In thinking about what BMW would be perfect for a week-long holiday adventure in the upper Midwest of the US, there are a few that immediately come to mind. My own E61 5 Series wagon certainly fits the bill. But of course we needed to test something new and the wonderful F11 5 Series wagon isn ‘t coming stateside. There ‘s the line of SAVs – specifically the X3 and X5 to consider. However the X3 was quickly deemed too small. The X5 would work but there ‘s something a little expected about it. Then it hit me. Why not the biggest of them all; The 7 Series?
With xDrive there ‘s no reason to not think of it as a great car in the snow. Likewise, even without a hatch, the trunk is cavernous enough to swallow plenty of luggage, toys and maybe even a stroller. So a brand-new 2013 740Li was procured and the family piled in for the Holiday road trip from Chicago to Northern Michigan via Indiana.
I ‘ve never been a fan of the mature, restrained waft that the 7 Series exudes. One of the core tenets is to isolate and control the driving experience, allowing only a hint of any troubles beneath the tires. And as the 7 Series has increased in size and sophisitication it ‘s gotten much better at this. The original E23 always felt like a long E28. It wasn ‘t until the E32 that the 7 Series really came into its own. Fast forward to the E38 and BMW seemed to hit on the sweet spot for driver involvement in executive transportation. That ‘s where the E65 always left us a little cold and where the new ‘y refreshed F01 is a little surprising.
But this isn ‘t about on-the-limit handling. Our time with the revised 7 Series was focused on stretching its legs across highways and the winding country roads of western Michigan. With the trunk full and Recaro child seats two deep in the back we set off.
At the heart of the new 740iL is the revised N55 now producing 325 hp and 330 lb-ft. Power aside the engine is defined by that 330 figure and the fact it is achieved at only 1400 rpm. Basically the 740iL performs like the 750iL from not that long ago while returning up to 28 mpg on the highway. If this is progress so be it.The free-revving nature of the classic 4.4L V8 (eventually 4.8) will be missed but the lighter and just as quick N55 serves this car well.
The thing with the iL is that it ‘s huge. The sheer length takes a bit of getting used to in tight urban areas. How this car works in the small urban areas of Europe is beyond me. But on the open roads of Michigan is feels eerily at home. As the “L ” indicates there ‘s extra length in the rear. In the world of child seats and packing for a long family trip the room down there isn ‘t used for legs but for luggage. And you ‘d be shocked at how well it is at swallowing small suitcases and bags.
In the Midwest of the US it ‘s almost impossible to find a classic rear wheel drive BMW on dealer lots. So our 740iL xDrive represents the bread and butter of the line. And it serves the market well with an awe system that is totally transparent to the normal driver and only there when traction requires it. It certainly served us well as the snow began to fly heading through the snow-belt of northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. As BMW tradition dictates, the system is rear wheel drive biased with torque moving to the front only when the system senses excessive wheel slip. When it does the electronically controlled multi-plate clutch responds within millisecondsto prevent understeer. However it only sounds so good until we feel it in use on treacherous roads. In short it works. Not that should be a surprise in itself but the seamlessness in which it goes about its business it what truly feels exceptional here.
That said without snow tires the entire set-up was still somewhat compromised. Luckily BMW will happily sell you a set of “approved cold weather ” tires at your local dealer.
Historically I ‘ve made no apologies for hating automatics. I ‘ve also generally not loved the increasing size and weight of BMWs across the board. No I ‘m not about to make excuses for the 4,525 lbs of curb weight. But the reality is that, in a car like the 7 Series, a feeling of weight is expected. Weight of the controls (yes the steering is spot on for a large car), the doors and even weight in the way it moves. It ‘s a little at odds with the sport sedan history of BMW but the engineers of done well in blending this feeling of heft with real performance. On the road it just feels right. Sure it could turn in more eagerly but that ‘s not the expectation of the clientele. Even the 4,125 lb AWD Jaguar XJ doesn ‘t feel quicker and is in fact, on paper, .4 slower to 60 mph.
Perhaps one of the defining features of the 740iL (as it is with many modern BMWs) is the adjustable suspension triggered by the small rocker switch to the left of the gear lever. In the her it goes from ECO Pro, Comfort +, Comfort (the default) and of course Sport and Sport +. Unsurprisingly the sweet spot for this car is the default Comfort setting. With the suspension splitting the difference between soaking up the world outside and giving the driver feedback, it ‘s a great way to consume an enormous amount of miles that the US highway system has to offer. BMW claims the settings are better differentiated and I would agree. But that may actually be a bit of a detriment as Sport and Sport + now feel almost a little out of character for the car. No matter where you are within the range of eight gears it will immediately upshift when you go from Comfort to Sport. So consistent is it that I used it as an on-ramp tool. The suspension almost getting noticeably firmer and for the first time you ‘re reminded that those are run flats under the car. Then we come to Comfort +. But it ‘s not the geriatric mode you ‘d expect. The steering stays the same as does the throttle. The only change is to the suspension which allows for the car to better insulate occupants from the pot-marked Michigan highways. On normal roads it ‘s not needed but on long stretches of broken pavement (most of the state of Michigan) it ‘s pretty appealing.
Finally there ‘s ECO Pro mode new to the 7 Series. The setting it designed to get the maximum MPG out of the drivetrain, sometimes at the degradation of performance. It starts by changing the accelerator mapping so that the same pedal travel delivers less power than in the standard mode. The transmission settings are also modified to upshift sooner and downshift later making good use of all of those eight speeds. Finally intelligent energy and climate management reduces power consumption as well as the energy consumption of electrical systems such as heated mirrors and seats. It ‘s all neatly summed up with instrumentation on the dash telling you the approximate number of miles you ‘ve saved on this tank of fuel.Look for this mode to eventually be extended to all BMWs.
Eight days and 800 miles in the 740iL changes you. For one it made my E61 touring feel small. It also made it feel about two generations old in terms of electronics and drivetrain. BMW has moved the game on so much with this current generation of ZF 8 Speed transmission and N55 that the six speed speed N54 combination from just a few years ago really feels its age. The fit and finish of the revised 7 Series is also noticeably better than the 5 or 7 that came before it. We talked about this in our first review of the car a few years ago and with the 2013 LCI it ‘s only gotten better.
For $87,000 it ‘s not cheap. And at 4,525 lbs it ‘s not light. But the 2013 740iL does executive and family transportation with performance, efficiency and style better than anything else in the BMW line-up. But perhaps crucially it still feels just enough like a large BMW should.