1986 BMW 735i Automatic E32 7-Series – giant road test

2015 / 2016 Drive-My

Bavarian challenger. The BMW E32 7-Series is a highly competent luxury sports saloon with which BMW will challenge Jaguar XJ6 sales. We visited Germany to test the BMW 735i E32.

FOR Performance, Refinement, Handing

AGAINST Visibility

PRICE £25,850. TOP SPEED 145mph, 0-60mph 9.0secs, MPG 17.5

This autumn saw significant new models from the producers of two of Europe’s finest luxury saloons. Autocar before any other publication — has already road tested one version of Jaguar’s new XJ6 (for 1986); here we present our findings on the automatic version of the BMW 735i, XJ6’s most contemporary rival.

1986 BMW 735i E32 7-Series - giant road test

Mention of the Coventry car is relevant here, in spite of the great differences between the two manufacturers. Life is not simple for the design team in a company of high reputation and long tradition. In evolving a virtually brand new 7-series (for 1986 BMW E32), as with its previous new models. BMW had to avoid disappointing its faithful, who might not care for too great a change in looks. In the end. BMW is to be congratulated on preserving the BMW character while advancing the car in nearly every respect, not least in appearance, now sleeker and less upright.

The aerodynamic changes are dealt with elsewhere. Mechanically* the car is similar in its drive unit, engine, suspension, steering and brakes, although in every case improved usefully. Like Jaguar, it introduces more microprocessor-controlled minor functions, which add usefully to the car’s great convenience and case. Also like Jaguar. BMW commissioned its electrical suppliers to design new, high quality connectors for all wiring, vital in such comprehensively equipped saloons to reduce electrical unreliability.

Heart of this big BMW is the long-established 92 x 86mm 3430cc M30 / M30B35 straight six single-overhead camshaft engine, claimed to be improved in combustion, and the latest generation Bosch Motronic injection ignition mapped system. It yields a small increase in power (220PS DIN instead of 218) achieved at noticeably higher engine speed (5700 instead of 5200rpm), and marginally improved torque (232 instead of 229lb ft, both at the same 4000rpm).

New body achieves respectable aerodynamics without deserting the classical BMW style (top) Radiator is shallower than before, while headlamp surrounds are sealed to cut drag

The car it has to move turns out in the case of the test example to be 244lb (6.7 percent) heavier, at closer to 1.75 tons — an interesting turning of the tables here as a side issue, in that this is very slightly more than the equivalent Jaguar Sovereign.


So the new car is heavier but more slippery through the air than before. The result of this change from its closely equivalent predecessor, the 1985 735i E23 automatic tested previously, confirms the statistics mentioned so far.

The ZF transmission is basically common to both; most noticeable difference between old and new however is that the 1986 car is lower geared overall, with a 3.45 instead of 3.25 final drive, and smaller running radius tyres, giving a theoretical 28.36mph per 1000rpm in top against 30.95 for the old car.

Fade (from 86 mph in neutral)
Pedal load for 0.5g stops in lb
  start/end   start/end
28-20 6 55-35
25-23 7 50-35
30-25 8 50-30
40-30 9 45-30
50-30 10 45-30
Response (from 30 mph in neutral)
10 lb 0.16 188 ft
20 lb 0.40  75 ft
30 lb 0.55  55 ft
40 lb 0.75  40 ft
60 lb 0.95  31.7 ft
Handbrake 0.30  100 ft
Max gradient 1 in 3  
Kerb, 34.7 cwt/3,883 lb/ 1.761 kg
(Distribution F/R, 50.5/49.5) 
Test, 37.7 cwt/4,223 lb/1,916 kg
Max payload 1146 lb/520 kg 


So, given that the intermediate ratios are unchanged, you might expect the new 735i E32 (1986 for) to match its forerunner low down as well as at the top end when the aerodynamic advantage comes into play. Ii appears not to be quite so, judging by standing start acceleration through the gears.

mph  Top 3rd  2nd 1st
0-20 2.1
10-30 2.7
20-40 3.0
30-50 4.7 3.2
40-60 4.9  
50-70 7.8 5.0  
60-80 8.3 5.6  
70-90 8.5  
80-100 8.8  
90-110 10.3  
100-120 24.7 13.1
110-130 20.5


The aerodynamic advantage phis that extended upper region of the power curve and the lower gearing adds up to a remarkable 15mph gain in mean maximum speed, achieved no win fourth at 10 per cent below the engine’s peak power speed instead of nearly 11 percent beyond. 145mphas an average of runs in opposite directions in virtually perfect testing weather is very impressive for an automatic gearbox car in this class, even if the normal losses of the torque converter have been cut out by the lock-up straight-through drive.

