REVIEW DATE: 04 Apr 2006
If BMW Is The Ultimate Driving Machine, Is The 760i The Ultimate Ultimate? Andy Enright Reports
How much is too much? It's a tricky question to answer when it comes to the upper echelons of luxury saloons. BMW are hoping their V12-engined 760i will appeal to those with a well defined sense of occasion, for whom the otherwise magnificent 750i is just a little too blue-collar. With 445bhp on tap, here is a very urbane way of being totally corrupted.
Available in either standard body or the behemoth long wheelbase 760Li version, this is a car with a resolutely high tech remit. Mercedes may have stolen BMW's thunder by bolting a pair of turbochargers onto the 6.5-litre V12 in the S600, resulting in an output of some 600bhp, but any engineer worth their salt will be more appreciative of the BMW effort. With no recourse to forced induction, this engine utilises the Valvetronic system - one which does away with conventional throttle butterflies. The result is that the engine breathes more effectively and responds instantly to the driver in a way that a turbocharged engine can't match. That's why McLaren turned to BMW when they wanted the finest normally-aspirated engine money can buy for the F1 hypercar and BMW hasn't been resting on its laurels.
With 600Nm of torque on tap, this V12 promises pull from practically any point in the rev band and fuses the Valvetronic setup with a direct fuel injection system - the first time BMW have achieved this technologically complex solution. With lower CO2 emissions, better fuel economy and a more effective fuel burn, the 760i makes every other V12 - even Volkswagen's astonishing W12 - looks a little primitive.
The V12 models are distinguished from lesser models in the 7 Series Range by a V12 logo on the front wheelarches, a wider chromed kidney grille, different wheels and gloss black door pillars and door mirror stems. The interior has come in for a luxurious makeover too, with soft leather being liberally plastered across the centre console, doors and dashboard edgings. The dash itself gets inlaid burr walnut trim, something that will meet with mixed responses. The roof lining has been finished in Alcantara and the doorsills get an illuminated V12 plate.
"The 760i hasn't been tempted to transmogrify itself into a bloated gin palace."
BMW have high hopes for this car, the company's UK Managing Director believing that the 760i and 760Li will "redefine" the niche V12 market segment and that no rival can match BMW's combination of comfort, dynamic ability and all round efficiency. Certainly, the 7 Series has established itself as the driver's choice amongst luxury cars and the 760i hasn't been tempted to transmogrify itself into a bloated gin palace. It's still a car that you'd rather drive and plough the money you saved on a chauffeur's salary into cross Continentalblasts. If that's the case, then you'll be interested to know that all UK cars are fitted as standard with Electronic Damper Control (EDC-K), self levelling suspension and Dynamic Drive, BMW's system for limiting body roll during hard cornering.
Although some have groused about the styling and the iDrive control system, it seems that these concerns haven't significantly dented 7 Series sales. Since they were launched in March 2002, the V8-powered 7 Series models have outsold the combined sales of V8-engined Mercedes S Class, Audi A8 and the Lexus LS430, and BMW hope that the V12 will do a similar number on the Mercedes S600, the Audi A8 W12 and the Volkswagen Phaeton W12. A recent facelift should help it accomplish those ends with particular attention being paid to the iDrive and the look of the car.
Whilst it's not classically good looking, the 7 Series shape does grow on you. It'll take a keen eye to spot the latest exterior changes. They conform to the usual checklist of targets for mid-life facelifts, with the front grille and bumper being subtly altered as well as the headlamps. BMW claim that the enhancement of the bonnet's power dome gives the car a more powerful face, and the more boldly contoured bonnet does look a good deal more like the 5 Series, which can only be good. There are more subtle alterations on the flanks and rear as well but, again, nothing too drastic. For those who value a little extra rear legroom, the long wheelbase 760iL version elegantly disguises its extra inches.
Many headlines have focused on BMW's iDrive system, a system that dispenses with most of the previous car's 117 separate switches, levers and buttons in favour of a rotary dial that accesses a menu-based system that flashes up on an LCD screen. At first, it's desperately frustrating finding yourself adjusting the front/rear balance of the stereo when all you wanted was to demist the windscreen. Still, you quickly get used to it. In the latest 7-Series, however, the system is less all encompassing with some key controls finding their way out of the computer system and back onto the dash.
The BMW 760i is a refreshing reminder that having a luxury car that costs more than a provincial semi can still seem a good idea. As a contender for the title of World's Most Technologically Gobsmacking Vehicle, the 760i would seem to be in a class of its own. Everybody else is just left scratching their heads. Too much? Not a phrase bandied about too much in Munich, it would seem.
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