BMW's low-flying Seven - silent but violent
I've always wondered why BMW's M division never breathed on the 7 Series sedan. I've had my suspicions but, with the range being targeted at the absolute top of the market, I thought the brand was afraid to give it the racy look of the M3 and M5.
So, to BMW Towers in Munich for the world launch of the BMW 760, and expecting to find an executively disguised M7. However, after a quick tour of the V12 engine plant and time spent behind the wheel, I can safely say that it's not an M car but still a violent, silent luxury sedan.
The latest 400kW/750Nm twin-turbo engine is partly hand-assembled but, unlike Merc's AMG division, doesn't carry the name of the assembler. It's bolted into the engine bay of two body variants - one normal, one stretched by 140mm (and the version destined for our shores in November 2009).
7 Series aficionados should be able to tell the difference between this and lesser models from the back and profile views. The wider, chrome-framed kidney grille gives a subtle hint at the front but the 19" alloys, chromed "V12" gill badges, extra chrome at the rear and especially the dual rectangular tail pipes give the game away.
Herr Jeeves will notice that the fascia is finished in leather, the roof lining/sun visors in alcantara and the burr walnut all over but the stainless-steel sill plates with illuminated V12 badges are the real party trick. Li customers will also score with individual and adjustable single seats at the rear, fancy rear auto aircon and soft-closing rear doors.
I spent some time in the Li's back seat and it's certainly rugby-player friendly - especially with 208mm worth of knee room and 988mm of headroom.
Options are endless but you can't not have the rear DVD system, additional iDrive controller and massage seats - at R1.6-million you'd think they'd throw these in, wouldn't you?
The six-litre V12 is a mother of an engine and, with 750Nm from 1500rpm, not only provides tidal-wave thrust but also has BMW's first eight-speed auto gearbox, also to be seen in Rolls-Royce's soon-to-be-launched Ghost. It's not a double-clutch transmission but weighs about the same as a conventional six-speed auto box.
On long, unrestricted stretches of autobahn you can cruise at 140km/h at only 2000rpm in eighth or hunt down the horizon at 240km/h - at which point you're only at the end of fourth.
INFORMAL STOPWATCH TESTING
So yes, in bullet-train mode, eight gears is overkill but when cruising (as Herr Jeeves probably would) those extra cogs help with consumption.
And, thank goodness, it's not a lazy gearbox. Though not as millisecond sharp as DCT it still finds the most responsive gear with a twitch of that big toe - and I do mean just a twitch.
You also hear a bit of turbo whistle under acceleration, which I thought was a nice touch.
The Germans claim 4.6sec from 0-100km/h and a governed top speed of 250km/h for either model; some informal stopwatch testing with the 760Li in Sport+ mode (the go-faster, traction-off setting within dynamic drive control) suggests closer to 5.3. On the autobahn we effortlessly hit an indicated maximum of just under 260km/h in fifth.
Fuel consumption, as you've probably guessed, was nowhere near the 13 litres/100km claimed.
ULTIMATE RIDE QUALITY
And I don't think the tree-huggers are going to be too happy with its 303g/km CO2 footprint either. BMW's "efficient dynamics" is a focus for the 760, though, with technologies such as brake energy regeneration and on-demand operation of the water and oil pumps included.
Nevertheless, ride quality is ultimately what you'd expect from the uber Seven. Tech such as dynamic damping control, anti-roll stability, air suspension and self-levelling on the rear axle all live up to the hype but you'd notice this best from the comfort of the back seat, with a glass of bubbly in hand.
Leading me to my final point. If you're buying a car for Jeeves to drive, the 750Li will do but, if you're an executive with a bit of a dark side, look no further.