1987 BMW 730i Automatic SE E32 road test

2015 / 2016 Drive-My

Investing in the future. At nearly £25,000 the Special Equipment version of the 1987 BMW 730i SE E32 is not cheap, but what it offers is a refined package that should outlast many of the opposition. Does the big BMW shape up in other areas, though?

PRICE £24,695,

TOP SPEED 131 mph,

0-60mph 10.5secs,

MPG 20.0

FOR Refinement, ride, handling.

AGAINST Visibility

Development work began on the BMW 7-Series E32 more than 33 years ago, with the project costing in excess of £660 million. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the end result is the way the BMW designers have managed to retain classical styling while achieving a respectably low Cd of 0.32. The previous 7-Series had a Cd of 0.42-0.43.

1987 BMW 730i Automatic SE E32

1987 BMW 730i Automatic SE E32

BMW has managed this admirably low Cd factor without losing Unmarked counter-aerodynamic BMW trademark of a leaning-forward grille. The grille is shallower to reduce the forward-lent area and. combined with sealed headlamp surrounds, sealing between the bonnet and top cross member, and a more pronounced slope to the bonnet than before, it all adds up to a much improved and more aerodynamic frontal area.

SAFETY 1987 BMW 730i SE E32
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, 33.5 cwt/3,757 lb/ 1.700 kg
(Distribution F/R, 51.8/48.2) 
Test, 36.7 cwt/4,107 lb/1,858 kg
Max payload 1149 lb/520 kg 
Max touring weight 3536lb/1600kg


Power for the 7 Series E32 models is provided by either M30 3-litre or 3.5-litre straight-six fuel injected engines. We sampled the E32 735i last year, so the test car on this occasion is the 730iSE E32. The special equipment designation means that the car is fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission as standard. The 4-speed ZF 4HP22 switchable gearbox is available as an optional extra on the basic 730i for £1000.

The 3-litre M30-series “big-six” engine is of a straight-six, two-valve-per-cylinder, single overhead camshaft configuration. Bore and stroke are 89mm and 80mm respectively, which gives a capacity of 2986cc. It produces maximum power of 197bhp at 5800rpm DIN and develops 199lb ft of peak torque at 4000rpm.


mph  Top 3rd  2nd 1st
0-20 5.1 3.6 2.8
10-30 5.7 4.3 3.3
20-40 6.7 5.1 3.3
30-50 7.8 5.4 3.9
40-60 8.9 5.3
50-70 9.6 5.5  
60-80 9.8 6.6  
70-90 10.4  
80-100 11.7  
90-110 14.2  
100-120 32.0 19.0
110-130 23.5


Fuel delivery and ignition are taken care of by the latest generation Bosch Motronic mapped system. The ZF transmission is the same as that found in the 735i as regards the gear ratios but the final drive ratio has been altered. The 730i is lower geared overall with a 3.64 final drive rather than the 3.45 of the 735i and combined with the slightly higher profile, narrower tyres, gives a theoretical 27.67mph per 1000rpm in top gear against 28.36 for the 1986 BMW 735i E32.

We recorded a mean maximum speed of 131 mph on the high-speed bowl at Millbrook in fourth gear which corresponds to 4730rpm, over 1000rpm below the peak power point; an indication of the overgeared economy nature of top gear. A wind-assisted best of 132mph (4770 rpm) was noted.

Standing 1/4-mile: 17.7 sec, 81 mph
Standing km: 32.0 sec, 105 mph


The ZF gearbox (4HP22 type) works well in most respects. It has three possible settings over and above those of the selector, there is a three-position push/slider activator switch to the right of the selector but the car always starts off in E (Economy) until overridden. In this position it provides lower change-up points, so long as the foot is not right to the floor, with the obvious advantage of improved fuel consumption.

The S setting (pushing the slider switch towards the engine) gives higher change-up points which results in in-gear maxima of 47mph (5700rpm) for first gear, 76mph (5600rpm) for second, and 125mph (6200rpm) for third. Pull the slider away from the engine and the M mode is selected. This allows the driver to select any of the first three gears and remain in it. with no kick-down available; useful when towing or going down steep inclines, not to mention driving in snow or ice in winter. The M mode also allows us to measure incremental in-gear times from zero in the first three gears.

