As I previously detailed on Holy Grails several months ago, the BMW 540d is incredibly underrated. Not only is it the only B57-powered car sold in America, it’s a fascinating blend of modernity with phased-out diesel efficiency. It’s good enough to be on people’s radars, even if the number of people captivated by it is small. However, now it’s time to talk about that other plush, late-run BMW diesel sedan. For the 2015 model year only, BMW made a 2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive for the American market, and it was both flawed and magnificent. Oh, and did I mention it came from seriously troubled beginnings?
[Writer’s note: Welcome back to Holy Grails! Mercedes is on vacation this week, so I’ve been entrusted with producing this week’s edition. Fingers crossed, I hope I haven’t screwed it up. -TH]
The 7 Series’ Gas Engines Were, Uh, Not Great
The fifth-generation BMW 7 Series started life as a bit of a headache. Well, when I say a bit of a headache, I really mean a full-blown migraine. In 2008 for the 2009 model year, BMW rolled out its then-new flagship with a moonshot of an engine: The world’s first production hot-vee turbocharged gasaoline V8. Was the 750i composed, smooth, and unbelievably quick? Absolutely. Do I know someone who had $60,000 in warranty claims on their leased 750i? Yes, yes I do. Look, first-generation technology rarely works perfectly, and BMW had to roll out several enormous customer care packages to fix the N63 V8 in-post.
According to a technical service bulletin, the summary of fixes for the 750i consisted of two new MAF sensors, up to eight new piezoelectric injectors, the engine vacuum pump, the “Fuel System Low Pressure Sensor/Feed Line,” new intake-to-turbocharger seals, a bevy of new hoses for the crankcase ventilation system, inspection of the timing chain for stretching, and replacement of the battery because these things chew through 12-volt batteries like Chiclets. While this package certainly helped early N63 V8s, it didn’t quite fix them.
In 2019, BMW settled a class action lawsuit for oil consumption on the N63 V8 engine with a technical service bulletin calling for complete engine replacement if oil consumption exceeded one liter per 750 miles, albeit using a “customer contribution percentage matrix.” If an engine had more than 120,001 miles on it, BMW wouldn’t cover the repair at all, and four matrix bands between 80,001 miles and 120,000 miles saw dwindling manufacturer contributions. While this bulletin provides some solace to owners of low-mileage 2009 to 2012 750i models, the reputation of BMW’s fifth-gen flagship had been sullied long before that.
Needless to say, world quickly spread that the fifth-generation BMW 750i wasn’t the most durable machine on the market. Sure, the N63 V8 would undergo a massive technical update in 2013, but that wasn’t good enough for the interim, or indeed for the long-haul. For 2011, BMW introduced the 740i, a fifth-generation 7 Series powered by the infamous N54 twin-turbocharged inline-six engine. While not exactly reliable thanks to multiple issues including high-pressure fuel pump failure, turbocharger wastegate problems, and obscenely expensive fuel injectors with an alarming failure rate, it was a step in the right direction compared to the disastrous N63 V8.
Things got better in 2013, when BMW replaced the N54 inline-six in the 740i with the revised single-turbo N55 inline-six. Sure, high-pressure fuel pumps on early models were still failure-prone, but the switch from piezoelectric injectors to solenoid-fired injectors was a massive reliability boost, as was the new single turbocharger replacing the N54’s twins. With the high-pressure fuel pump rectified (a new part was factory-fitted from 2014), these N55-powered 740is are fairly reliable as far as aging German plutocratmobiles go, but they’re still missing something over their V8 siblings — bucketloads of torque.
Back in late 2014, the dialogue around alternative fuel vehicles was different to what we have today. Sure, the EV surge had begun, but hybrids were considered a sensible transition technology, hydrogen fuel cells still had some semblance of hope around them, and diesels were thoroughly back in America. Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkswagen were selling diesel passenger vehicles in America, Mazda was trying to launch a diesel of its own, and intrepid consumers were starting to latch onto diesel vehicles for their economy and torque. After all, an engine that makes a ton of power way up top is great, but low-end torque is what actually gets vehicles moving from stoplight to stoplight.
Sensing a new American enthusiasm, BMW simply took the N57 turbodiesel inline-six from the X5 35d and bolted it into a long-wheelbase 7 Series, creating the 740Ld. The result was an executive chariot with 250 horsepower but 413 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1,500 rpm. This created a diesel executive sedan with a distinctly Bavarian flavor, a rare curiosity at the absolute end of the model run.
