What does Wolverine have in common with the new BMW 740Li, and why should their enemies be afraid?
SINGAPORE — The new BMW flagship is here, earlier than we expected and in 740Li form. Decoded, that model designation means it comes with a turbo 3.0-litre straight six (like the one in the 340i) and with a wheelbase stretched by 14cm. The price in Singapore? $444,800 with COE to start with, and $456,800 for a high-spec Pure Excellence model.
The 740Li the only model you wouldn’t have to wait for. The basic 7 Series is now the diesel-powered 730d and it’s special-order only.
So is the standard-wheelbase 740i. Apparently, Singaporean 7 Series owners tend to drive themselves, but still prefer a longer wheelbase. Maybe it seems like better value on on a price-per-square-foot basis.
As for the 750Li that we drove at the car’s international launch, that arrives March 2016.
First impressions of the new 7 are easy to form. It’s essentially what happens if you take a plush limo and insert the genes of BMW’s i8. Or, if you like, it’s like the car world’s equivalent of Wolverine (the Marvel character, not the animal).
That’s not because it has claws that shoot out of nowhere, mind you. Just as Wolverine’s skeleton has been reinforced by adamantium, so has the new 7’s structure been strengthened by carbon fibre, the expensive stuff that new jetliners, submarines and Formula One racing cars are made of.
Interestingly, carbon fibre is still so exotic that BMW needed to set up its own factory to secure a steady stream of the stuff. Existing suppliers more or less laughed when BMW engineers told them how much they needed.
Anyway, the main point of building the 7 this way (BMW calls the technique “Carbon Core”) is not so you can bash through weaker cars with impunity, but to shed weight.
Other flab-cutting measures include switching to aluminium for most of the body panels, and cladding the engine in sound-deadening material (which removes the need to use it elsewhere).
Some versions of the new 7 Series are up to 120kg lighter than before, and the 740Li itself weighs 1,770kg without occupants. That’s roughly the same as BMW’s own 640i, a smaller car with half the number of doors.
Anyway, when you take ol’Wolverine for a spin, it’s apparent that for something the size of a battleship, it sure is agile. The 740Li is feels like a smaller car to drive than it is, tackling fast direction changes with glee and gamely resisting the urge to run wide when pushed hard through a corner.
The car we tested had (optional) four-wheel steering, with an active set of rear wheels. At low speed they turn in the opposite direction of the fronts (which tightens up the 740Li’s turning radius) and at high speed they swivel in the same direction, to aid stability.
That’s not the only clever tech. Air suspension is standard on all 7s now, and the result is a pillowy ride over bumps.
But there’s a tricky new feature that borders on the mind-blowing.
The drive mode selector that toggles between Eco Pro (lazy but fuel saving), Comfort and Sport (alert but thirsty) now has an Adaptive mode. Press this and the car gets all predictive, meaning it senses your driving mood (based on how quickly you’re going, mostly) and takes Satnav data to prime itself for corners.
Barrel toward a hairpin at speed and the 740Li preps itself, lowering the suspension by 10mm and stiffening its air springs.
It’s a pretty quick car too, with enough firepower under the bonnet to hurtle to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds. That makes it as quick as a basic Porsche Boxster on the stopwatch, but in reality there’s a brief but noticeable lag if you’re accelerating from standstill.
It’s not until the revs reach 2,000rpm that the turbocharger really starts to do its thing.
Ultimately, it’s one of those cars that rewards you for driving a bit faster than your should, really, which isn’t great for the licence but terrific for the soul.
And never mind if it really does end up costing you your right to drive, because if you can afford nearly half a million for a car, you can afford a chauffeur, in which case you would have an equally fine time in the back.
The basic 740Li comes with fixed rear seats, with the airplane-style reclining rear chair remaining the ultimate cabin option, but somewhere in between them is a version with adjustable rear seats.
Might as well say it, but the 7 Series has more kneeroom in the back than the long wheelbase Mercedes S-Class, along with a (slightly) bigger boot.
It doesn’t quite match its great rival for cabin silence, but it’s still one of the most relaxing cars to be in.
BMW has given plenty of thought to engaging all the senses, so in addition to acres of polished wood trim and buttons with a new polished metal finish, the 740Li’s cabin has ambient lighting that’s adjustable for colour and intensity.
The nose isn’t left out, either. Like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class the new 7 has an ambient air package that lets you fill the cabin with scents from two cartridges.
Buyers get four free scents (out of a palette of eight), with two basic smell groups to choose from. One is meant to soothe, and the other to revitalise.
They complement a built-in ioniser, which discharges negative ions into the cabin to kill bacteria and mould spores and to decompose harmful chemicals in the air.
Clean air that smells good and soothing lighting are key to a luxury experience, believes BMW.
This new approach to relaxation was apparently the result of feedback from Singapore customers. BMW sent designers and engineers to seven cities around the world to pick up ideas for the new flagship, and our town happened to be one of them.
At the same time, the 740Li feels familiar, with a cabin architecture that is straight out of the BMW playbook. There’s a new touchscreen display (BMW’s first), but if you’ve driven enough of the company’s cars you tend to revert to using the rotary iDrive controller as the default.
That must give some satisfaction to BMW; when iDrive first made its appearance (in a 7 Series) there was no shortage of criticism about how fiddly and unnecessary it was.
That 740Li adds a new interface system in the form of gesture controls. Wave your fingers in the air just-so and you can alter the radio’s volume, change stations and so on.
It is, frankly, a small bit of engineering overkill, just like the optional touchscreen smart key that can tell you how many km is left in the fuel tank.
But where else other than the flagship model of a car company ruled by engineers do you expect to find frivolous bits of technology?
What’s important is that the 740Li makes it clear that fundamental character of the 7 Series has been preserved in key areas, and enhanced in others.
It’s as beautifully sharp to drive as a BMW should be, and the cabin is more plush and relaxing to be in than ever. And of course, it still looks grand, thanks in no small part to long, hockey stick-shaped strips of chrome that run along the sills of the body.
The rival from Mercedes is still considered the gold standard in the segment; the BMW 7 Series has never surpassed the S-Class in global sales. Here in Singapore, however, the 7 Series has managed to outsell in rival on a couple of occasions.
Whether it can do so again is an open question. It can’t help that the car’s pricing points have shifted considerably. In the past you could have had the base model 730Li for less than $300,000. That means you now have to pay over 50 percent more than before to own a 7 Series.
You could always save money by letting the chauffeur go. The way the 740Li, that is one economy you wouldn’t mind having to make.
NEED TO KNOW BMW 740Li
Engine 2,998cc, 24V, in-line 6 turbo
Power 326hp at 5,500 to 6,000rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1,380 to 5,000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h 5.6 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7L/100km
Price $456,800 with COE
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