Comparison Test: 2015 BMW 740Ld vs Audi A8 TDI

If the idea of spending well over a hundred grand on a diesel powered uber-lux German sedan just to save a few hundred bucks in fuel sounds a bit tenuous, the 2015 Audi A8L TDI and 2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive go a long way (literally) in dispelling the notion that you’d only buy one of these oil-burning oligarchs for the fuel savings.

Stately. Conservative. Big. That just about wraps it up for this pair of Swabian behemoths that manage to make their 20-inch alloys look a tad on the puny side.

It turns out the torque-rich demeanor of the modern turbocharged diesel six-cylinder engine fits the executive saloon mission statement to a tee. It’s all about the “waft”, and boy, do these cars know from wafting. You will be saving plenty of fuel too.

As Mercedes-Benz does not offer a diesel version of its current S-Class in North America, we brought this BMW and Audi together for a diesel-lux face off.

This generation of the BMW 7 has been with us since 2009, and an all-new and lighter version arrives later this year. Still, BMW didn’t let that get in the way of offering diesel power for this 7’s final year here in North America. The 2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive starts at $101,600 (a modest $1,500 over the base 315-hp straight-six gas model) and sports a turbocharged 3.0L straight-six making 255 hp and 413 lb-ft from 1,500-3,000 rpm. It is mated to the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed auto.

The Audi A8 is a newer prospect, getting a major refresh for 2014. That year also saw the introduction of this TDI diesel variant that makes use of VW/Audi’s twin-turbo 3.0L diesel V6, here with 240 hp and 428 lb-ft. Like the BMW, the 2015 Audi A8L TDI is all-wheel drive, long wheelbase and uses the ZF eight-speed box. At $98,100 it undercuts the BMW but asks a $5,300 premium over its 333-hp supercharged V6 stablemate.

As is the way with premium German cars, the automakers offer myriad packages and standalone options that quickly escalate the bottom line to penthouse levels. Granted, the view is pretty nice from up here. In the case of the Audi, $38,350 in options bring the tally to $135,150. The BMW has $23,450 in extra goodies, and a sticker of $125,050.

The Outside

Stately. Conservative. Big. That just about wraps it up for this pair of Swabian behemoths that manage to make their 20-inch alloys look a tad on the puny side. The BMW is particularly understated in its dark grey, and it essentially went unnoticed during my week of driving. Which is no bad thing, as flying under the visual radar in a swift executive sedan could very well be considered a bonus. This is not to say the 740Ld is unattractive. It is cohesive and quietly handsome, showing fine proportions and gently flowing bodywork that marks it with no uncertain terms as BMW’s flagship sedan.

Conversely, the Audi garnered quite a few second glances, no doubt attributable to its daring visage with the monstrous grille and cool headlights. This imposing snout did an excellent job of parting the proletariat while I cruised the 400 series highways here in Ontario. You could probably wedge a Micra in that maw and not even notice. The rest of the Audi A8 TDI does not really match its face, but it is sharply chiseled, appropriately regal and benefits from some interesting LED taillights.

The Inside

Let’s face it. This class of car is all about impressing and spoiling its occupants, and these long wheelbase models are particularly tailored for the rear seat experience. Nearly the entire combined $61,800 worth of options here is devoted to sybaritic overkill, be it audio, visual, or posterior comfort. Many cows and trees were skinned in the pursuit of opulent splendor. Numerous servos and electric motors raise and lower blinds, ventilate your seats and massage your backside while watching Wolf of Wall Street on your individual screen.

Trimmed in white leather, the 740Ld’s cabin is airy and inviting. It’s all BMW in here with the familiar gauge cluster, large LCD display and iDrive controller. The seats are comfortable, well contoured and the wheel has a thick meaty rim. To the left of the steering wheel on the lower dash is an array of buttons that show you ponied up $4,500 for the Technology and Vision Package (active blind spot detection, driving assistant plus, night vision with pedestrian detection, surround view).

The Harman Kardon audio is very good. It comes standard, but if you want a back-up camera, be prepared to fork out $5,950 for the Executive Package that bestows ventilated front seats, XM, rear sun shades, among other goodies one might deem necessary in this class of vehicle.

Rear seat passengers in this tester benefit from the $4,500 Rear Comfort Package (Comfort Seats with ventilation and massage) and the $3,500 Multi-Media Package that adds a six-disc multi-media changer and rear screens with iDrive controller. The seats recline into a semi-prone position, and even the most spoilt of industrial captains would find little to complain about.

Until they got a ride in the Audi.