This BMW is a marvellously rewarding and satisfying performer, as all true BMW’s should be. The power delivery is consistent and mostly smooth (see Refinement), even if, with the transmission in its two automatic modes, the flexibility of the engine is never fully exploited, because of kick-down.


Standing 1/4-mile: 16.7 sec, 86 mph
Standing km: 30.1 sec, 112 mph


The ZF 4HP22 gearbox works generally very well. As before, it has three possible settings over and above those of its selector. Electrically switched from a toggle-action slider beside the selector, the ear always starts off in E (economy) unless deliberately over-ridden; this provides lower change-up points when not driving fool to the floor, with the obvious motive. S (sporting) gives you higher change-up speeds, up to maxima of 47mph (5600rpm) for 1st to 2nd. 80 (5700) for 2nd to 3rd, and 129(6250) for 3rd to top. M (manual) allows you to stay in any of the three lower gears according to selector position, with no kick-down. Maximum kick-down speeds in Drive are 21mph from 2nd to 1st. 45mph from 3rd to 2nd, and 78mph from 4th to 3rd.

ACCELERATION FROM REST 1986 BMW 735i Automatic E32
True Time Speedo
mph (sec) mph
30 3.6 37
40 4.9 44
50 6.7 55
60 9.0 65
70 11.4 75
80 14.4 85
90 18.4 95
100 23.2 105
110 28.7 114
120 35.5 124
130 42.9 135


In most normal driving it is pleasantly smooth, both for relaxed and full-bore changes up, and during the quite prompt (around one second) kick-down changes. Drivers interested primarily in economy will like the very obvious extra pressure needed to work the kick-down switch under the accelerator. You are made aware of the converter action being by-passed by the small surge Toward as the revs drop by 100rpm at around 4700rpm.

1986 BMW 735i Automatic E32 MAX SPEED TEST
Gear mph kph rpm
Top (mean) 145 233 5100
(best) 147 237 5200
3rd 131 211 5900
2nd 88 142 5900
1st 53 85 5900


The selector works averagely well, although it is not up to Daimler Benz standards (still the class leader in this area), and it lacks any stop between D and N, but is needlessly stopped down between D and 3.


A compressed time in which to try such an interesting, rapid and enticing machine is not the best way to evaluate its economy. On the other hand, it is a car that invites you to go, so maybe our overall consumption of 17.5mpg (the 1984 BMW E23 7-series car returned 18.8mpg) isn’t so far off what some drivers will obtain.

Overall mpg:  17.5 (16.1 litres/100km)  
Constant speed
40 35.3
50 35.3
60 31.4
70 29.5
80 27.4
90 25.2
100 22.4
Manufacturers figures 25.9 

Drive-MY formula:

Hard 11.6 mpg

Driving Average 19.2 mpg
and conditons Gentle 22.8 mpg
Grade of fuel: Premium, 4-star (97 RM)
Fuel tank: 19.8 Imp galls (90 litres)
Mileage recorder: 0.3 per cent short
Official fuel consumption figures
(ECE laboratory test conditions;
(not necessarily related to Autocar figures)
Urban cycle: 14 8 mpg
Steady 56 mph 28.3 mpg
Steady 75 mph: 23.4 mpg
(SAE 10/W30) 800 miles/pint


It should be quite easy to see around 20mpg in gentler use out of town, and even at 17.5mpg the large (19.8-gallon) tank gives more than 300 miles of range. No measurable oil was used during the test.


Around town, this is a marvellously quiet motor car. Provoke the engine and you hear that lovely BMW six-cylinder noise as the revs rise — not so quietly, but very pleasingly, with a deep note underneath.

At normal speeds below 100mph the test car showed up little wind noise — there was some from both A and B posts — but from 110mph onwards you are well aware of both engine and aerodynamic noise, though not unacceptably. Judging road noise reliably is always difficult on Germany’s very smooth road surfaces, but some noisy bits were eventually found which showed that the car can rumble significantly, and has an average level of bump-thump.

