BMW 740Ld xDrive (© BMW AG)Click to enlarge picture

BMW enters the premium diesel market with the 740Ld xDrive.

Taking the lead from its rival Audi, BMW will add a new diesel version of its flagship 7-Series sedan, the new 740Ld xDrive made its debut at the Chicago Auto Show.

German makers have been at the forefront when it comes to re-introducing Americans to diesel power and BMW already has a range of oil-burners in its line-up, including the 328d and 328d xDrive Sedans, the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon, the 535d and 535d xDrive Sedans and X5 xDrive35d Sports Activity Vehicle. But this is the first time that it has offered a diesel for the big 7-Series.

Audi introduced a diesel version of its A8 for the 2014 model-year and it remains to be seen if Mercedes-Benz might follow suit with the new S-Class. German automakers consider themselves the leaders in diesel technology and the sales have increased modestly over the past two years as new models have come to the American market.

Demand for diesel could be hobbled by the fact that the fuel costs more than gasoline in the U.S. and diesel engines require expensive pollution controls that add considerable cost to the price of a vehicle. But analysts say that diesels do have the advantage of offering significantly better performance than comparably priced hybrids, such as the BMW ActiveHybrid 7.

The 740Ld, which will retail for $83,425 — including a $925 destination and handling charge — will feature BMW's 3.0-liter TwinPower turbodiesel engine in the long-wheelbase 7-Series body and will include xDrive, BMW's intelligent all-wheel-drive system. It arrives in showrooms spring 2014.

The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six BMW Advanced Diesel engine features a single turbocharger with variable vane turbine technology to improve low-end torque. It's mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and produces 255 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque — which will accelerate the big sedan from Zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds.

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Standard features like Driving Dynamics Control with Eco Pro mode and Auto Start/Stop will help the driver reduce fuel consumption in real-world driving situations, according to BMW.

The maker hasn't released specific fuel economy numbers but is suggesting a 25- to 30-percent improvement over the numbers returned by the 3.0-liter TwinPower inline-six now offered in the 7-Series, which gets 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway. That could mean as much as 36 mpg on the open road.

That would put it somewhere in line with 24/36 rating of the Audi A8 diesel — which takes almost a half-second longer to get from zero to 60 mph. The Audi's price comes in about $30 under the new BMW 740Ld, a gap not likely to make much of a difference to premium luxury buyers.

In fact, one might ask why high-line motorists would even care about saving fuel. In Europe, diesel fuel is notably cheaper than gas in many markets and diesel vehicles often benefit from reduced taxes. In the U.S., the only advantage is higher mileage — though the added muscle and bragging rights that go along with a "clean diesel" seem to be drawing in buyers who don't like the tradeoffs of a hybrid.

Don't be surprised if we see a strong response to the new BMW 740Ld xDrive trigger Mercedes to bring a diesel back in the S-Class line over the next couple years.