SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide
BMW has always been known for silky smooth straight sixes (engines), in crisply styled bodies that were renown for their blend of performance, quality, and luxury.
In 1966, BMW introduced the 1600 coupe followed a couple of years later by the 2002. It became an instant success with nearly 700,000 built during their ten year production run. The Tii model is still especially sought after and the 2002 remains a cult car.
But even before the 1600 and 2002, BMW had built some of the finest and most beautiful cars ever to see pavement. Probably the most beautiful BMW ever, created by Albrecht Goertz was not the straight four or six that the company was known for, it was an aluminum OHV V-8. Built between 1956-1959 and known as the 507, it was powered by a 3.2L, 150 hp V-8. Goertz, prior to BMW, had worked for one of the world's most celebrated industrial designer's Raymond Loewy. Loewy designed among other things, the original Greyhound Scenicruiser and the IBM Selectric typewriter.
The 507 was a two door cabriolet that was capable of 120 plus mph. Its body was sculptured and flowing. Unfortunately only 253 examples were ever produced. It is a car worth seeing and admiring if given the chance. It was my favorite car of the 1950's and remains one of my favorite cars of all time. Today, I probably couldn't afford to even buy a 507 hub cap. Fast forward 35 years.
My first introduction to driving a BMW V-8 came in 1993 with the introduction of the 740 into the BMW lineup. It was a 4.0L unit that produced 282 hp and was connected to a five speed automatic transmission. Was it the perfect car? In that year it may have been. It was very quick, luxurious, nimble, beautiful and roomy without being large on the outside.
In 1994, BMW introduced a new body that was simply an evolutionary change. In fact, the lineage of the entire 7 series line of BMW's share a common thread of design and style, with each new body being an improvement over the previous.
The 1999 BMW 740i has undergone subtle changes from the 1994-1998 models. The front headlights have lower cutouts and with new grille slats, the front end has a smoother look. With most car designs starting at the wheel wells, the BMW has some of the best, with the front having large, deeply flared wells that interrupt the upper body crease. This is one of the best looking cars on the road. Although some think its too conservatively styled, every design feature is well integrated and very elegant.
Under the hood is a new, revised 4.4L DOHC, 32 valve (with variable valve timing) V-8 that pumps out 282 hp at only 5,400 rpm and a strong 324 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,700 rpm. This is an improvement of 14 lb ft of torque at 200 less rpm than the 1998 version. The new engine also qualifies as a low emission vehicle. Smooth would be an understatement.
This is a driving machine. The factory lists 0-60 performance at 6.8 seconds. Not. This 740i Sport blasted from 0-60 in a average of 6.17 seconds with one run at 6.02 backed up with a 6.09. These runs were done by simply flooring the throttle from a standing start without manually shifting the "Steptronic" automatic. Passing performance was equally quick with a 50-70 time of 3.30 seconds. A steep grade will only slow that time to 4.5 seconds. This is incredible performance considering the 4255 pounds of curb weight and is genuine super car performance.
The performance even more enjoyable because the BMW is never ruffled or pressed. It simply responds to your every desire with smooth, quiet instant power with a hint of that wonderful V-8 burble. Most polished.
The Steptronic 5 speed automatic, standard with the Sport, allows the driver to manually select gears by moving the shifter forward for upshifts and rearward for downshifts or just leave the tranny in "D" for more normal driving (understand, there is nothing normal about the 740 when it comes to performance). There are some bonuses. In the Steptronic mode, if you ask the tranny to downshift by throttle pressure, it will respond and downshift accordingly without any manual shifting, in case you forget its in "manual mode". Trick stuff.
The Sport package ($2,600 and worth every penny) is not just fancy wheels and tires. It comes with a shorter final drive ratio (rear end gears) of 3.15 instead of the standard 2.81. The torque converter has a higher stall speed to further boost acceleration response. The front suspension is lowered by .8 inches, with firmer spring settings (+10% front, 25% rear). Shocks are 100% firmer and front roll bar is thicker (22 mm versus 20.5 mm). The slighter lower profile really enhances the 740's looks as well. Very aggressive.
The wheels are more than just fancy, they are 18X8's in the front and 18X9.5's in the rear and are shod in Michelin Pilots of 235/50ZR's up front and 255/45ZR's in the rear.
The bottom line is a car that goes around corners like water in a hose and rides as if it were carrying humpty dumpty to all the kings men.
On Ponderosa Road's worst washboard surfaces, quiet, solid and smooth best describes the experience. The ride is balanced and supple with remarkable control. South Shingle and Latrobe Road proved what design, engineering and execution can do for your motoring pleasure. This Bimmer absorbed the dips, bumps and potholes as if they didn't exist and grooved the twisties without a twitch. Pick your line and it simply sticks to it.
In hard cornering, the balance (weight distribution is nearly 50/50) becomes more evident. The grip from the high performance tires coupled with an advanced fully independent suspension makes for absolutely benign handling with no vices. Steering gives near perfect road feel (although I would have liked a little more resistance) and confidence. This is a vehicle that doesn't get you into trouble, it gets you out of trouble. It can make anyone feel good about their driving. This is an automobile for the Mother Lode.
