keypad and start driving. You can view your progress on an impressively detailed map or just listen to the voice commands that tell you when to turn, what lane to be in and how to get back on track if you miss a turn. But if somehow you still manage to get lost, there's nothing to fear: just punch the emergency button on the screen and it will spit out your exact position, including the road you're on, the county you're in and which way you're heading.

This system will get you to your destination so surely, in fact, that you'll probably be disappointed when it's over. The driving experience of the BMW 740iL is so enticing and enjoyable that you may never make it to cousin Tillie's after all.

The license plate frame on the 740iL we drove late this spring said: "The Ultimate Driving Machine." That phrase was also plastered on the window sticker in large bold letters and written on every piece of paper that contained information about the BMW. Wow. Talk about an ego, I thought. After we took it for its first spin, though, we were all saying the same thing. Maybe it was a not-so-subliminal message, but it was a truthful one, by God. The Ultimate Driving Machine may even be an understatement in this case. There's absolutely nothing negative we can say about this car without making up lies, so we'll just tell you why we liked it so much.

First of all, it is fast. With a 4.4-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 engine making 282 horsepower coupled with a smooth-as-silk five-speed automatic transmission, the ride was both elegant and fun-an experience you didn't want to end. One editor said it handled like a sports car and he felt completely in control, even at high speeds. The steering was responsive and effortless, even while running slow-paced errands around town.

It was also comfortable--not comfortable like sitting on your couch watching sitcoms, but comfortable like soaking in a bubble bath at a five-star hotel. The plush leather seats seemed to make everyone happy, from big guys to small women. The rear seat passengers had adjustable footrests to encourage relaxation, extra trash compartments on the doors to help keep things tidy, climate controls, reading lights, an outlet for cell phones or computers, one-touch power windows and interesting seatbelts that originate on the inside of the seat near the flip-down armrest and buckle on the side by the door. Front seat occupants had just as many niceties, including automatic seats that can move in a gazillion positions, lumbar support and solid headrests. The light tan leather seats were pretty and the wood trim accented the interior in an elegant and understated way.

We were delighted that the radio controls were placed above the climate controls so that when the cupholders popped out they blocked the a/c rather than the stereo. Ergonomics were commendable, with large controls and displays, but we sometimes had to look in the manual to make sure we weren't going to eject through the sunroof when we pressed a poorly marked button. We would have liked a larger cubby in the center console area, but were happy that the top of the center console slid forward for people who need to sit closer to the power adjustable steering wheel. Other features included a mixture of digital and needle gauges on the dash, big pockets in the doors for maps and suntan lotion and a huge trunk that holds mountains of gear and luggage.

We were lucky enough to have snagged the 740iL on the same weekend we had planned a mountain getaway with my sister-in-law and her boyfriend. They had flown in from Cincinnati, Ohio, to enjoy some fresh mountain air and weren't expecting a first-class ride to the chalet in Breckenridge, but that's what they got. The big V8 had no problem navigating through the Rocky Mountains and the vehicle's weatherband radio kept us informed of lingering storms. On the highway, the truck in front of us lost a bag of aluminum cans that rolled all over the road, but the BMW responded quickly and we avoided hitting any of them. If we had, though, we're sure the 740iL could have handled it, since the suspension soaks up potholes and irregularities in the road without ever losing its sporting nature.

Everyone agreed that the 740iL was a sedan to be reckoned with, and at least two editors said they would put one in their garages if they had enough cash. With a base sticker around $66,000, the BMW is pricey but not overpriced. Some competing models are priced lower, like the Cadillac Deville Concours, which stickers at $43,000, while others are much higher, like the Mercedes-Benz S500 at $88,000, so the BMW falls about average in the scheme of things.

If you're going to spend that much money on a car, though, go ahead and order the optional $2500 navigation system. It's too cool to pass up. Sort of like the sedan itself. For instance, one editor was rendered speechless when asked to describe his experience in the BMW, but finally managed to blurt out, "It's quite a chariot!"

It is, indeed.

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