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20 Years And $20,000 Ago - 1996 BMW 740iL Review

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SEE ALSO: BMW Specs, Reviews, Comparisons and Prices - BMW Buyer's Guide 1997-Current Models

SEE ALSO: Twenty Years Of BMW Reviews (2014-1994)

1996 BMW 740iL



ENGINE: 4.4-liter V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 282 hp@5700 rpm/310 ft.lbs.@3900 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 120.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT: 4288 lbs.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 13.0 cu. ft.
TIRES: 235/60R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, water temperature, fuel level.
EQUIPMENT: ABS, power steering, dual air bags,
           speed-sensitive interval wipers, leather seats,
           two-way power moonroof, anti-theft AM-EM stereo
           with cassette

A week isn't enough time in the BMW 740iL. The car simply has too many features to go along with its excellent engine and amenities to fully evaluate it in seven days. So I'd like to take this opportunity to announce to BMW that I'd like to re-drive the car--for a month or two.

We have driven the 740iL before, but the reason behind this ride was the new 4.4-liter V-8 engine. BMW chose not to rename the car 744iL, even though it often announces a new engine with a change in the nomenclature. This engine is rated at 282 horsepower and drives the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. Both are excellent.

One great feature about five-speed automatics-is that you can barely feel the car shift, even under hard acceleration. It's almost like driving a CVT, continuously variable transmission, but there's far more power available than these small belt-driven trannies can handle. The BMW transmission also has "adaptive control," which means that it learns the way you drive, it can adapt to the road conditions and the driving situation. As one of the BMW engineers said at the introduction, "In this class, it's the small things that make a difference. "

The engine is all-new, and while the rating is the same as the 4.0-liter V-8, there's more torque and, of course, the larger engine doesn't have to work as hard. And, not only is there more torque, the band is wider, offering usable torque (over 225 ft lbs.) down to 1000 rpm. For those who are interested, the engine is the same weight as last year's engine and has decreased reciprocating moving mass, a forged crankshaft, and lighter weight valve springs.

As with the Mercedes E420, which we drove a few weeks ago, the 740iL accelerates as if it could go on forever. Top speed is electronically limited to about 130mph; without the limitation there's no telling how fast the car could go. As with the Mercedes, this ability to travel at top speed is accompanied by a great feeling of safety. Most cars tend to get wobbly at higher speeds; the Bimmer almost feels more solid.

There are a few other features on the new car, though, that put it in the top echelon of luxury cars. For example, in order to ease entry into a car that's been sitting in the sun for a while, the remote lock release will also open the windows and sunroof, to allow cooling air to enter the car. The two front windows also have automatic down and automatic up buttons. I was nervous about the automatic up, because there's always the danger of getting a hand (or worse) stuck in the window as it raises. But I tried it at the press introduction and later in the longer test and the window reverses immediately as soon as it encounters resistance.

I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I shifted into reverse one time. But then I realized that the outside mirror on the passenger's side dips to give you a better view of what may be under your wheels there. This helps avoid running over small children or pets. My only complaint was that when the car's in reverse, there is a soft beeping noise that sounds as if the cell phone is ringing. And while the car is pre-wired for such a phone, none was installed.

The "L" in the car's designation is for the car's long wheelbase. All 7-Series BMWs have a 120.9-inch wheelbase. This extra length is given to the rear seat passengers. I had a lengthy wait one day as my wife was in the doctor's office and used the back seat as a portable office. The comfort was unbelievable. With the windows rolled down, soft music on the sound system, and room to stretch out, I was able to get a lot of work done without interruption. The only thing missing was one of those Rolls-Royce fold-down picnic tables that I could have used as a desk. There's even a foot rest for two of the rear passengers, and an air conditioning/heater outlet for temporal comfort.

Front passengers have more than adequate legroom. The arm rest between the two front bucket seats is a moveable feast. There are two small compartments for the passengers, and it will slide forward to offer greater comfort. The glove box is a good size, and has a cushioned drop so it won't bang your knees.

Some of the added inches are also devoted to the trunk. Total capacity is 13.0 cubic feet, definitely in the large car range, although the 740iL is rated as an intermediate. We weren't able to take longer trips with the Bimrner, but even our family would have had trouble filling its trunk. As with many American cars, the trunk has an automatic pull-down when it's within about an inch of closing.

Luxury touches include leather seats, tasteful amounts of wood trim around the dash, doors and console, and a nice cover for the cassette player, also of wood.

With a new engine, long wheelbase, great luxury and traditional BMW quality and performance, the BMW 740iL is a fine automobile. It has a few quirks, but all cars do. Perhaps its greatest asset is its greatest flaw; it looks like every other BMW from the front. Mercedes Benz put a different face on its E-class to differentiate it.