I have this theory . . . no, come back! It’s quite a good one . . . I have this theory that the increasing financial necessity of building cars in many different market sectors has led several manufacturers to venture out of their comfort zones and create cars that, deep down, they don’t really want to. For example, I’ve never driven a BMW SUV that made me feel the company was entirely at ease with that type of vehicle. Large and medium-sized saloons are another matter. BMW seems completely confident about the 3- and 5-Series, and also – more importantly for this review – the 7-Series, of which the 740Ld xDrive M Sport is an excellent example.
It would be as well to start off by unpacking the car’s title. 740d means that this is a 7-Series with a three-litre turbo diesel engine producing up to 316bhp. The intrusive L denotes that it’s a long-wheelbase model and therefore more than 17 feet from bumper to bumper. xDrive refers to the fact that power goes to all four wheels, while M Sport tells you that it has various pieces of body styling designed to make it look more sporty than it really is.
Don’t assume from that last sentence that the 740Ld is a lumbering behemoth. Despite its great length, and a kerbweight of just over 1.9 tonnes, it’s surprisingly nimble, though perhaps not the first car you’d choose for a quick run over narrow country roads.
Its steering, its damping, its engine response and the behaviour of its excellent eight-speed automatic transmission can all be adjusted. It’s worth paying close attention to this. For me, the first two are too dull in Comfort while the others are too excitable in Sport, but you can mix and match. My favourite setting is Eco Pro Individual, which allows for coasting and other fuel-saving features (helping me to average around 43mpg during this test), locks the engine and gearbox into Comfort mode, but permits you to switch to Sport for the steering and damping.
This was my favourite arrangement by a considerable margin. My only gripe is that once you’ve switched off the engine the whole system goes back to Comfort, but it takes only a couple of button prods to get it back to the way you want it.
The 740Ld is too heavy to feel really quick, even though it can accelerate from rest to 62mph in not much over five seconds, but the engine, with its ability to produce nearly 170bhp at just 1750rpm, is as strong as you’re ever going to need it to be unless you plan to go drag racing or make a habit of overtaking in the face of oncoming lorries.
Ride quality is great when the dampers are on Sport setting (it’s a bit wallowy on anything but super-smooth roads if you don’t select that). The test car was a bit fidgety over sharp bumps, but that’s explained largely by an £1100 upgrade from the standard 19″ wheels to better-looking, but in my view less suitable, 20s.
(By the way, if you think £1100 is a lot for four slightly larger alloys, you don’t know the half of it. The combined value of the extras on this particular 740Ld was over £24,000, sending its list price up through the atmosphere to £104,030, or about as much as you’d pay for an i8.)
The handling is rather lovely. Four-wheel drive means it’s difficult to lose grip at any corner, but a healthy dose of power applied at the apex will gently push the tail round, without any sign of the snap oversteer some high-performance BMWs still suffer from.
Nevertheless, this is definitely a luxury car rather a sporting one. On that basis, it’s a plus point that the engine is very quiet. It emits a pleasant grumble in town and under hard acceleration, but at cruising speeds you can hardly hear it.
The conventional buttons are, following familiar BMW practice, quite small and fiddly, but there aren’t many of them. Most of the minor controls are contained in the very wide central screen, whose graphics are a delight. You can touch the screen to make adjustments, but it’s a bit far away for that; I found it easier to use the rotary knob on the centre console, which gives you access to a great deal of information, some useful (satellite navigation) and some not (instantaneous power and torque outputs – I mean, who really needs to know those?).
A smaller touchscreen, closer at hand, allows you to adjust the air-conditioning and use the seat heating. This warms both the base and the back of the seats (not all of them do) and even raises the temperature of the armrests, which is too wonderful for words.
Another nice detail is that the central mid-level air vents can be adjusted so one blows cool air at you while the other blows hot. Brilliant idea. Why don’t more manufacturers offer this?
As a rough, unkempt, lower-class person, my place in the 740Ld is up front. Gentlefolk will prefer to be carried in the rear, which has just the most astonishing amount of legroom and enough headroom to cater for anyone up to about six feet tall.
Much luxury is to be found here if you’re willing to pay for it. The test car was fitted with rear seat massage and an entertainment system, along with a television function and a superb Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system. All very glorious, of course, but not part of the standard equipment. If you want that lot, it will cost a total of £8590. You could have a Dacia for that, but I suppose 740Ld customers rarely give much thought to buying Dacias.
Engine size 2993cc
Top speed 155mph
0-62mph 5.3 seconds
Fuel economy 52.3mpg combined
CO2 emissions 142g/km
Towing capacity 2300kg (braked)
Euro NCAP not tested
Information correct at publication date