Road Test: BMW 735

For sporting sybarites

Thank heavens I can now purge my conscience of a long-held secret, a secret made all the more easy to confess thanks to the profile of the new BMW 735.

You see, I always thought that the old 7-series BMWs were saddled with one monumental handicap; oversized rear ends. They always put me in mind of a good-looking girl whose hips were too big. My colleagues tell me that is a sexist remark and, if it is, then I’m sorry. But that is how I felt about the displaced range of Munich’s biggest saloons. Fine from the front, but too tubby from the rear.

However, when I first set eyes on the new 735 I came over quite dewy-eyed. It had the same effect on me as a snatch of a long-forgotten, yet somehow familiar, piece of music — a curious after-taste which left a lingering glow.

I admire the Mercedes 560SEC and respect the Jaguar Xj6, but, from a purely visual point of view, I don’t think I’ve got quite so excited over the looks of a big saloon car since I was a kid. Somehow, while Stuttgart continues to plough its own distinguished, if lofty, furrow and Coventry tinkers with a 20-year-old profile, BMW has somehow managed to put its design finger on something quite elusive and subtle. An exciting new shape in saloon car motoring.

Of course, the 735iSE is something of an interim model in the eyes of many enthusiasts. Its six-cylinder engine has done yeoman service in various sizes over the years, but the pinnacle of the range will be the yet-to-be-announced 750 5-litre V12 which is scheduled to become available on the UK market at the end the year. Yet there is no way anybody could accuse BMW of skimping in any way on its smaller-engined models.

The 735i and the 735iSE are the first two models from the 7-series range to arrive in this country. By the time these words are read, the 730i and 730iSE should be available, followed by the 750 in just over six months. The launch of the 7-series in this country has been heralded by an extrovert television and poster advertising campaign in which BMW emphasises that the new car has cost somewhere in the region of £700 million in development.

BMW(GB)’s Managing Director has described the 735s as “the car for the sporting sybarite”. A neat, and not altogether inappropriate piece of alliteration: its all-round ability as an agile and secure high-speed limousine makes it a strong contender in the upper echelons of the luxury saloon market.

In producing this car, BMW was replacing a range of models which had been on the marker for a decade. The old 7-series had its supporters, but it never quite cracked the Mercedes market in terms of its perception. On the basis of our week with the 735iSE, Stuttgart should be concerned about its new rival from down the autobahn. With a mere 250,000 cars per year out of a total production of thirty million catering for the iucrative upper segment of the market,

BMW has obviously done a tremendous amount of homework on the new 7-series, and it shows. To that end, the first 400 production models never reached the public; they have been driven only by BMW staff in order to check for possible faults. Once this test period has finished, they will be destroyed.

One of the 735iSE’s much-touted qualities is its silence. BMW acoustic engineers developed new techniques to ensure that this goal was achieved although, while there is no doubt that the 735i is very refined indeed, I was aware of some wind noise at high speed (perhaps rather more than I expected), despite a new door seal design which incorporates an air tube. When the window closes, the displaced air presses the rubber sides of the seal more closely against the glass.

The BMW cossets its driver in a world of soft rather and tasteful instrumentation. In the past many people have been critical of the Munich marque for quoting a ‘bargain basement’ tax-paid price in its brochures, which does not accurately reflect the price of a representatively ‘loaded’ machine. Not so with the 735iSE.

Included in the ‘basic’ £24,850 price tag is anti-lock braking, power steering, central locking, electrically controlled windows, alloy wheels, tinted glass, trip computer, front fog lights, first-aid kit, rear seat head restraints, electric front seat adjustment, heated exterior mirrors, door locks and washer nozzles, headlamp wash facility and an electrically-controlled sliding roof.

The SE model we tested comes equipped with the four speed automatic transmission with “sport”, “economy” and “manual” modes. It also has air conditioning, cruise control, rear seat reading lights, alloy wheels with TRX tyres, rear window blind and air conditioning. Its price is £31,750.

As a comparison between the three modes, the 735iSE covers 0-60 mph in 9.0 sec (sport), 9.1 sec (economy)and 15.8 sec (manual). That last figure is slow because in “M” the car automatically starts off in second; thereafter no auto-changes take place, and the driver can select ratios with the lever.

