Updated: Oct 20, 2020
The BMW 740Li is an extended wheelbase version of the already quite large executive saloon. Being the big, luxurious, technically advanced, gadget filled, attention grabbing, aspirational thing that it is, it’svery easy to go straight to the superlatives about this car. And while it is very, very good, it's also very sensible.
Now, when I say sensible, I mean in the context of this class of car, which is all about superlatives, including price. The 740Li actually makes a very strong argument to choose it over more powerful, more expensive options - and in this economic climate, particularly hit by the coronavirus, austerity isn't a particularly bad approach, even for those who can afford a luxury limo as a daily runner. And so instead of simply picking out the 6,5 litre V12 760Li, and sending R2.8m BMW’s way, it's worth considering the “lesser” 740Li.
In this model, you still get the same extra 14cm of real legroom, you get the same monumental list of options, including things like laser headlights and a BluRay player and 10 inch HD screens for the rear passengers. You also get the same first class comfort levels for everyone in the car, and the same elegant, muscular styling.
And the same ridiculously large grill. Let's be honest, it is a bit ridiculous. And yet, despite that grill (or perhaps because of it), the new 7 Series gets a lot of attention, something you see every time you drive it, with pedestrians and other drivers very often giving the 740Li a lingering look. It ticks all the required boxes of this kind of car: at 5,2 meters long and 1,9 meters wide, it is big. That impression is underlined by the various bits of chrome trim that accentuate the lines and corners of the car. And the rear has an especially broad look, thanks to the strip that runs the length of the boot lid. On either side of that massive grille, slim laser headlights sit above wide air dams, giving the 740Li a face that is a mix of aggression and elegance. Our test car was fitted with the M Sport package, which added 19 inch wheels and aerodynamically enhanced bumpers and side skirts.
The 7 Series and cars in its class have got an interesting effect on people. Normally, when it comes to expensive or rare cars, people are interested in how good they look and how well they go. Any consideration for the interior is usually secondary - but in cars like this, the gawk factor is almost entirely down to what's inside and everything else becomes secondary.
It's the “expensive hotel” principle. It almost doesn't matter where the hotel is, who owns it, how it's run or how pretty the building is. People just want to spaz out about how expensive it is and what you're going to get treated to for all that money. And in terms of treats, the 7 Series knows how to deliver: close the door, and the outside world is pretty much silenced by the optional comfort glass windows; you can immediately feel the 7’s luxury starts seeping into your bones. Everything that you look at and touch and hear is not just about quality, but about a thorough attention to detail. And even though this car is churned out on a production line like every other BMW, there is a real sense of craftsmanship.
It's the combination of real wood and aluminium, the pattern stitch work in the seats and the contrasting detailing; the way every touch and interaction carries just the right weight and the way with which you can command a vast array of systems. The 740Li is a fantastic amalgamation of old school luxury, cutting edge design and future technology.
Undoubtedly, one of the coolest options in the 740Li is the Executive Lounge Seating. A press of a button folds the front passenger seat forward while simultaneously reclining the rear seat. It adjusts the angle of the rear passenger screen automatically so as not to mess with your viewing angle. And then as a final act of service, it deploys a footrest from the back of the front passenger seat. Add the heating, cooling and massage functions, and the left rear passenger seat of the 740Li is in line to win the title of the World's Most Comfortable Anything.
Which is great if you're the person being driven, but for the person doing the driving, well…You still get heating and cooling and massaging in your seat, but there are generally fewer opportunities to get as comfortable as those people at the back. So you have to get your jollies from things like the ride set up, the engine and the joy of the driving experience. Assuming that there is any.
Being BMW, BMW will tell you that the drive in the 740Li is very BMW-like and therefore very rewarding. But it's not really; it's far from terrible, but like all cars of this size and status, it's quite remote and isolated. It's not going to give you cornering thrills and fantastic steering feedback because frankly, it doesn't care about any of that stuff. What it cares about is velvety smooth motoring, and it does a few things to make sure it can deliver.
The first thing it does is be very, very quiet. Think Elmer Fudd in rabbit hunting season and you get the idea. That optional comfort glass mentioned earlier is over and above extra acoustic treatment in the rear wheel arches and the B pillars, and the combined result is an obviously quieter ride.
Its second weapon of smoothness is the standard air suspension. It’s adaptive, self- levelling, and it is magnificently effective. It soaks up every inconsistency and the car always feels composed and unfussed. And when you combine that with the good steering, it means that the 740Li can claim a definite level of waftiness. An ability to waft about without feeling wobbly is an absolute essential part of the executive saloon's makeup, and this car has it absolutely waxed.
I started out by saying that the 740Li is the car that presents a very sensible option in a class of car where it's very easy to get carried away with things. That sensibility has absolutely nothing to do with the tech or the interior comfort, because you can spec it to include just about everything on the 7 Series options list. The sensibility comes from the engine. BMW says the 740Li do under 8l/100km, but even if it does 10, it's still a pretty good deal for a car this size that delivers this much luxury. You can opt for a 448kW V12 7 Series, but you don't need to. The 740Li may only have 250kW and 450Nm from its 3.0 straight-six turbo petrol motor, and it may only have two-wheel drive as opposed to the V12’s all-wheel drive, but really, you don't need anything else.
I've driven super saloons with stupid power, and I've never understood the point, especially in a country that doesn't have unrestricted roads. If you're shelling out R2m for a 740Li with decent spec, shelling out R3m for the V12 version doesn't really prove much more of a point. If you want driving fun, buy a 740Li and then use the spare million bucks to buy yourself a BMW M2.
The executive saloon - and especially the limousine - is all about superlatives. It’s the most luxury, the most tech, the most power; and the BMW 740Li, even though it is a limousine, has subverted that recipe to an extent. It can still claim to have one of the best interiors, but it's also got a rational drive with the right amount of power. It's easy every day without being over the top. The 740Li is the perfect balance between pure luxury and sensible motoring.
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