Questions for those who are familiar with BMW automobiles

Well, the current ride appears to be turning the corner on the maintenance curve, so I’m looking at used, er…, ahem, pre-owned vehicles now, and I have a few questions about BMWs.

First off, what is the difference between a 740i and a 740il? How about the same question for a 528 v. a 540?

What does Steptronic mean?

I’ve been driving a 735i, and two things I really like about it are the dreadnought feeling relative to the tin cans that might assault me in traffic, and the seats that I wish I could have in my home. While I was definitely impressed by the engineering and manufacturing excellence of my previous 320i, it did not have the aforementioned qualities. Do the 5-series cars have those qualities?

Another question - while the six I’ve got is the peppiest six I’ve owned, I notice the 5s and 740s are eights; is it the same eight? What I’m thinking of, of course, is same engine in a lighter car = more zoom.

The year range I’m considering is 1997-2000. Were there any significant technological shifts during those years?

Finally, besides the twelve cylinder engine, what other differences are there between 740s and 750s? Are twelve cylinders a maintenance fandango?

And, of course, if you’re knowledgable about BMWs and were looking for a good “pre-owned” one, what would you look for?

An IL after the name means “long”. My father-in-law drives a 740il and the space even in the back seat is huge. It handles extremely well and i recommend it if you can afford it. The 740i is just a little shorter. I have only ridden in a few 750’s and while they are nice cars, they seem a little exotic and on the pricey side and I don’t know if the upkeep and extra price are worth it.

I drive a BMW 318i. My wife has a BMW 323i. Most common BMW’s are broken as follows: 3-series = smallest: 5-series = family sedan and 7-series = personal limo.

Higher numbers within a series generally indicate a bigger engine. Standard cars within a series are designated by an “i” while the stretch versions are designated by an “IL” like the 740il and two doors are designated by an “IS”. A few 318 hatchbacks have an “IT” designation.


The 740il is a stretched out (limousine) version of the 740i with a longer wheelbase and more interior room (mostly for the rear passengers). The L version usually is about 5 inches longer than the normal version.

For BMW’s, the last two digits (usually) give the engine size so a 528 has a 2.8 liter Inline 6 engine while a 540 has a very powerful 4.0 V8. In addition, the 540 has a much more “sporting” suspension to handle the increased weight/power of the V8. The 528 and 530 are nice, but the 540 is a real sports car that can out accelerate just about anything on the road.

Steptronic is an automatic transmission that you can shift kind of like a manual transmission. The shift lever has a little gate off to the side marked “+” and “-”. When you push the lever towards “+”, the transmission switches up a gear. The reverse happens when you push towards “-”. It’s supposed to give the thrill of a manual with the convenience of an automatic. In reality, it’s somewhere in between both.

I’m afraid I can’t answer your other questions.

I drive a 1998 528 and my wife drives a 1997 Lexus ES300. I much prefer the ES300.

BMW - whiney engine, stiff accelerator, poor visibility, poor seat adjustment, crappy radio reception, and a nasty high frequency vibration in the accelerator pedal.

ES300 - smooth as silk, and 13 grand cheaper.

Technically, the “i” in the name means it’s fuel injected. Which I would hope most BMW’s are nowadays.

I drive a 520i, and am extremely satisfied, it is very responsive, very comfortable, and still loks great.

However, when Ipurchased it, I also considered the 730i. But the only difference I could notice between the two was that the 730i had a longer trunk or boot section. Everything else was identical. There may have been a larger engine inside (according to RadioWave), but it looked the same and felt the same, only it cost a bit too much more.

Wierd, I was composing almost the exact same thread in my mind on the way to work this morning and just hadn’t had time to get to it yet. Thanks Ringo, I’ll be watching this with interest.

I’ve been having a similar conversation among a couple of my BMW-owning friends. I don’t think they’ll mind if I borrow some of their contributions to our conversation.

According to one of my friends, BMW just gave owners of recently produced M3s a warranty extension because of the “engine of Damocles.” Anyone with an S54 engine built in 2001-2003 gets the extension until it can be determined why so many engines are failing catastrophically.

Another friend chimed in with a personal account:

Despite his current dissatisfaction, I happen to think that my friend’s 540i is a wonderful vehicle, even if I never have been able to get the hang of that quirky gearbox. I can think of few other vehicles which combine such high levels of power, handling, and luxury. However, any jealousy I may harbor for it is immediately quashed when I remind myself that my little old Miata cost me the equivalent of just five of his auto-dimming rearview mirrors.

Thanks for the input, y’all. And particulary Sofa King for the heads up on the engine failures; I’ll avoid that one. I’m currently drifting towards a '98 740i with 39K miles (still in warranty).