Before discussing the BMW M760Li xDrive, I must admit that I am a devoted follower of the V12 church. To me, any type of twelve-cylinder is a blessing. From whispering power houses to screaming thoroughbreds. There is just something magical about a V12 that no other engine type can offer. The irreversible trend of downsizing has put eight, six and in many cases even four-cylinders under pressure, yet the V12 is still going strong. Those blinded by the green lobby might see this as a bad thing, but knowing that the meat industry is responsible for more pollution than all the cars in the world put together, I gladly skip a steak or a burger to enjoy a V12.
So, am I biased when it comes to reviewing the latest V12 in BMW's line-up? You bet I am. So, for the sake of objective automotive journalism I drove four 7 Series in a matter of five weeks. I started with the 740Le and concluded that a four-cylinder hybrid can generate impressive consumption numbers on short distances, but has no business under the bonnet of BMW’s biggest. I then stepped up to the 750Ld xDrive and was astonished. Even pushing hard on unrestricted parts of German autobahn hardly put a dent in the average consumption. Especially in Europe, this is the engine of choice, offering a thumping amount of low down torque without skyrocketing the fuel budget. Next up was the 750Li and I hate to say it, but I was a little disappointed. Not by the performance of the engine, because this V8 does a fantastic job of quietly offering loads of power to keep the man behind the wheel entertained. What disappointed me was the amount of fuel it asked in return. Okay, nagging about consumption in this segment is probably considered nit-picking, yet the diesel’s performance was close to that of the V8 at about half the fuel rate. In this case choosing the V8 defeats the purpose and triggers a little voice in your head saying: ‘Screw it, just go for the V12 already!’
What is it that makes a V12 so special? For many it is simply about prestige, the age old ‘mine is bigger than yours’ competition. For real connoisseurs, there is more than just bragging rights. You have probably heard of primary and secondary balance in engines. Without boring everybody to bits, it is important to know that these vibrations are caused by the rotational and reciprocating movements of the crankshaft and the conrods and pistons. Due to the layout and setup of a V12, both primary and secondary vibrations are balanced out completely, making the V12 the smoothest running engine available. The power delivery is also creamy and effortlessly with big overlaps, as a result of a power stroke at every 60 degrees of crankshaft rotation. So, before a piston reaches from top dead centre (TDC) to bottom dead centre (BDC), two other cylinders have already fired, giving the crankshaft extra oomph.
With that being said, there were obviously no surprises about the absence of any perceptible clues with the N74B66 coming to life after the typical high-pitched whir of the starter motor. At regular speeds in city traffic the engine is barely revving and the shifts from the 8-speed automatic are silky smooth and can only be noticed with an eye on the tachometer. When slightly more power is required, to merge with motorway traffic for instance, the V12 is barely audible with only a smooth and rich whoosh that differentiates twelve-cylinders from eight-cylinders. So, why is it that some immature Wizz kid had to wire the speakers to the engine ECU to make a cheap snorting sound that would not even be acceptable in a decade old video game? This is exactly where my love and fascination for the M760Li turns to anger and frustration. Adding to that frustration is the pointless sports suspension. Why would you even want a land yacht like this to feel hunkered down and ready to tackle the Stelvio pass? Dressing it up for that occasion with skirts and spoilers is even more baffling. It's like a 250 pound bloke wearing his karate suit every day of the week, because he goes to practice on Saturday mornings.
The V12 7 Series has always been BMW’s flagship for decision makers, captains of industry and other high-rollers. People who demand the highest level of comfort with a V12 being the obvious choice for effortless power delivery. Yes, these luxury barges can explode into a burst of stomach churning acceleration, but not to impress bystanders or your mates at the bar. The immense power is simply a by-product of the torque required to smoothly power the 7 Series in the most effortless way possible. The reason why BMW needed to slap an M-badge on the back and turn it into a wannabe sports sedan is a mystery. The fact that it can accelerate from standstill as if it were rear-ended by a truck is fine, but the sports suspension and body kit are just a step too far. The interior though, is a continuation of that wonderful luxurious flagship theme with focus on the man in the back, offering a ton of gizmos, gadgets and gimmicks that will keep even a 16-year old hacker entertained for weeks. Acres of legroom, endlessly adjustable seats, so many buttons that even after days you still haven’t discovered them all and that typical feeling of being in the best of the best. Adding a sporty dimension to that brilliant package is simply overkill and an answer to a question that nobody asked. Of course, BMW will prove itself right (or prove us wrong, for that matter) with many customers gladly forking out a few hundred grand to own the latest and greatest from Munich, but that says more about their urge to compensate than it says about their refined taste.
After driving the M760Li for a week I cannot say I was disappointed. Puzzled is probably a better word. BMW seems a bit lost. They are cutting the M cake thinner and thinner and simply could not resist the urge to include the 7 Series in the total M-fication of the brand. BMW knew an M7 would not work, because it could never be a proper M car and neither could it be a true luxury car. In the early nineties, M division engineers went on record by saying that they would never touch anything bigger than the 5 Series, but nobody in Munich remembers that anymore or has been forced to a vow of silence by the bean counters...
Going half-way with the M760Li xDrive is a typical example of what you get when the board of directors forces marketers and bean counters to make a compromise with engineers. Luckily, there is a way around all this at no extra cost. For those who want a no-nonsense – as far as a top-of-the-line V12 BMW can be no-nonsense – luxury recipe and no simulated sportiness, there is the Excellence variant. This M760Li xDrive V12 Excellence basically sheds all the M gadgetry and turns the M760Li into, well, a 760Li… Making it the true 5-star luxury sedan it should have been from the get-go.
Price: 321,000 euro (as tested in the Netherlands)
Engine: 6,592 cc V12 twin turbo
Valvetrain: DOHC 48V
Power: 610 PS (448 kW)
Torque: 800 Nm (590 lb ft)
Layout: Front-engine, AWD
Gearbox: Automatic 8-speed
0-100 km/h (0-62 mph): 3.7 s
Top speed: 250 km/h (155 mph)
L/W/H: 5,238/1,902/1,479 mm (206.2/74.8/58.2 in)
Weight: 2,180 kilo (4,806 lb)
Fuel tank: 78 l (20.6 US Gal)
Words Natan Tazelaar (www.tazelaar.eu)