On the highway, the 740 is a magic carpet ride. Extremely quiet (even with the high performance tires), no wind noise and every possible road irregularity is eliminated or subdued to the point of being a non event. It gets better.
Even though the EPA rates the 740i Sport at 15/21 city highway mpg, I recorded 18.5 mpg in several hundred miles of very spirited driving. It was very hard to stay out of the most delicious throttle. The standard 740i with taller gears is rated 17/23 mpg. I would estimate in a similar style of driving, at least 20 mpg maybe more. Highway mileage should exceed EPA estimates based on my experience.
Safety is also paramount in this 740. It comes with front and side impact airbags with a head protection system. For the rear seat passengers, side impact airbags are also available for a nominal $385 (a bargain). The braking system is large four wheel discs with an antilock braking system (ABS) and dynamic stability control, which includes all season traction control and cornering brake control. More trick stuff.
On the inside, the lucky occupants will be greeted to sumptuous luxury. The front seats (and the rear as well) are wrapped in soft gathered leather. In the Sport they are 18 way power adjustable (with a three position memory), including 4-way lumbar and power thigh support. The side bolsters are more aggressively contoured than in the standard seats. I couldn't think of many better places to park your buns for a few hours. They are that good. The leather is not just on the seats, but on the steering wheel, doors and just about everywhere else where there isn't the magnificent Vavona redwood which is on the doors, dash, center console and the gorgeous shift knob.
The dash is typical BMW. The binnacle in front of the driver has a large speedo and tach flanked by the fuel gauge and temp left and right. In the bottom of the binnacle is the electronic function readout (and trip computer) controlled by a button on the steering column stalk that also controls the steering wheel position.
The vertical part of the integrated center console contains the fabulous sound system above and the HVAC controls below with dual temp systems for the driver and passenger. They are pushbutton with icons and take some getting use to. I spent a half hour with the owner's manual to figure it out. But it works great. It certainly looks better than rotary knobs, but the operator may need to get some dual (instruction) before he can operate the system intuitively.
GPS (global positioning system) navigation is not new the me. I have used it in flying for years and now I would have trouble going anywhere without it. This 740 had the optional GPS road map/navigation system with a full color display next to the sound system. It was easy to use. I was able to figure it out without any book work (I couldn't say that for the HVAC system). It actually will put a map on the three inch TV screen with all the street names, your destination and your route. It even has a nice woman's voice tell you when to turn or to correct you if you miss an instruction. It's amazing and in some respects exceeds in performance and features of some of the systems currently used in aircraft. A nice option for $1,800 which I would recommend.
BMW makes very efficient use of space. The 740 is only 196.2 inches long on a very long 115.4 inch wheelbase. This means the rear passengers are rewarded with incredible room and comfort, even for three. Legroom and headroom are very generous. The 740iL with the addition of over five inches of legroom must feel like a limousine.
Now for the bad news. This kind of quality doesn't come without a hefty tab. Sticker price for a 740 is $62,400 plus $570 for destination. My test car had two options, the Sport package which includes special tires and wheels, contour sport seats, Steptronic transmission and more is $2,600 (a bargain). The other option was the GPS navigation system which adds $1,800. Both items are worth the money and make the car extra special. There is also a gas guzzler penalty of $1,700 which brings to total to $69,070.
It's a lot of money, but then again we only get one life to live. Owning and driving one of the world's finest automobile is a worthy pleasure of life. Neillo BMW in Sacramento has a large selection of BMW's for sampling. A word to the wise, once in the driver's seat (or any of the seats for that matter), it will be hard to let go. These are incredible automobiles.
SPECIFICATIONS Price $62,400 to about $70,000 Engine 4.4L DOHC, 32 valve with 282 hp @ 5,400rpm variable valve timing, V-8 324 lb-ft of torque @ 3,700rpm Transmission 5 speed automatic with optional Steptronic system Configuration longitudinal front engine rear wheel drive with traction control Brakes 4 wheel disc with ABS and cornering braking system, dynamic stability control Dimensions Wheelbase 115.4 inches Length 196.2 inches Width 73.3 inches Height 56.3 inches Track 61.1/61.6 inches Weight 4255 pounds Fuel Capacity 22.5 gallons Trunk Capacity 13.0 cubic feet Drag Coefficient 0.31 Turning Circle 38.1 feet Weight distribution, % 50.8/49.2 front/rear Performance 0-60 6.17 seconds 50-70 3.30 seconds 50-70 uphill 4.50 seconds RPM @ 70 mph 2150 Top Speed electronically limited to (a sensible?) 128 mph, but without a governor probably in excess of 150 mph. Fuel Economy EPA 15/21 mpg city/highway. My estimate is 18-20 mpg in El Dorado County driving and 21 plus mpg at legal highway speeds. The non sport model should get 23 plus on the highway.