Split Sixes: BMW 740i and BMW K1600GT

A. J. Mueller

With the worst of the financial meltdown supposedly past us and buyers cautiously examining luxury cars again, we're looking for the future of living large. To recapture the spirit, we're embarking on a driving adventure from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with twelve cylinders and two turbochargers of BMW power. But instead of doubling down on the V-12 760Li, we split our hand and moved six of our allotted twelve cylinders to a two-wheeled BMW.

Both the 740i and the K1600GT are gambles for the Bavarians; one a flagship sedan toned down for the modesty-and-fuel-economy age and the other a massive motorcycle reminiscent of the days when your house was a cash source and the credit flowed like Barolo at the Bellagio. They are also reminders of BMW's admirable commitment to the in-line six. The engine's long proportions pose problems for crashworthiness and packaging, but clearly BMW thinks the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. We couldn't agree more: straight sixes are nearly perfectly balanced, something that can't be said about V-6 engines. In fact, the smoothness of an in-line six is rivaled only by that of a V-12, and so it's fitting that BMW's flagship sedan, which is available with a twelve-cylinder, can also be powered by a straight six. The 740i takes the entry-level spot in the 7-series lineup, but a straight six in a motorcycle is clearly at the opposite end of the spectrum. Quite the pair we have here.

As we make our way out of Los Angeles, first on I-15 and then on I-40, billboards along the interstate offer one last come-on to credit burnouts: "Bankruptcy, $799 payment plans available." We eventually slide off the highway an hour outside Barstow, landing in the Mojave National Preserve. It's not an especially beautiful landscape, but the Mojave inspires awe simply by the sheer scale and desolation of the place.

Straight and fast desert roads don't require a lot of attention in this big sedan, which gives senior web editor Phil Floraday and me plenty of time to contemplate the 7's suspension. Just when we are starting to think that the tuning is too soft -- whether in comfort, normal, or sport mode -- a serious-looking chain of undulations appears in the windshield. We dive into the first one before I realize that I should have scrubbed off more speed. Spine, seat, springs, dampers, and tires all compress as the two-ton sedan reckons with gravity at the bottom of the dip, but the 740i brilliantly shrugs it all off.

Creative director Kelly Murphy is right behind us on the K1600GT. He shifts some of his weight to the foot pegs and relishes the bumps, telling us later: "It was the first time since we left LAX that I actually experienced the freedom of the bike. I loved it!"

At just 22 inches long, the K1600GT's 1.6-liter mill, BMW Motorrad claims, is as compact as a four-cylinder. Its benefits for a large touring bike are clear within a few miles. Big torque -- as much as 129 lb-ft peaking at 5250 rpm -- moves this big bike with ease at any speed, in any gear. At

70 mph, a quick pass in sixth is no sweat and the engine, spinning at just 3250 rpm, hums with the polish and calm of the six in the 7-series. The long (for a motorcycle) 200-mile fuel range doesn't seem so daunting when there's no irritating drone or fatiguing vibrations.

The 740i's larger and more powerful six has similar virtues. Strengthened with two turbochargers, the N54 engine makes the torque even more accessible with 330 lb-ft from 1600 to 4500 rpm. Off-the-line thrust is assertive if not aggressive, and passing power is prodigious. Actually, it's going slow that gives the 740i the most trouble, as the electronic throttle can be frenetic, sometimes bordering on insubordinate. Fortunately, that's not true of the K1600GT, with a three-setting electronic throttle (rain, road, dynamic) that always responds linearly and immediately to small twists of the right grip.

We pass through towns that saw the good times come and go long before the housing market tanked. Kelso, a defunct railroad stop and washed-up mining town, nearly disappeared in the 1980s before a preservation effort was mounted and the crumbling depot, now the welcome center for the Mojave National Preserve, was rebuilt. Cima, a half hour up the road, is a true ghost town, although a ramshackle store claims to be open three days a week. Not today. The only sign of life is a strangely new-looking pay phone with a dial tone. Our photo assistant kicks a tumbleweed into motion to complete the tableau before we move on.

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