Reluctant Conqueror

LEGIONS OF YOU win assert the fix was in.That the congenital BMWphilia that afflicts all car-mag writers struck again. Or that our 740i's 14.0-cubic-foot trunk arrived filled with unmarked $20s. Quite tire contrary. The senior Bimmer showed up as an underdog. Its twin-turbo V-8 750i sibling didn't even make the finals in oui 2010 Car of theYear competition, nor did its 550i stepbrother this year. In fact, when we began deliberations on the finishing order in this test, most expected the 740i to finish in the upper middle of the ranking because it didn't seem to excel at any one thing.

Then we started discussing the priorities for this class of car. Spacious, comfortable seating? Front-seat room ranks second to the Hyundai's, and rear space nearly matches it, trailing the long-wheelbase Jag and cavernous Mercedes (an extra $4400 buys the 740Li if you're ferrying NBA forwards); all four headrests boast airplane-style side wings and the zillion-way adjustable multicontour front seats ($1300) feel sublime.

Cars in this class should be technology leaders, but they need to be user-friendly. After several generations of Severs, BMW is getting that second par: right.The latest button ringed iDrive infuriated far fewer of us than Audi's shifter and MMI or Jag's pokey touch screen, though it trails the big-button/ touuh-sc:eenLexus and Hyundai inLeifaces. As for tech, the active roll stabilization and dynamic damping that comes with the $6500 M Sport package represent the state of the suspension art. Inveterate gadgeteers can add night-vision with pedestrian detection ($2600), a head-up display ($1300), and around-view cameras ($1200)

Prestige, panache, and style? BMW may not outrank Mercedes-Benz or Porsche when valets compute the mental tip calculus that determines which car gets parked closest to the entrance, but the Roundel identifies its owner as someone who cares more about driving than arriving. Style is in the eye of the beholder, and Febbo held that this is perhaps "the best-looking 7 everl'

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the absolutely flat cornering attitude afforded by the hydraulic anti-roll bars, impressive 0.9lg grip from the Goodyear run-flats, and fast, intuitive shifts from the transmission (though we all lamented the lack of shift paddles, which every other car but the Equus provides) On the figure eight's corner*?.the 740i made up time lost to the A8 on the straights, scoring an identical 25.8-second lap time at higher average g (0.73 to 0.67).

By the end of our deliberations, the BMW found itself backing into the winner's circle by doing everything 80-90 percent right without doing anything terribly wrong, all at a moderate price (third "cheapest',' base and as tested). Reynolds summarized it best: "A nice blend of everything.The BMW is near-expert at all the things you ask of it—casual driving, forceful driving—it never has egg on its face!'Yet he's the only voter who would own the 740i, which points out a peculiarity of this class of cars. They're so unique and complex that ranking them is more difficult than ranking commodity cars built to a formula, like midsize sedans. With these flagships, each manufacturer is flexing its design and engineering muscles to express brand values and provide a halo for high-profit models. Each is imbued with such a unique character and personality that our voters all ranked them differently.

To help you sort the list according to your own priorities, we've ranked the field in several categories cn Page 104. When you fork over that tax windfall, let us know how your choice works cut.

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