The six cylinder 3430cc Bosch Motronic-injected engine has a familiar feel to it. Looking back to the first of the 3.5-litre units, you can appreciate just what a gradual process of refinement has been continuing over the past six or seven years. Smooth and willing to rev freely, this unit still retains a shrill metallic rasp at high revs, but this is in no way intrusive. All in all, it is suitably muted and deferential.

At low speeds the ride is a little on the choppy side, but this smooths out at over 60 mph to impart an overall feeling of snug stability. Ride quality is excellent the handling firm enough for the car to be thrown around with considerable élan, Yet in no way harsh enough to compromise the limousine side of its nature. If there was one aspect of the 735iSE to attract mild criticism, it was the super-sensitive steering.

In confined spaces which require large rnovemens of the wheel the steering is fine. In typical BMW tradition, it is nicely weighted arid gets progressively lighter at speed. But I found it every nervous at speed, small inputs prompting too much of a response. There was a slight rocking movement, from side to side, while not exactly unnerving, a minor irritant.

With a top speed nudging 140 mph, the 735iSE; has superb brakes to match. In the past the brake performance of the bigger BMW models has been suspect, prone to fading quite dramatically after emergency stops from high speed. But the sheer consistency of the four-wheel disc set-up (ventilated at the front) combined with the magic of ABS made the 735iSE “bullet proof ‘ in this respect.

Shod with 225/60 VR15 radials, the 735i also has tremendous grip. Even on a slippery road, full-bore starts are handled superbly by the excellent independent rear suspension and the low-profile rubber. Delicately spoked alloy wheels enhance the car’s overall chic image.

During the course of our test, the 735iSE averaged 19.8 mpg. This is certainly a very impressive figure, for while the automatic transmission was in “economy” mode for some of the time, there was also some very fast running at our Bruntingthorpe test track.

Not generally a fan of trip computers, I did like the driver’s read-out immediately below the main instruments, which is activated by pressing the end of the left-hand steering column stalk.

The three-mode automatic transmission is controlled by a switch on the central console just to the right of the selector lever, and a warning light on the main fascia reminds you which mode you have selected at any one time. Best not to switch from economy to sporting mode under hard acceleration though as the sudden surge of revs imparts the same feeling that changing into second at 80 mph does on a regular manual box.

Internal appointments are lavish. The electrically adjustable front seats provide excellent support, and more range than even we required. The heating is electronically controlled by two temperature wheels either side of the fascia, determining temperatures for each side of the car. Air conditioning was an additional option on our car, further enhancing its overall appeal.

In pure engineering terms, one cannot but admire the technology which has gone into this high performance luxury saloon. Claimed to be the first car in the world to use a brand new “ellipsoidal” headlight system, the first with anti-damage front bumpers, neat rear seatbelts, with upper anchorages at the centre of the rear seat back and bottom anchorages to the outside of the seat cushions. The 735iSE is fine piece of engineering. Whether you rate it superior to its rivals from Jaguar and Mercedes is a purely objective view, dependant on personal tastes, old prejudices and hardened preconceptions.

Model: BMW 735iSE.

Maker: BMW GmBH, Munich. West Germany.

Type: Four-door five-seater saloon. Engine: In line six-cylinder. 3430cc (92 x 86mm). 220bhp at 5700rpm. Bosch Motronic injection and management system.

Transmission: Three-mode four-speed automatic driving the rear wheels.

Suspension: (front) double-joint spring strut axle with displaced castor, positive steering roll radius and antidive characteristics. (rear) independent. trailing arms (swept back at 13deg), anti-dive and anti-squat characteristics.

Brakes: Ventilated discs at front with single piston caliper. Non-vented discs at the rear with integral drum handbrake. ABS anti-lock facility incorporated.

Steering: Power-assisted ball and nut system.

Wheels and tyres: 7J x 15in light alloy rims shod with 225; 60VR 15 Michelin TRX radials.

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.0 sec: 50-70 mph. 4.5 sec: maximum speed 141 mph.

Economy: 19.8 mpg. Estimated. 25.4 mPs (best).

Price: £31,750 basic, tax paid.

Summary: Another in the latest crop of high-quality, high-performance sporting limousines. Visually mouthwatering, its only fault is a slight lateral body movement which exaggerates normal minor steering adjustments at speed.  AH