You know something has changed when a major selling point for a $120,000 luxury limousine is a driving nanny intended to keep you from wasting gas.
What’s changed? The regulators have won. Most of what’s in showrooms is aimed at pleasing government officials. It’s become the job of car company marketers to sell buyers on the wisdom of it. Get used to it. Almost all of what you’ll see in the future will be the product of ever-tougher fuel economy, emissions and safety rules.
In the background, I can hear cans of non-alcoholic beer popping. It’s taken 50 years, but I’m conceding the game to government officials – elected and unelected – toasting their success, congratulating themselves on having driven the “Ultimate Driving Machine” company to load up the stunning new BMW 740Li xDrive sedan with Coasting Mode and Proactive Driver Assist, Auto Start-Stop and Brake Energy Reneneration and Eco Pro Mode.
That last one suggests that you can do your part for Mother Earth while flashing around in a nearly 2,000-kilogram sedan powered by a furious turbocharged motor (315 horsepower/332 lb-ft of torque) that uses premium fuel to get 10.9 litres/100 km in the city, 7.3 on the highway. With BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive, too.
That fuel economy number is better than a 2013 Subaru Legacy with a six-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive (11.8 city/8.1 highway). I mean, the big Bimmer is a relative fuel sipper, given all it can do, all the fancy features it comes equipped with, all the luxury appointments that coddle and cater to you.
The regulators have forced BMW to put as much engineering muscle into fuel economy and low emissions as luxury and performance. Ultimate Driving is not just about a 0-100 km/h time of 5.9 seconds, but also about shutting down the engine automatically when you come to a stop (Auto Start-Stop) to save “up to six per cent” on fuel.
BMW is proud of the turbocharged straight-six-cylinder engine with all its modern direct fuel injection and valve timing and camshaft timing and electronic controls, but the company busts a gut talking about the “green” parts of this long-wheelbase saloon with the silky steering, the creamy acceleration and the astonishingly composed track manners.
Brake Energy Regeneration: Most times the battery is recharged when you’re coasting or braking. Sounds simple, but it’s no small task to turn a non-hybrid car into a rolling generator.
Eco Pro: Computer controls dictate the most efficient way to manage the engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox, “as well as the programming of the heating and air conditioning, heated seats and exterior mirror heating.” The driver also gets green driving tips. I’ve never met a BMW driver more interested in saving fuel than using it, but still …“Eco Pro can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20 per cent.”
Of course, if you care more about going than going “green,” you can tailor the performance here (using Driving Dynamics Control) for more “entertaining” engine responses, tighter, quicker steering, a firmer ride and less intrusive stability control actions. Go ahead, use that rocker switch on the centre console to punch up Eco Pro, Comfort+, Comfort, Sport or Sport+ modes.
BMW’s product people won’t give you any applause for driving well and safely at, say, 250 km/h down the autobahn, but if you channel your inner Al Gore, Eco Pro has a display in the instrument cluster that gives you a metaphorical pat on the back: a graphical display of good fuel consumption in your recent driving history.
“In Eco Pro mode, average fuel consumption can be reduced by up to 20 per cent,” says BMW.
On the other hand, nothing in the instrument cluster will cheer how you’ve just carved that last corner like Canadian champion DTM driver Bruno Spengler in his BMW. But, if in Eco Pro you take advantage of the coasting mode designed to decouple the engine when coasting at speeds between 50 and 160 km/h, thereby saving fuel, well then, you’ll be a hero.
What I don’t want lost in all this is how staggering the 740Li with xDrive is as a pure driving machine. During my test, I drove through snow, rain, sleet and even the odd stretch of wide-open and dry pavement. This is a big car that drives like a small one.
The exterior styling is pleasant, but this latest BMW design language lacks the edginess of cars done under former design boss Chris Bangle. Big and strong, the 7 looks unremarkable.
Meanwhile, the cabin is delicious and comfortable. I am learning to manage the iDrive controller after more than a decade and the three-dimensional readouts of the navigation system are astonishing. You can’t buy better seats and in back there’s enough room to hold a caucus meeting of the federal Liberals. I know, that’s a small group, but still… Perhaps some day those Liberals will get back into the governing game. If so, they’ll have nothing to concern themselves with in cars. As I said, the regulators have won.
2013 BMW 740Li xDrive
Type: Large luxury sedan
Base price: $106,600 (freight $885); as tested, $121,850
Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 315 hp/332 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city/7.3 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Jaguar XJ
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