If They Took Your V8, Would You Miss It?
We christened the 2011 BMW 740i by dumping an apple pie into its passenger seat — accidentally, of course. The pie survived and was eaten, but not before its viscous filling ran all over the 740i's leather upholstery. We called in the janitorial staff, but allspice hung in the air for days.
At least this wanton act happened in a 2011 BMW 740i, right? New for 2011, the 740i is $12,000 cheaper than a 750i. It's also the first 7 Series sedan with a six-cylinder engine since 1992. Think of it as the Honda Accord of the 2011 BMW 7 Series line; or rather, it would be if the Accord cost anywhere close to $80,000.
Even post-pie, there's not a whiff of cheapness in the 2011 BMW 740i. This isn't a bargain-priced BMW 7 Series so much as it is a logical outcome for a company that has spent years perfecting the inline six-cylinder engine.
Measures Up to the Old 740i
If there's anything to stop us from embracing a six-cylinder BMW 7 Series, it's all the sweet V8s BMW has produced over the years. They've shaped the identity of this top-shelf Bavarian luxury sedan, at least in the United States.
BMW's older, normally aspirated V8s typically trailed the competition in low-end grunt, but had a free-revving character and athletic exhaust note that we really dug. The latest twin-turbocharged V8sounds a bit more industrial, yet compensates with a massive swell of midrange torque.
Put aside the V8s-are-better bias, though, and there's no denying that BMW's latest forced-induction six-cylinder engines have narrowed the performance gap — particularly if you look at the last 7 Series to wear the 740i badge.
Ten years ago to the day, we could have bought an E38-generation 2001 BMW 740i for $63,470 (in 2001 dollars), plus assorted options. It would have had a port-injected 4.4-liter V8 rated at 282 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 324 pound-feet of torque at 3,700 rpm, with a five-speed automatic transmission driving its rear wheels. And it would have delivered us to 60 mph in about 6 seconds.
Here in 2011, our modern F01-series 740i uses BMW's N54 twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 3.0-liter inline-6. It's rated at 315 hp at 5,800 rpm and 330 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, and a six-speed automatic transmission drives the rear wheels. We arrive at 60 mph in 5.8 seconds (or 5.5 with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and breeze through the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 100.1 mph.
Plenty Fast in 2011, Too
This still leaves a comfortable margin between the 2011 BMW 740i and the 750i, which hits 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.5 at 103.7 mph.
But the 740i leaves V8 sedans like the Hyundai Equus and Lexus LS 460 for dead. It's also a bit quicker than the 2011 BMW 535i (with the single, twin-scroll turbo N55 engine), even though the latter weighs 300 pounds less.
Porsche is the only other manufacturer with the gall to put a straight-up gasoline six-cylinder in a large high-end sedan (Mercedes-Benz has been discreetly slipping V6s into hybrid and diesel versions of the S-Class), and the 740i matches the performance of the lighter but less powerful Panamera V6.
Stuff We Can't Quantify
The question, of course, is whether the 2011 BMW 740i's respectable quickness compensates for its lack of a great, honking V8. The exhaust is tuned to deliver a deeper sound than on any other BMW we've ever driven with the twin-turbo inline-6 — though it's not quite as loud as on the Z4 sDrive35is — but there's never any doubt how many cylinders are under the hood. This is a six, and when you floor the throttle, the engine races to its 7,000-rpm redline with a fervor not many V8s can muster.
Redline isn't somewhere you go every day in the 740i, though, because the N54 engine has such a broad torque band (all 330 lb-ft are on tap from 1,600-4,500 rpm) that it's hardly necessary to work it hard on the way to the office. But this engine is perfectly happy to run at high rpm when the mood strikes.
Unfortunately the 2011 BMW 740i has the same annoying delay at throttle tip-in that we observed in the 535i and 750i, as the engine and transmission figure out how to fulfill your "more faster" request. If you're chauffeuring clients or relatives, somebody's bound to have an infarction when that surge of power finally arrives.
Sport mode provides a little more predictability, but the transmission's shift points are pretty aggressive for anything short of a back road. It matches revs, but like most automatics, it also upshifts for you in Manual mode.
Back-roading, by the way, is completely within the grasp of the 2011 BMW 740i, because this big sedan feels like a much smaller sedan when you run it hard. Body roll is neatly contained with the help of the $6,500 M Sport package's active antiroll bars, and the brakes are strong, bringing the car to rest in 109 feet from 60 mph. The 740i's handling numbers are right on par with the 750i, with a slightly better 0.90g on the skid pad despite the same Goodyear Excellence run-flat all-season tires (245/45R19 front, 275/40R19 rear).
However, you always sense the 2011 740i and its computers are doing a lot behind the scenes to make you look good on back roads and enable that 65.6-mph slalom speed. There's nothing objectively wrong with this approach, but the simpler, slower E38-generation 740i was more fun.
We've also begun to tire of BMW's insistence that we have run-flat tires on every model. Even in the 740i's Comfort mode, there's still too much harshness over impacts for our taste. We'd also pass on the optional active steering ($1,750), which nails the effort levels in most situations but feels fidgety on-center — as if you and the car are competing for who can make the greatest number of tiny corrections on the drive to work.
So, Turbo Six or V8?
Of course, there are compelling economic reasons to choose a 2011 BMW 740i over a 750i. Take fuel economy. There's nothing earth-shattering about the 740i's EPA rating of 17 city/25 highway mpg, but it's enough to avoid the $1,000 gas-guzzler tax that the 750i gets thanks to its 15 city/22 highway mpg. Also we averaged 19.7 mpg over 600 miles in the 740i. That's not much of a sample size compared to the 28,867 miles we put on our long-term 750i, but there's little doubt we'd surpass the V8 sedan's 17.3-mpg average over the long haul.
Equally, it's tough to ignore the up-front savings you get with the 2011 BMW 740i. For $81,625, we're basically driving around with the same lavish furnishing and amenities we had in our old 2009 750i, which cost nearly $90 grand. We should note, however, that BMW has leveled a $500 price increase since our test car rolled off the line. Additionally, civilian customers are obliged to buy the $1,200 Cold Weather package (not equipped on this car) with the M Sport package. Also, we still don't understand why we'd have to fork over another $1,800 for the Audio package to have a USB input.
If you're really a serious BMW 7 Series buyer, though, you aren't going to quibble over a few thousand dollars, much less a couple mpg. Instead, it's going to come down to taste.
And if you like the idea of a torque curve as broad as the Great Plains, and don't care if it's delivered with a classic V8 soundtrack, there's no reason not to reward BMW for its decades of commitment to the inline-6 engine.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation.