2020 BMW 740I

INDIANAPOLIS — BMW had some nerve when it introduced its flagship 7-Series back in 1977.  To even deign to compete with the dreadnought Mercedes-Benz S-Class took an end-loader full of, well, something extraordinary.  While Cadillac was content to offer over-fluffed Chevy Impalas, Lincoln built block-length cruisers, and Audi was still trying to out-live the Fox, BMW said, “You think you’re great, Mercedes?  I’ll have a whack at that!”  Six generations and over 40 years later, BMW may finally have hit its battleship.

My five-year-old daughter would agree as she rides in our 740i.  The other night, driving home from dinner, she was lounging in the back when she began barking out orders.  I don’t know if she was power-drunk from all of the legroom, electric window shades, her own climate and seat heater adjustments, or maybe just the sweet smell of the diamond-stitched Nappa leather seats, but she commanded me to slip through the nearest hamburgeratorium.
I did not complain because I was cuddled into my own comfy seats with phone wirelessly charging and my favorite tunes playing through the Bowers & Wilkins audio system.  One touch brought heated seats, steering wheel, and armrests.  The warm ambient lighting that seeps from crevices and speaker grilles was soothing.  I appreciated the fineline black wood trim across the dash, doors, and console, too.  Flatscreen instruments and head-up display aided driving.
So did the electronics suite.  The 7-Series comes with the latest iDrive system that uses a console joywheel and touchscreen above to direct audio, navigation, and vehicle functions.  It’s still a little cumbersome, but by far the easiest one to use so far.  Gesture recognition audio controls let you rotate your finger in mid-air to adjust the volume and shake your fist to select tracks, but it would be really decadent if you could raise your middle digit to have the horn honk at fellow motorists. 

Safety is enhanced by adaptive cruise with lane centering, forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, bind spot warning, and lane keep assist.  It can even park itself and creep through traffic jams semi-autonomously.

If you think bigger is better, you’re going to love styling updates to the 2020 edition.  A larger twin-kidney grille eaves no doubt you’re looking at a BMW — especially when flanked by quad headlamps.  Lower facia detailing was finessed with more chrome and sculpting.  The long hood was enhanced with truss-like ridges that would seem more appropriate on an X5 or X7 crossover, but give the car a sense of strength.  More chrome separates the 20-inch wheels.  Despite all of the shiny bits, the car is relatively understated, letting deft body sculpting and long wheelbase communicate power and prestige. 
Step into the throttle and the big car surges ahead as if it has a lock on France’s TGV high-speed train.  If you want to short-cut Europe (or Montana), this might be your car – even if it is the least-powerful 7-Series.  Beneath the long hood is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine, connected to an 8-speed transmission and all-wheel-drive.  Bombed out, it produces 335 horsepower to flash 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds.  Drive easy to see a relatively frugal 20/28-MPG city/highway.  If this seems inadequate, choose an available 523 horsepower turbocharged V8 or 600 hp V12 in the 750 and 760.
Out on the road, the 740 feels much like an S-Class.  It wafts along on its adjustable suspension, keeping passengers isolated from the road and wind noise.  A console switch let’s drivers select “Comfort,” “Sport,” or “Eco” with each making appropriate adjustments to steering heft, suspension firmness, and throttle sensitivity.  You can press an additional button to raise the car for clearing snow or country estate driveways.  It feels like a serious automobile, but clips corners like a car half its size.
It takes nerve to flat-blast the Mercedes S-Class right in its chrome-plated grille, but BMW reached its target.  I suspect some BMW aficionados would prefer a harder edged sport sedan, but it’s difficult to complain about the serene conveyance that’s become the 7-Series. 

Additional competitors include the Audi A8, Cadillac CT6, Lexus LS, and Jaguar XJ.  A base price of $86,450 rose to $102,895 as tested.

— Casey Williams (MyCarData)