True Time Speedo
mph (sec) mph
30 4.3 35
40 5.9 45
50 7.9 56
60 10.5 66
70 13.3 77
80 17.0 88
90 21.8 99
100 27.6 109
110 25.0 120
120 129
130 139


Maximum kick-down speeds in Drive turned out to be 20mph from second to first, 42mph from third to second and 59mph from fourth to third.

With a weight as tested of 36.7cwt the 730iSE has a power-to-weight ratio of 107bhp/ton (specific power of 66bhp/litre) so in automatic form it is hardly surprising that it does not set the tarmac alight from a standing start. Having said that, however, it reaches 30mph in 4.3secs with the benchmark 60mph attained in 10.5secs. The quarter-mile is covered in 17.7secs at a terminal speed of 81 mph with the kilometre post reached in 32.0secs at 105mph.

1987 BMW 730i SE Automatic E32 MAX SPEED TEST
Gear mph kph rpm
OD Top (mean) 131 210.8 4730
(best) 132 212.4 4770
3rd 127 204.3 6300
2nd 86 138.4 6300
1st 51 82.1 6300


The in-gear incremental times show the 730i E32 to be reasonably brisk at overtaking with a 50-70mph time of 5.5secs but care has to be taken with the kick-down function. The kick-down switch is very stiff and the driver has to be positive with the accelerator to activate it.

During its 1268 miles with us the 730i returned an overall fuel consumption of 20.0mpg. The interim brim figures show a fair degree of consistency with motorway and A-road driving giving between 20.4mpg and 23.2mpg. Predictably, the figure dropped for the test session, to 16.8mpg. A normal owner can expect to return about 22.0mpg on average but there is a tendency for the driver to select the S mode on the gearbox for a large proportion of the time due to the unresponsive and long-legged nature of fourth gear — and to use the kickdown when travelling on the motorway — and this might well affect the overall consumption adversely.

The large 19.6-gallon, fuel tank, however, does endow the 730i with an impressive range of around 400 miles which makes it an accomplished long-distance cruiser.

New 7-Series features admirably low Cd figure of 0.32, much better than its predecessor.

Gearbox: switchable. 3-litre M30B30 engine develops 197bhp at 5800rpm.

Trademark grille still leans forward. Facia is ergonomically designed for optimum convenience.

Bootlid opens high to reveal generous luggage space.

Excellent trip computer — standard on the SE model 730.

Interior: typically BMW in feel and style.

As far as ride quality is concerned, the 730i seems to cope with the British roads slightly better than its more powerful brother. The reason for this is probably down to the choice of tyres. The slightly higher profile and narrower tyres fitted to the 730i have more supple sidewalls than those fitted to the 735i and so are more compliant when bumps are encountered.

The 730i does not feel like the big car it is to drive and to a large extent this is due to its willingness to respond when the steering wheel is moved. The driver does run have to fight the car. The steering is pleasantly geared at 3.6 turns lock-to-lock and the effort required to turn the wheel is a lit I Icon the high side for power assistance which helps to give the steering a very positive feel. The driver really feels in command.

Overall mpg:  20.0 (14.1 litres/100km) 4.4mpl
Constant speed
40 36.3
50 37.3
60 32.4
70 30.5
80 29.4
90 27.2
100 25.4
Manufacturers figures 26.1

Drive-MY formula:

Hard 18.0 mpg

Driving Average 22.0 mpg
and conditons Gentle 26.0 mpg
Grade of fuel: Premium, 4-star (95 RM)
Fuel tank: 19.8 Imp galls (89 litres)
Mileage recorder: 1.6 per long
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


There is very little roll for a car in this class and it does not pitch or dive under acceleration or braking. It can be slightly affected by crosswinds but its straight-line stability is generally good.

Cornering behaviour is typical BMW: a pleasant and safe amount of understeer at normal speeds changing to slight oversteer when the throttle is closed mid-corner. The tail can be brought out of line if really provoked but the excellent steering feel makes it easy to control. Power- on oversteer does not really apply to the 730i in strict terms as it does not have sufficient power but it can be provoked by unsettling the car before entering a corner.

