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A first 4 the 7
THERE is always a first time for everything and in this case, it happens to be two litres and four cylinders for the BMW 7 Series.
Before this, the smallest engine to be found in BMW's flagship limousine always had six inline cylinders, with a minimum displacement - for recent generations at least - of three litres.
But the entry-level sixth-generation 7 Series now gets a 2.0-litre, inline four-cylinder unit and as the 730i, it is surprisingly muscular.
This modular engine from the German luxury carmaker's Efficient Dynamics engine family uses a half-litre cylinder as a building block for a range of turbocharged three-cylinder, four-cylinder and six-cylinder units.
On the BMW 730i, this twin-scroll turbo unit is tuned for 258 hp and 400 Nm - more than on the new BMW 330i, BMW 2 Series Active Tourer or the Mini Cooper S, all of which also have the same all-aluminium engine under their bonnets (the BMW Group owns Mini).
The 730i sprints from zero to 100 kmh in an impressive 6.2 seconds. When compared with its direct predecessor, the new 730i's smaller engine is faster but more frugal, with downsizing enabling a consumption figure of 6.3 l/100 km and a carbon-neutral emissions banding.
It also stands out when rated against the entry-level versions of its competitors with an additional two cylinders.
The "carbon core" body's kerb weight of 1,680 kg is lower too (the 730i is 45 kg lighter than the next 7 Series with six cylinders).
More significantly, the 730i is positioned neatly in a range that offers a 7 Series for every need. Its four cylinders and standard wheelbase are clearly differentiated from, say, the 740Li's 3.0-litre straight six and 140 mm longer wheelbase, and the 750Li's 4.4-litre V8.
Compared with the 740Li, for example, only two other features differ, apart from the engine - the 730i's front electric glass roof (versus front and rear glass roofs) and front comfort seats with massage and ventilation function (versus both front and rear massage/ventilated comfort seats). Everything else - in terms of the comfort, safety and performance features - is standard equipment.
So the 730i also has adaptive two-axle air suspension and Integral Active Steering. The latter is a four-wheel steering system with speed-sensitive assistance. There is cruise control with braking function, a bigger and brighter head up display, BMW gesture control and a BMW display key, among others.
On the road, the 730i is not diminutive at 5.1 metres long with a 3,070 mm wheelbase. But from behind the wheel, it feels much smaller and sportier because of its nimble handling. A lighter four-cylinder unit over the front wheels also helps, even if the front/rear weight distribution remains typically BMW at 50:50.
The 2.0 engine's torque is almost always accessible, especially in Sport mode, and this responsiveness - as well as the clever steering - makes the large 730i unusually manoeuvrable.
Even more striking is the engine note. At a normal pace, it is muted for a hushed cabin, with a throaty growl manifesting itself only from 3,000 rpm.
When presented as the BMW 730i M Sport, it is dressed up with a racy M bodykit.
At the same time, the big BMW is capable of a cosseting limo-like ride when the Driving Experience Control is set to Comfort mode, which offers two further choices - Comfort Standard (for a more balanced setting) - or Comfort Plus (extra comfortable).
To be sure, few other two-litre models can claim to offer such an elevated level of luxury.
BMW 730i M Sport
Engine: 1,998cc inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Max power: 258 hp @ 5,000-6,500 rpm
Max torque: 400 Nm @ 1,550-4,400 rpm
0-100 kmh: 6.2 secs
Top speed: 250 kmh
CO2 emissions: 145 g/km
Average OMV: S$73,000
Price from: S$406,800 (with COE)
Distributor: Performance Motors