BMW 740d (2009): new review

By the CAR road test team

17 July 2009

We’ve just returned from a day of hurling BMW’s new twin-turbo 740d around the Scottish Highlands, and also found the time for a test of the revised 730d as well as chatting to some of the company’s high-up engineers. An early start and a late finish, but everything in between was very good.

Tell me about this new BMW 740d then…

This is BMW’s third-generation twin-turbo unit, and it is, in a word, brilliant. The 3.0-litre follows the same little-and-large turbo layout as before – the smaller and more responsive blower kicking in low down the rev range, with the bigger unit taking over in the mid-range to red line for a seamless flow of torque.

As well as the all-alloy engine’s fuel injection layout featuring a higher 2000 bar pressure rate, the smaller turbo now features variable vane technology for prompter low-rev response. Which explains why peak torque of 443lb ft kicks in at a very low 1500rpm. Other highlights include BMW’s vaunted Efficient Dynamics to recoup lost energy during braking – it also disengages the alternator, climate controls and other energy sappers when they’re not needed or during hard acceleration.

Get out of the already brisk 730d and into the 740d and while the more powerful car doesn’t feel cor-blimey quicker than the 730d, it does feel far more responsive and alert. Twitch your right foot and there’s instant acceleration in any gear and at any revs.  It’s a stupendously quick and effortless car, lunging forward on a hugely addictive surge of acceleration that has the speedo on fast forward and the revcounter on slow-mo.

Pointed down a winding road with the Dynamic Drive set to Sport, the 740d feels like a much smaller and lighter car – along the ribboning roads around Inverness, the 740d felt lithe and agile, far more so than its size and weight would have you believe.

Dynamically, it’s mighty impressive. And it annihilates roads with an almost haughty insouciance. The engine emits a barely audible background rumble at low to medium speeds and a lovely crisp redline growl. The chassis feels taut and unflappable, the steering clear and direct. Lovely. 

It’s a fair bit dearer than the 730d…

Ah yes. A £6500 premium – the price of a decent scrappage-ready supermini – might seem a bit steep for the single digit step from 730d to 740d, but given the extra dimension of athleticism and responsiveness it adds to an already exceptional package, BMW expect 15% of 7-series buyers to tick the 740d box. And bear in mind, opting for the bi-turbo engine means little in the way of economy or emissions penalty – it returns barely believable 40.9mpg and 181g/km economy and CO2 figures.

>> Click next to read the CAR on the BMW 740d

So the 730d must lay second fiddle, then?

Not at all. BMW’s engineers have also found the time to tweak the high-pressure injection system in the 730d, somehow significantly reducing emissions and consumption without affecting performance. While outputs remain unchanged at 245bhp and 398lb ft, combined economy climbs from 39.2 to 41.4mpg, while CO2 emissions drop from 192g/km to 178g/km.

Enough to easily outpoint the best-selling Mercedes S320 CDI (235bhp, 398lb ft, 34mpg and 220g/km) and the Audi A8 3.0 TDI (233lb ft, 332lb ft, 33.6mpg and 224g/km). It’s still a compelling package, delivering the kind of high-speed low-stress performance perfectly in keeping with the 7’s remit.

Anything else?

Yes. BMW also wheeled out some of its engineering big guns at the launch, the list topped by Jos Van As. The lanky Dutchman has the snappy title of the director of functional integration driving dynamics for BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce.

He basically has final say in ensuring BMW group cars ride and handle the way they should. He and his colleagues had cannibalised a 730d, hacking into its electronic brain with a powerful laptop to access advanced suspension, and in particular the electronically controllers dampers that feature both rebound and compression adjustment.

With a few taps of the keyboard we could pretty much alter and adjust every aspect of big 7’s ride and handling. An interesting exercise and one undertaken to underline the significance of BMW’s decision to link each and every aspect of the car’s electronics and create a simple four-stage switch to access the driving modes - Comfort, normal, Sport and Sport+. ‘We want to offer four different driving modes, rather being able to change different systems on the car,’ says Van As. ‘The switch is a simple access point to a very sophisticated linked system. By linking all the separate systems, we’ve tried to achieve an analogue response for the driver using a digital system.’

That 740d looks somehow different…

Well spotted, anorak man. The 740d we tested sported the optional M-Sport kit, a package of visual rather than dynamic upgrades. Shelling out an extra £5055 adds tasty 19-inch spoked alloy wheels, a body styling kit complete with cricket bat-sized slabs of shiny chrome, sports seats, an M Sport steering wheel, door sill inlays and brushed aluminium interior trim.

BMW expects half of its drivers to tick the M Sport box. And chrome slabs aside, we would too, if we were writing the cheque, because we’re warming to the new 7’s looks. Much like the car it replaces, it takes a while to appreciate its unique combination of details and proportions, and the M Sport pack plays to the 7’s visual strengths.

>> Click next to read the CAR verdict on the BMW 740d

Verdict

In combination, these two diesels make the petrol-powered variants in the range instantly redundant. They may be tax-friendly and economical (relatively speaking) but you’d buy the diesels for their performance first. While most 7 buyers will opt for the 730d – and with it’s revised powerplant, it’s still a fine choice – if we had the choice we go for an M Sport 740d. Until we try the new Jaguar XJ, that is…..

Statistics

How much? £60,265
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2993cc six-cylinder, 301bhp @ 4400rpm, 443lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 6.3sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 40.9mpg, 181g/km
How heavy / made of? 1950kg/steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 5072/1902/1488

Ratings

Handling 4 out of 5
Performance 5 out of 5
Usability 4 out of 5
Feelgood factor 4 out of 5
CAR's Rating 4 out of 5

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