Drive line refinement is lacking in some respects. There is a trace of shunt (drive-line jerkiness) at low speed, and a small but detectable drive-line vibration as one approaches 140mph. The engine seems to be guilty of some coarseness, first of all as one accelerates at an indicated 2300rpm, and further up the scale at 4800 and 5800rpm, the upper one continuing to the 6300rpm rev-limited maximum.


The 735i E32 has all of what was long ago said of an earlier BMW, that delightful ‘obedience’. This is first of all made up of a characteristic willingness to turn when you move the steering wheel — obviously all cars should do this, but not all do it this well. The steering is pleasantly geared at a shade over 3½ turns lock to lock for a quite reasonable-for-the-size 36ft 8ins mean turning circle; the effort needed to turn the wheel is on the high side by power steering standards, helping the positive feel of the system.

Long-established straight six has improved combustion and the latest Bosch Motronic ignition. The car doesn’t roll a lot for its class, nor is it plagued with much pitch under acceleration or braking. Its relative reluctance to attitudinise markedly contributes to the warningly positive character; here is another way in which the 735i E32 invites you to have a go.

On the other hand, its straight stability in light airs is excellent: judging side wind stability properly was prevented by the superb weather throughout the test period, but there is little reason to doubt it.

Ultimate cornering behaviour is typical BMW; a pleasant amount of understeer in steady state conditions, changing easily to controllable tail-out oversteer if provoked by deceleration. The steering’s gearing makes catching such slides simple.

Once again. Germany’s high-quality roads make judgment difficult, but ride quality seemed excellent, the car soaking up the few sharp bumps we met well, with competent damping.

The braking response figures suggest too much servo action, but because the progression is good, brakes don‘t feel tricky, and they are in any case made relatively foolproof by the anti-lock system. Fade resistance is excellent for such a large and fast car, and the handbrake works adequately.


The seat is firm, some might say a bit hard, but it cups you well and gives good support; some may miss the lack of lumbar support adjustment. In standard non-motorised form, it comes with fore and aft cushion height adjustment. There is more than enough leg room for our 6ft testers: with the sunshine roof taking up some space, headroom is just good enough for the same size occupants.

Pedals are well arranged, with a proper footrest easily accessible on the left-hand drive car. One sits with a good commanding position, everything well to hand. Seat adjustments are all at the side. Most controls are well arranged: the horns are proper “windtone” type, suiting the car’s character, and are sounded from any of four small pad switches set into the steering wheel spokes.

The view out is typical of too many of today’s cars — restricted somewhat by too-thick pillaring. You have to be careful of this in town, when it is too easy not to see a pedestrian, and awkward when rounding sharp offside bends. The rear quarter pillar is quite wide, obstructing over-the-shoulder vision.

On the plus side, there are very effective four-jet screen washers, which are automatically backed up with three full wipe cycles, while BMW sensibly sticks to a proper two-wiper system, which reduces unswept areas to a minimum.

Instrumentation follows traditional BMW practice, with a speedometer, rev counter, water tempera lure and fuel gauges, plus the more recently adopted economy needle set into the lower part of the rev counter.

One departure from the traditional is the mileometer and trip indicator — both electronic displays which show only when the ignition is switched on. The mileometer on the test car proved near accurate, although the speedometer’s accuracy varied inconsistently. There is an excellent tripcomputer, giving all the important readings of average speed, elapsed time, time of day, average and instantaneous consumption. outside temperature, and range; you can set it to warn you audibly of overstepping a self-chosen speed limit, and its musical “boing” sounds automatically if it detects ambient temperatures of 2 ½ deg C (37deg F) or below.

The automatically controlled heating system works excellently. It joins long-established Mercedes-Benz practice in providing a measure of separate temperature control for each side of the car. There is a comfortable split between feet and face-level temperatures in winter, so that even if the temperature selected for the lower part of the body is high, you still feel a cool blow to the face.


Room in the back is generous in legroom; your six-footer, having set the driving seat to his liking, can sit behind with plenty of kneeroom. Headroom is not so good: one’s head touches the roof You are encouraged to raise the rear head restraints which, when folded down, dig into the back of your neck.

BMW’s nowadays usual oil change service indicator, which takes account of how the car is used, is there, accompanied by a very comprehensive three priority check system, the displays for both of which are set along the bottom of the instrument pod. A dot matrix display in the dash tells you what selector position you are in. The test car was fitted with a cruise control, which works as unobtrusively as such devices can.