As we found with the 735i E32 we tested the brakes have a little too much servo assistance given that the ABS operates with just 40lb pressure on the pedal, but they do have a progressive action and feel very controllable.

As should be expected from a top-line BMW, refinement levels are high. There is less road noise than on the 735i, which again is due to the different tyre choice. Around town the occupants are aware of a little bump-thump and the beautiful sound of the six-cylinder engine when under load. On the motorway there is a little wind noise from around the pillars but the window and door scaling is excellent with no apparent leaks.

Drive-line refinement is not quite up to the same standard, however, as there is a trace of shunt — a slight jerkiness — at low revs but the up-changes are smooth.

The interior of the 730i is typical BMW: uncluttered and spacious with a noticeable lack of gimmickry. The seats are firm and supportive, despite the lack of lumbar adjustment, and remain comfortable during long journeys.

Driver information is analogue and clearly visible through the top half of the four-spoke steering wheel. Speedometer and rev counter are large and centrally mounted in the binnacle with an economy gauge set into the bottom of the latter — this can be a little distracting and it is debatable whether most drivers pay any attention to the information it provides. To the left of the speedo is the fuel gauge and to the right of the rev counter the water temperature gauge. Set between them is a useful liquid crystal gear mode indicator. The mileometer and trip displays are also electronic and only show when the ignition is on.

There is an excellent trip computer set to the left of the heater and ventilation controls — separate for each front seat occupant — in the centre console. It can be set to show average speed, elapsed time. time, average or instantaneous fuel consumption, outside temperature and range. It can be set to warn the driver audibly if a pre-set speed is exceeded and it emits an electronic ‘bong‘ if it detects ambient temperatures of 2.5deg C or below.

Oddment accommodation is good with small cubbies under the lift-up tops of the door armrests and a good sized door pocket in front. There is another useful sunken tray surrounding the gear selector and the dropdown glovebox — lockable—in front of the passenger is long and shallow.

The bootlid opens high to give good access to a generous 17.5cu ft of luggage space with only slight intrusion from the rear suspension. There is a high sill, however, which may cause problems when loading heavy objects. As with other BMW‘s, there is a tidy and comprehensive tool kit housed in the underside of the bootlid.

Visibility out of the 730i is typical of many of today’s cars: restricted to a certain extent by thick pillaring. This is especially noticeable with regard to the rear three quarter panels which are particularly wide and some care needs to be taken when reversing. This is alleviated partially by the clever downward tilt mechanism of the nearside door mirror when reverse gear is engaged.

At a 1987 price of £24.695, the 1987 BMW 730iSE Automatic E32 represents a substantial in vestment — it’s only slightly more expensive than the Jaguar Sovereign 2.9 — but you gel a lot of car for the money, including the latest in production-car electronic engine management systems, high levels of refinement, a good absorbent ride and excellent handling characteristics. It is not the quickest car on the road but it provides acceptable levels of performance for a car of its weight and power as well as reasonable fuel consumption.

As with all BMW‘s, the standard of fit and finish is very high which leaves the 730i free from any annoying squeaks and rattles and combined with its reassuring dynamic qualities makes the 730i a very competent motor car indeed. It’s been five years and £600 million well spent.

Car 1987 BMW 730i SE Automatic E32
Made in Germany
Car type Front engine, rear wheels drive
Type BMW M30B30
Head/block All alloy head / cast iron block
Cylinders 6, in line
Main bearings 7
Cooling Water
Fan Viscous
Bore, mm (in.) 89.0 (3.50)
Stroke, mm (in.) 80.0 (3.15)
Capacity, cc (in.)  2986 (182.3)
Valve gear OHC
Camshaft drive Chain
Compression ratio 9.2-to-1
Ignition Electronic breakerless Bosch Motronic system
Fuel injection Bosch Motronic
Max power 197 bhp (200PS-DIN) 145 (kW ISO ) at 5.800 rpm
Max torque 199lb ft (290 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 205/65 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

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Additional Info
  • Year: 1987
  • Engine: Petrol L6 3.0-litre
  • Power: 197bhp at 5800rpm
  • Torque: 199lb ft at 4000rpm
  • Speed: 131mph
  • 0-60mph: 10.5sec
  • 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.