The BMW 740Ld xDrive doesn’t rationalize well, especially when VW’s Dieselgate scandal broke in September of 2015. After all, the big oil-burning Bavarian sedan tipped the scales at roughly 300 pounds more than an Audi A8 TDI, was slower to 60 mph than the gasoline-powered 740i, and although the fuel economy boost was significant — 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 26 mpg combined compared to 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined — the premium of diesel fuel and the cost of diesel maintenance erodes those gains pretty quickly. Indeed, Motor Trend came to the conclusion that the 740Ld xDrive probably isn’t worth it on paper.
With a base price of $83,450, the 740Ld xDrive costs $1,500 more than the 740Li xDrive. It’s not a sizable amount, but neither are the mpg benefits (based on EPA numbers). The gas-powered 7 looks even more attractive when you consider the diesel’s slower straight-line performance. A diesel Mercedes-Benz S-Class doesn’t exist (yet), so if you must have a large diesel-powered luxury cruiser, the Audi [A8 TDI] is the better choice
However, the BMW 740Ld xDrive is more than on-paper mediocrity. Thanks to a 21.1 gallon fuel tank and that EPA highway fuel economy rating of 31 MPG, this thing has a theoretical cruising range of more than 650 miles. Manhattan to Charlotte on one tank? Don’t mind if I do. Oh, and because this is still a 7 Series, there’s a kernel of athleticism buried deep beneath layers of leather and infotainment, provided you tick the right option boxes. In Car And Driver testing, the 740Ld edged out a performance advantage over the Audi A8 TDI.
Performance bragging rights go to the 740Ld, however, with it edging out the A8 TDI by a couple of tenths both to 60 mph (6.2 seconds) and through the quarter-mile (14.8 at 93 mph). Lateral grip around the skidpad is a respectable 0.89 g, and our test car came to a halt from 70 mph in just 159 feet on its 20-inch Pirelli P Zero run-flat summer tires.
Yep, there’s a sports sedan hidden in there alright. Unfortunately, the BMW 740Ld xDrive only stuck around in the American market for a single model year. For 2016, the fifth-generation 7 Series was replaced with a new sixth-generation model, the Dieselgate scandal was in full swing, and appetite for a next-generation diesel 7 Series was virtually nonexistent. Mind you, demand for the 740Ld wasn’t strong either. Rumor has it that only a few hundred were produced, so this is a much harder vehicle to find on the second-hand market than an Audi A8 TDI.
You know how vehicles tend to get worse with age? Well, the BMW 740Ld xDrive is a curious case of the opposite happening. When the 740Ld xDrive was launched, it was the final model year of the fifth-generation 7 Series, and that interior just didn’t compare to the cabins in the new-for-2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the third-generation Audi A8. However, now that those competitors are aging, the playing field is starting to shift. For instance, the majority of pre-loved W222 S-Classes I’ve been fortunate enough to experience have been creaky, with interior trim doing its best pre-bankruptcy GM impression.
Likewise, the interior of the third-generation Audi A8 is still gorgeous, but it’s motorized infotainment screen is a serious limitation for modern tech retrofits. On fifth-generation BMW 7 Series models, you can drop in a massive screen offered by a litany of online vendors that supports Wireless CarPlay, a solid emulation of the iDrive 7 menu structure, and all that jazz. For the Audi, you’re effectively stuck with the stock screen and an MMI box.
Of course, N57 diesel ownership isn’t without its foibles. I’d recommend replacing the harmonic balancer every 60,000 miles as it has a tendency to shred, it’s a good idea to carry a spare glow plug relay in the trunk, and the rest of the common problems are typical modern diesel stuff — carbon-clogged swirl flaps, carbon-clogged EGR valves, worn-out diesel particulate filters, that sort of stuff. Thankfully, the N57 is a fairly easy engine to DIY stuff on. For instance, both EGR valves can be done at home in an evening, and so can installing a fresh intake manifold to fix the gunged-up swirl flaps. As a bonus, the massive unreliability of the V8-powered 750i means many second-hand spare components for 740Lds are easy to come by. Electrical components, body panels, and even some of the coveted M Sport bits are all fairly available if you shop around.
The 2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive isn’t for everyone. It’s a rare, strange, heavily-depreciated curiosity that seemed to target an exceptionally small customer base. Its ideal use case is extended interstate slogs, and the number of supercommuters willing to gamble on a nearly decade-old German luxury car today is likely in the single digits. However, for a certain subset of enthusiasts, it’s something both weird and cool.
At the time of writing, there’s only one for sale on Cars.com, in Harrisburg, Penn. of all places, for a reasonable $25,999. Unsurprisingly, Canada seems to have slightly more selection, including this one up for sale outside Toronto. Both Cars & Bids and Bring A Trailer historical results draw a complete blank, so this car seems to be off of everyone’s radar. However, to weirdos like us, the 740Ld xDrive is awesome. There’s a flagship at the bottom of the BMW iceberg, and dare I say, it’s magnificent.
(Photo credits: AutoTrader seller, BMW)
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