Yes, the BMW is lovely. The Audi’s appointments are outstanding. Basking in the design, choice of materials, craftsmanship and ridiculously tight tolerances, you begin to wonder if the car wasn’t put together by a pod of super-anal aliens.

You could hang this dash in a gallery of modern art, such is the visual intrigue offered up by the wonderful open-grain wood veneer, metal finishes and moving bits like the MMI screen and Bang and Olufsen tweeters that rise into view on start-up. That B&O system costs $7,000 and sounds pretty fab in this big A8.

Suffice to say, all the option boxes are checked. They carry such names as Full Leather Package, Rear Seat Entertainment, Rear Seat Comfort Package, Comfort Seats Package and Luxury Package, which makes one wonder if a “base” A8L TDI is not luxurious and has uncomfortable seats. Highly unlikely.

However, all these extras make the Audi special. On paper it’s not sporting any more gizmos that the BMW, but I judged the quilted leather seats to be marginally more comfortable and the ambience altogether more special.

The Drivetrains

Both these turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engines pull like the proverbial freight train, one that never questioned whether it can, providing the sedans with instant, effortless and unrelenting urge from any speed. Perfect tools for the job. Kudos also to the excellent eight-speed ZF gearbox that keeps these oil-burners in their narrowish power bands.

But somebody has to win, right? My nod goes to the Audi V6 for its crisper throttle response, smoother operation and quieter disposition at lower revs where the BMW’s straight-six gets a bit growly. To be fair, the Bimmer’s throttle response sharpens up when you select Sport mode, but then you’re stuck with a firmer ride and more aggressive transmission mapping. I also found Audi’s programming of the ZF to be smoother. Plus the Audi had paddle shifters.

And it’s more efficient. On a combined highway and secondary road loop, driven back to back, the BMW came in at 8.8 L/100 km to the Audi 7.9 L/100 km. Which is remarkable any way you slice it.

The Handling

At 2,134 kg, the BMW 740Li has 60 kilos on the Audi A8L TDI, and it initially feels the heavier vehicle when tooling around. But start to cut up a winding B-road and the BMW shows its stuff. You will be selecting Sport (or Sport+) from the Dynamic Drive toggle. The 7’s steering is meaty and communicative to the Audi’s vague and non-linear variable ratio helm, and it relishes being pushed, displaying a nice rear-bias power shove and wonderful path control. Yep, the brand’s DNA is even baked into this lengthy luxo-barge with the big diesel lump up front.

Conversely, the Audi does not enjoy being hustled. Oh sure, it’s got the grip and the go, but even in Dynamic mode it feels a bit uncoordinated and uncooperative when really hammering along.

In reality, this type of activity has nothing to do with either car’s mission statement. But the Bimmer gets the W.

About that Cushy Ride

With both cars in Comfort mode, they each display an impressive dismissal of all but the worst road imperfections with minimal road and tire noise entering their cabins. Highway cruising is a hushed, calming affair. But beware: illegal speeds creep up in no time, almost unfelt. Why is everybody driving so bloody slow???

I’m giving this one to the BMW because it has slightly less wind noise and an extra Comfort+ setting that gives it a touch of the good ol’ American float. They should re-label it the Lincoln Town Car setting. Presumably, this is for those times when Mr. CEO pokes you in the back of the head with his Mont Blanc.

Conclusion

Nobody in their right mind could find anything to complain about in the 2015 BMW 740Ld, such is its beautiful marriage of seamless diesel power, fine dynamics, fabulous appointments and amazing fuel economy.

The problem is, the Audi A8L TDI is just that much better at being an exquisite house of rolling opulence, largely because its design and detailing are a cut above. It makes one feel more special, and isn’t that what this is all about?

2015 BMW 740Ld Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance 
2015 Audi A8L TDI Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance
If the idea of spending well over a hundred grand on a diesel powered uber-lux German sedan just to save a few hundred bucks in fuel... 8/16/2015 10:40:23 PM
2015 BMW 740Ld 2015 Audi A8L TDI
Base Price $101,600 Base Price $98,100
Optional Equipment Executive Package $5950; M-Sport Package $5000; Rear Comfort Package $4500; Technology and Vision Package $4500; Multi-Media Package $3500 Optional Equipment Full Leather Package $7000; Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound $7000; Night Vision Assistant $2500; Rear Seat Entertainment $3300; Driver Assistant Package $3900; Rear Seat Comfort Package $4250; Sport Package $4400; Luxury Package $3900; Comfort Seats Package $2100
A/C Tax $100 A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2095 Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $127,145 Price as Tested $137,245
Optional Equipment