The electric windows are slow but this is made more bearable by the single-touch control action, even if this feature is applied to opening only, presumably for safety reasoning. The headlamp switch is a sliding one, placed within fingertip range of the steering wheel. Another item close to front seat occupants is too close — the cassette storage system which can accommodate six cassettes, but which it is too easy to trigger unintentionally with an elbow.

When you pull up the door handle to get in at night, the courtesy lamps switch on; in frosty weather the same action switches on lock heaters, to unfreeze the way for that reluctant key. All doors, including the driver’s, have grab handles.

Oddment accommodation is varied. There are small spaces under the lift-up top surfaces of the door armrests, a good-sized pocket in front, and another handy tray around the selector. The drop-down lockable cubby in front of the passenger is long and shallow.

Outside the car. the bonnet opening action is pleasing, with its long-established BMW style of needing to move forward first before being raised.

The bootlid opens high to give good access to the generous luggage space with only slight intrusion from rear suspension. There is a high sill, however, which can hinder loading heavy items. There is a comprehensive and tidy tool kit which fits into the underside of the boot lid.


The active safety of any car is much more important much more often than the passive, but this BMW is very well developed in the passive respect too. The attention to detail here is exemplified by the rear seat belts, which are arranged the opposite way round from usual, improving (according to BMW) the avoidance of the occupant ’submarining’. For the really paranoid, there is a driver- side airbag available.


Overall this is. as you might hope, a highly competent luxury sports saloon. even more attractive than before, and wonderfully well equipped. without being gimmicky. Its performance is delightful, it rides well, yet it is reassuringly stable for all normal purposes.

It was refinement and roadholding that BMW needed to improve most to dominate this sector of the market; it has done a very good job. but not quite a complete one in either respect, since the equivalent automatic Jaguar Sovereign is quieter, and has the better chassis, if not quite such good top-end performance.

For the Mercedes-Benz challenge in the same class, we have to wait a little; the new BMW is more than a match for its current Daimler-Benz rival. If Jaguar’s efforts at quality control are as good as we think, the contest is closer than ever, with the advantage to the Coventry car — but quite understandably, that will not dissuade the BMW fancier, who will justifiably be well pleased with the newcomer.

Straight stability is excellent, as is ride quality

New car (foreground) has smoother, more rounded prof He than before

Wraparound rear lights and upswept boot lid are new

Front screen is now less steeply raked than old car (behind)

Powerful jet washers keep twin headlamps clean

Tool kit is provided



With only 150bhp available, the new Granada Scorpio is a little outclassed but offers reasonable performance nonetheless. Gearing is rather tall, but this does mean that acceleration from 70 to 90mph. for instance, is quite impressive and can be achieved in third gear. Major plus points are the spacious interior, high equipment levels and good ride.


The new XJ6 may not look significantly different from its predecessor, but it is a completely new car from the ground up with a nearly magical ride and handling compromise. The dohc, 24-valve AJ6 engine is much smoother and more refined than the original XJ-S installation. Getrag five-speed gearbox seems much improved. Acceptable fuel economy.


Usual Mercedes hallmarks of quality and efficiency spring to mind when assessing the 300E W124. Fit and finish are superb but the interior does appear stark and characterless. Performance from the 3-litre six is smooth and effortless, especially when mated to Mercedes’ excellent four-speed ‘box. Unlike many other automatic gearboxes this one does not sap power.


Very rapid big hatchback from the Regie, exploiting its enthusiasm for turbocharging to the full.           

Another powerful front-drive car. Torque with front-drive stability, but the unavoidable traction problems when the power is used. Turbo version of Renault’s V6 is notable for usual turbo lag delays in response, but otherwise the car is very couth and enjoyable


Long-awaited new Rover is a desirable but expensive package. Its Honda V6 power unit offers quite impressive performance, although former SD1 owners will have to get used to working the new engine harder than the previous torquey V8. Ride and handling are excellent, but engine and wind noise marked. Controls are slick, and equipment levels high.


The rather conservative saloon body has a conventional front-engine, rear-drive layout, with an injection version of the 3-litre cam in head engine. Good, predictable handling, coupled with comfortable ride. Interior accommodation is straightforward with good equipment levels for the class. A new model is expected to be launched sometime next year.


