Good Small Things Come in Big Packages
The 2011 BMW 740i is the 7 Series that Goldilocks would have chosen. That is, if she were in the garage instead of the kitchen and three bears somehow owned BMW's current stable of no fewer than 15 variations of 7 Series. Sure would beat three measly bowls of porridge.
As she spotted it in the bears' big garage, the 740i would appeal to Goldie's rational side. It has a six-cylinder engine, so it's frugal at the pump, and it doesn't cost as much to buy as its V8- and V12-powered brethren. On the other hand, its twin-turbocharged torque would fire her back into the forest long before the bears came home.
Maybe you should start thinking like Goldilocks, too. Because the thing that makes the 2011 BMW 740i so attractive is that it's "just right." You could drive one to Trader Joe's and still bring your own biodegradable bags without feeling ridiculous. And let's face it; you aren't going autobahn speeds anywhere in the U.S. unless you just love donating to your state police department anyway.
Old Recipe, New Ingredients
You'll probably recall that this isn't the first time BMW has offered a 7 Series powered by an inline-6 on our shores. Far from it, as the company started doing so in 1977 before it had thought of doing a modern V8 engine and then continued into the 1990s. That meant you could even have a six in the big-bodied E32 cars (remember the 735iL?). Whether you wanted your 2-ton luxury car to be powered by the noble-but-overworked 208-horsepower inline-6 of the day was another question altogether, however.
Toss all that aside, though, because Johnny Carson's not at The Tonight Show anymore and we're not exactly reading the lips of George Bush the Elder these days. The twin-turbocharged inline-6 in the new F01 body is an entirely new ballgame, as it's pounding out a conservatively rated 315 hp at 5,800 rpm and 330 pound-feet of torque from 1,500-4,500 rpm.
It's not the first time you've seen this engine, of course. BMW has found tremendous scope in its turbocharged N54 engine, nestling it under the hood of every model offered, bar the 6 Series and X3. Despite seemingly arbitrary nomenclature that has nothing to do with displacement (it's typically a "35i," and here it's a 40i"), the impetus behind the company's bread-and-butter inline-6 is simple — fuel economy.
You've heard it before. BMW says that the new engine can grunt like an eight-cylinder while using no more fuel than the standard inline-6. The EPA mpg figures support this assertion, as the 2011 BMW 740i is rated at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway — though as you might expect, this girl drinks premium only. If these don't seem like astounding fuel-efficiency figures, bear in mind that the engine is lugging around a full 4,432 pounds with the new-style F01 body, while that big, bad 750Li returns a less-than-stellar 14 mpg city and 21 mpg highway.
The Price of Entry
It's hard to use terms like "base model" and "entry-level" when referring to a machine like the 7 Series, but despite the starting price of $71,025, the 740i is nevertheless such a thing. There is no massive V12 or twin-turbocharged V8, nor a complicated hybrid system or all-wheel drive. This is a luxury vehicle with a clean and smooth turbocharged inline-6 powering the rear wheels, and no shortage of amenities.
Subtlety makes the 740i cool. While the big-engine 7s are bedecked with polished brightwork throughout the cabin, the 740i features more subdued black chrome bits. (We think the car looks much classier with them.) Almost as a bonus, the rest of the option sheet reads pretty much the same. Buyers still get niceties like heated leather seats and BMW's reworked iDrive system.
Check all the boxes and you end up with a loaded 750i — minus the engine. Think of it this way. You can go to the BMW dealer and plunk down the same amount of cash and decide whether you want a loaded 7 Series with an inline-6 or a plain 7 Series with a V8. That's why we hate to call the 740i "entry level."
Size Doesn't Matter
Now here's the thing. BMW has effectively flipped the 7 Series lineup on its head in 2011. The eco-friendly ActiveHybrid 750i turns out to be one of the fastest flagship cars ever built, while the lowly 740i returns the exact same fuel economy as the supposed tree-hugger. More confusing still, the 740i produces the most entertaining drive of all the 7 Series variants. Allow us to explain.
We're well aware of the fact that the epic V12 in the 760Li packs a full 220 hp more than our plucky little 740i. And yes, the BMW Alpina B7 is forged in the den of the most successful BMW tuner to ever walk the earth. But here's where it really counts: The 760Li weighs more than 680 pounds more than the 740i. Six hundred and eighty! That's not the kind of weight you can Jenny Craig away, and advanced chassis systems or not, each and every one of those pounds comes to bear on vehicle dynamics. Yes, the big V12 is plenty quick in a straight line, but the 740i feels — dare we say — tossable. We've never wanted to wring out a big sedan on a proper track so badly, and that's something that no car in this segment should have the right to offer.
This car is not 750i fast, but it goes. Despite developing full boost (and torque) by a near miraculous 1,600 rpm, the twin-turbocharged six does sometimes feel as though it could use just a little bit more low-end oomph, but it's far from unacceptable. Just allow the tach needle to continue its steady swing across the tachometer and the 740i picks up speed with an eerie quickness. Keep your foot on the floorboard and your eyes on the road, and you'll expect the car to hit redline and shift three times before it finally does, at 7,000 rpm. BMW claims that 60 mph is dispatched within 5.8 seconds.
Best 7 Series for the Buck
While we try not to make a habit of inciting rage among German engineers and Bimmer fans worldwide, we're nevertheless awfully tempted to say the BMW 740i is the best 7 Series to date — or at least the best variant in 2011. The car provides all of the same fuel economy benefits as the ActiveHybrid 750i without the $32,000 technology surcharge.
And since it weighs less by the margin of two well-fed executives, the 740i is also a hoot to drive, too. Sure, it doesn't quite offer the kick in the pants of its 7 Series siblings, but let's face it, the average American 7 Series owner isn't doing much stoplight drag racing anyway.
The 2011 BMW 740i is the perfect choice for nearly everyone who is considering big luxury, and exactly what the 7 Series lineup needed to stay innovative and current. It combines efficiency, luxury and technology without sacrificing the driving dynamics for which BMW is so renowned. The car is pure BMW in the best way possible.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.