Oil-burning, twin-turbo 7 Series offers a compelling blend of virtues

What is it?

The latest addition to BMW’s 7-series luxobarge range, the new 740d is Munich’s biggest performance diesel.

Although it sounds like it should be a V8, this is actually the first BMW to run the twin-turbocharged version of Munich’s latest all-aluminium, 2993cc diesel six.

This car isn’t powered by the same 282bhp iron-blocked engine that you’ll find in a 535d, then, but a lighter and even more efficient unit with BMW’s third-generation common-rail direct injection technology and much of its Efficient Dynamics trickery too. It produces 301bhp and 443lb ft of torque.

What’s it like?

This latest diesel Seven is good for 0-62mph in 6.3sec and 155mph flat out. It’ll also return fuel economy on the right side of 40mpg, and emits just 181g/km of CO2. BMW claims that all of those figures are class-leading, and we can’t fault them. So is it as impressive off the spec sheet?

We sampled the new 740d on challenging roads in the Scottish highlands and, although those roads were narrow and more undulating than many on BMW’s development routes, the big BMW put in a very good performance indeed.

Its advantage over a 730d in terms of outright shove isn’t huge; we drove back to back with the less powerful diesel, and weren’t overwhelmed by the step up in performance. Where the 740d does score over its cheaper sibling, though, is in its sharper throttle response, greater torque at low revs and greater power high up the rev range. It’s much quicker to react when you flex your right foot than a 730d, and piles on pace through the gears in effortlessly brisk fashion.

The performance and economy improvements have been made on this engine in several ways. Diesel is now injected at 2000psi for more efficient combustion, and Munich’s Efficient Dynamics tech means the alternator, and other power-draining ancillaries, can disengage under acceleration, allowing more of the engine’s power to be fed to its wheels.

But the most significant change relative to the old twin-turbo diesel six comes on the smaller of the engine’s two turbochargers, which has variable vanes to improve response at low revs. As a result, peak torque comes in at just 1500rpm; you get 30lb ft less twist in a 535d, and not until 2000rpm.

We drove the 740d in M Sport specification, with optional 20-inch alloy wheels, and yet it rode extremely quietly, and surprisingly comfortably with its adaptive dampers, active anti-roll bars and myriad other tailored driving systems set to Comfort.

Wheels aside, the M Sport upgrade makes no difference to the car’s chassis, but neither extra grip nor added composure is required when you flick over to Sport mode. The steering quickens and loads up slightly, and the dampers tie the car down onto the road very well.

What you end up with is a car that can be driven across country just as quickly as a proper sports saloon – albeit with greater precision than involvement – but with a great deal more comfort, and going a great deal further between pumps than a true sports saloon would.

Should I buy one?

BMW’s diesel engines are the envy of the car industry. It amazed us with the oil-burning motors in the 1996 E36 325tds, the 1998 E39 530d and most recently with the twin-turbocharged units in the 535d and 123d.

Back to top

It’s got another headline-maker with heater plugs here - a truly remarkable powerplant in a very commendable car indeed.

Jaguar’s new XJ may be hogging the limelight right now, but it’ll have its work cut out winning an Autocar group test with a 740d involved. Because, although this car is expensive, it’s also fast, refined, economical, spacious and quietly brilliant to drive.

Unbeatable? Watch this space.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
JacobE 2 June 2010

Re: BMW 740d M-Sport

apearce wrote:
Ive had 2 of the previous 'Bangle' 7s as well as a few XJs and S classes and in every case you get distinct styling from the lesser cars in the range. You dont with an A8 which is one reason why Ive never bought one, and now BMW have done the same thing - a mistake IMHO.

In all fairness, the E23, the E32 and the E38 versions of the 7 looked like larger, heftier versions of their contemperary 5s (The E32 in particular was difficult to distinguish from head on, only the shape of the indicators appeared different, otherwise it was just 10% bigger). I like the new 7, it is handsome, and will make a great used buy for a serial luxobarge owner like yours truly. If only someone could please buy a nice gunmetal 760 M-Sport and keep it for 5-6 years and not put too many miles on it....
Peter Cavellini 2 June 2010

Re: BMW 740d M-Sport

I thought limo sized cars weren't meant to handle like hatchbacks ?, i thought you were supposed too woft around in serene silence and not be aware of the speed and arrive at your destination not tired and feeling fresh for your board meeting etc!?

apearce 2 June 2010

Re: BMW 740d M-Sport

Great car to drive (as is the new 730d), but havent they missed the point with the styling ? If you spend 60k on a car (DOUBLE the price of a basic 5 series) then lets be honest you dont want everyone thinking its a 5. Anyone agree or am I the only shallow one out there ?

Ive had 2 of the previous 'Bangle' 7s as well as a few XJs and S classes and in every case you get distinct styling from the lesser cars in the range. You dont with an A8 which is one reason why Ive never bought one, and now BMW have done the same thing - a mistake IMHO.

7s have always had worse residuals than the equivalent merc, lexus, jag, audi or even the phaeton (!!!) and being indistinguishable from a 5 series (and in time a 3 series once thats revised) will make this worse, which will put off new buyers and raise lease rates.

Having said that, BMW like Apple never seem to make mistakes, so therefore I must be wrong.