The more novel technical features of the new 7-series — the ASC anti-wheelspin system with its over-run engine braking control, the ZF Servotronic power-assisted steering, and self-levelling rear suspension — are all either extras not fined to the test car, or not yet available. But like its great British rival from Coventry, the now BMW is a mass of refined and interesting detail. Typical of this is the new body, which is a lesson to all its rivals in how to achieve a respectably low shape without deserting a classical style or abandoning the BMW family look.

BMW has done this remarkably well, without, for example, dropping its counter-aerodynamic trademark of a leaning- forward grille; the grille is shallower, so that the forward-lent area is much smaller. The grille in itself is less drag-making, with sealed headlamp surrounds, and sealing between the bonnet and top cross member, while the bonnet slopes more than before.

Still at the front end, a more aerodynamic radiator block is used. Around the cabin, the corners formed by the extreme roof pillars are more generously radiused than on the old car, in plan view there is some appreciable barrelling, and while avoiding anything so undignified as a duck-tail, the boot ends in an incipient lip.

The body is 1¾ ins wider but slightly (¾ ins) lower, which combined with a drag coefficient of 0.32 (instead of the previous E23 0.42-0.43 Cx/Cd) gives the 735i E32 an effective frontal area of 7.27sq ft, more than 20 per cent better.

Car 1986 BMW 735i Automatic E32
Made in Germany
Car type Front engine, rear wheels drive
Type BMW M30B35
Head/block All alloy head / cast iron block
Cylinders 6, in line
Main bearings 7
Cooling Water
Fan Viscous
Bore, mm (in.) 92.0 (3.62)
Stroke, mm (in.) 86 (3.39)
Capacity, cc (in.)  3.430 (210.7)
Valve gear OHC
Camshaft drive Chain
Compression ratio 10-to-1
Ignition Electronic breakerless Bosch Motronic system
Fuel injection Bosch L-Jetronic
Max power 217 bhp (220PS-DIN) 162 (kW ISO ) at 5.700 rpm
Max torque 232lb ft (337 Nm) at 4.000 rpm
Type  ZF 4-speed automatic ZF 4HP22 with lock-up converter
Gear Ratio mph/1000rpm
Top 0.73-1.46 28.36
3rd 1.0-2.0 20.70
2nd 1.478-2.956 14.0
1st  2.478-4.956 8.35
Final drive gear Ratio Hypoid bevel 3.45
Front location MacPherson strut
springs oil
dampers Telescopic
anti-roll bar Yes
Rear location Independent, semi-trailing arm
springs Coil
dampers Telescopic
anti-roll bar No
Type ZF ball and nut
Power assistance ZF hydraulic
Wheel diameter 15.8 in.
Turns lock to lock 4.0
Circuits Twin, split front/ front and rear, Bosch ABS anti-lok system
Front 11.1 (281.9mm)  in. dia. ventilated disc
Rear 11.1 (281.9 mm) in. dia. ventilated disc
Servo Vacuum
Handbrake Centre lever, rear drum within disc
Type Cast all alloy 210 mm rims
Rim Width 7 in rims
Tyres make Michelin
type XVX radial tubeless
size 225/60 VR15
pressure F33. R33 psi
Battery 12V 84 Ah
Alternator 90A
Headlamps 240/120W
Reversing lamp Standard
Hazard warning Standard
Electric fuses 19
Screen wipers Two-speed plus intermittent
Screen washer Electric
Interior heater Water valve
Air conditioning Extra
Interior trim Leather or cloth seats, pvc head-lining
Floor covering Carpet
Jack Screw pillar
Jacking points Two each side, under sills
Windscreen Laminated, tinted
Underbody Paint system.
protection bitumastic. pvc

1986 BMW 735i E32 7-Series - giant road test

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Additional Info
  • Year: 1986
  • Engine: Petrol L6 M30 3.4-litre
  • Power: 217bhp at 5700rpm
  • Torque: 232lb ft at 4000rpm
  • Speed: 147mph
  • 0-60mph: 9.0sec
  • Club:

    {module BMW E32 Club}


Jean-Claude Landry
Jean-Claude is the Senior Editor at eManualOnline.com, Drive-My.com and Garagespot.com, and webmaster of TheMechanicDoctor.com. He has been a certified auto mechanic for the last 15 years, working for various car dealers and specialized repair shops. He turned towards blogging about cars and EVs in the hope of helping and inspiring the next generation of automotive technicians. He also loves cats, Johnny Cash and Subarus.