At first glance there’s nothing that instantly identifies the 740Ld as the daddy of the BMW family.
Across a car park it looks much like every BMW saloon – low and sleek with the wide front end dominated by the trademark kidney grille.
BMW 740Ld Xdrive M Sport
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, turbo, diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic gearbox driving all four wheels.
Top speed: 155mph
CO2 emissions: 142g/km
It’s only as you walk towards it that you get that Father Dougal moment of realisation – it’s much further away than you thought. As you get closer you realise that those nice double-spoke alloys are actually 20-inchers, the rear doors are longer than the fronts and that while it’s sitting in a standard-sized bay its sharply sculpted front and rear are hanging over the edges.
This, then, is a behemoth of a car. The ‘L’ in the test car’s name denotes that this is the long-wheelbase version, meaning it measures in at 5.25m long and 1.9m wide. It’s a car designed to ensure those in the rear seats are as comfortable and pampered as those in the front, if not more.
Other clues to its status at the top of the Beemer heap are the Carbon Core slashes in the doors and the hundreds of tiny 7s engraved in the Laserlight headlights.
Those cues on the outside are relatively subtle but once you open the door the true nature of the 740Ld is properly revealed. The interior is a haven of luxury. Immediately obvious is the quality of the leather that adorns seats and doors and of the beautifully finished switchgear. Delve beneath the surface and you’ll find a car designed to be the last word in comfort and convenience whether you’re piloting it yourself or being chauffeured around in the back.
All the seats are beautifully shaped, supportive and endlessly adjustable so even cross-continent cruising isn’t an issue. As well as heated and ventilated seats, the 7 adds a heated steering wheel and heated armrests, just in case your elbows get a bit chilly.
Up front the driver controls everything via the excellent iDrive system. Linked to a 10.25-inch touchscreen, it’s quick, slick and good looking. It’s so densely packed that you’ll want to spend some time getting familiar with it but once you are it’s easy to see why it’s regarded as one of the best infotainment systems on the market.
The test car came with the BMW Professional navigation system which includes everything you’ll ever need plus a load of stuff you won’t. As well as CD/DVD, DAB and an inbuilt hard drive, the connected services give you access to music streaming services, web searches, news and weather reports. There’s also a top-notch sat nav with live traffic updates and a built in TV tuner for the front and twin rear screeens.
Of course, the sort of VIP passenger likely to travel in the rear of the big BMW will be used to getting their own way so pretty much all the 740Ld’s functions can be controlled from the back seats via a removable seven-inch Samsung tablet built into the centre armrest. A quick word of advice to buyers with kids –don’t mention that particular feature to them.
Also packed in to make the driver’s life easier are a class-leading head-up display, Driving assistant plus that will take care of distance and lane discipline on motorways and a plethora of cameras and sensors helping to park this big beast. For really tight spaces the 7 has a party trick. Park in front of a space, hop out and activate the Display Key and you can direct the car into and out of a space with a simple press of a button. Ta-da!
The sheer number of high-tech features is baffling but thankfully their use isn’t. I might still have been discovering new toys even after a month with the car but at least they were always easy to operate once discovered.
If you can drag yourself away from the glorious cabin to worry about the oily bits you’ll find a 3.0-litre straight-six diesel lurking beneath the bonnet. Linked to an eight-speed auto gearbox and BMW’s XDrive four-wheel-drive transmission it provides the sort of smooth, refined drivetrain you’d expect from a car with a starting price of nearly £80,000 before options.
The 316bhp engine will move the 2.5-tonne limo to 62mph in an un-limo-like 5.3 seconds and out on the autobahn will knock on the door of 155mph, all in a cloud of serenity. At no point does this engine sound like a diesel – when it is audible there’s more of a performance rumble than diesel rattle. Under hard acceleration it’s more noticeable than you might expect in a super-lux limo but cruising at any speed it falls away into virtual silence.
Given the size of the car the engine does need to be prodded to get the most out of it. Gentle throttle equals smooth, quiet but not particularly quick progress but a heavy dose of right foot gets you moving with the sort of speed you expect from a car carrying an M Sport badge.
As well as that badge and the various styling cues, the M Sport 7 Series comes with multiple driving modes. Given the car’s nature I can’t imagine taking it out of comfort very often but there are eco and sport modes if you want them.
I wouldn’t claim that in sport mode the car shrinks around you to feel like a 3 Series but with the sharpened throttle map and firmer suspension once you start to press on you do forget that this is a 5.2-metre-long car designed for wafting captains of industry around in isolated comfort. For its size it’s pretty agile and the Xdrive all-wheel-drive setup ensures you get the best traction whatever the conditions.
For me though, it felt most at home blasting down the motorway. It’s so spacious planted, smooth and effortless that four adults could cover thousands of miles in it without batting an eyelid. From a proasic practical point of view, the boot might have usual access problems of a saloon but it will swallow a week’s worth of family luggage with ease.
The 740Ld really is hard to fault. Yes, in this guise it does cost more than my first flat but then it’s got more tellies, a better internet connect and is a far more opulent place to spend time. In the rarefied air of luxury motoring the big Beemer is a serious contender.