Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
The stock market may be sagging and the forecast grim, but don't tell that to the world's luxury automakers. With a half-dozen six-figure super cars scheduled to hit the market in the coming year, there seems to be little apprehension toward the dwindling number of potential buyers. BMW's new flagship model, the 760Li, may not be a low-slung exotic, but with a price tag well north of $100K, it promises an equal level of exclusivity. For that princely sum, you get BMW's most powerful and technologically advanced engine stuffed into its controversially styled but opulently appointed 7 Series sedan. The result is a remarkably fleet-of-foot four-door with an interior that will make any first-class traveler feel right at home.
Identical in size to the long-wheelbase 745Li, the 760Li gives only minor hints of its elevated pedigree on the outside. The slightly wider twin-kidney grille is adorned with chrome vertical slats, while similar chrome accents highlight the bumpers and roofline. The standard 19-inch wheels and tires feature a unique design specific to the 760 while run-flat tires are available as well. The additions are so subtle that only a well-trained eye would notice the difference, but on the whole, it exhibits the same stately, if in places awkward, look as the standard 7 Series.
On the inside, the 760Li is loaded with nearly every available feature in BMW's current repertoire as well as a couple of new additions. The standard rear seats offer 14-way power adjustment, heating and massage functions along with individual climate controls. There's also an auxiliary iDrive controller between the two rear seats so passengers can join in on the frustration of using BMW's convoluted control system. Other upgrades include leather trim for the instrument panel, wooden grab handles and an Alcantara suede headliner.
Normally we would gloss right over such minor improvements, especially something as mundane as a headliner, but it was hard not to be impressed by the quality of craftsmanship evident in every stitch of the soft suede. It's one of the few cars we've driven that exudes a lavishness that properly reflects its price tag. The extended length of the stretched 760Li translates into more room in back than you would ever need and when you're not bothering with trying to figure out the iDrive system, you can use the screen to watch TV instead.
Although there's plenty of interesting gadgetry inside the 760Li, the real story lies under the hood. The all-aluminum 6.0-liter V12 power plant isn't just a larger version of the previous 5.0-liter 12-cylinder, it's an entirely new design that utilizes the latest technology to generate both gratifying power and improved economy. Highlighting the list is the use of direct injection the world's first production V12 to use such technology. By injecting gasoline directly into the cylinder, the combustion process can be more accurately monitored and controlled resulting in more power with increased efficiency. The new V12 also uses BMW's own Valvetronic intake system that eliminates the traditional throttle butterfly in favor of infinitely variable intake valves.
Whether you understand the technology or not matters little. All you need to know is that the end result is nothing short of phenomenal. Rated at 438 horsepower and 444 pound-feet of torque, the remarkably smooth and quiet engine responds instantaneously to the slightest nudge of the gas pedal, whipping the nearly 4,900-pound sedan to 60 mph in less than six seconds. At idle and cruising speeds, the engine's sound is nearly undetectable, but open it up for full power and it exudes a pleasing enough note to make you eagerly anticipate the next open stretch of road.
Shifts from the standard six-speed automatic transmission are impossibly smooth, especially considering the substantial force being transferred from gear to gear. Part-throttle shifts are almost imperceptible while full-throttle changes are noticeable only because of the extraordinary thrust that accompanies them. Steering wheel-mounted buttons allow for manual control of both upshifts and downshifts, but the standard gear changes are so well-timed that doing it yourself rarely seems necessary.
The suspension is standard-issue 7 Series, which is to say there's nothing standard about it at all. To go into all the various body control systems would require more detail than is necessary here (for details check out our 745i road test), but rest assured that the 760Li retains all of the comfort and agility of its V8 stablemates. The ride quality on city streets is second to none. Push the big sedan uncharacteristically hard as we did on a closed-course racetrack, and the 760Li responds with predictable manners that instill the utmost confidence in its ability to handle just about any situation.
Our brief test drive brought to light only minor quibbles, most of them common to all versions of the 7 Series. The shift lever for the transmission requires too many awkward movements to get where you want and the iDrive controller continues to confound with its endless menus and haphazardly arranged options. Even sitting in the rear seats without having to worry about keeping our eyes on the road didn't help much, so we resolved to just leave it be and enjoy the car's preset level of excellence. Finally, those used to the incredibly direct steering feel of BMW's smaller sedans might be disappointed with the 760's more subdued feel. Considering that BMW touts the 760Li as its model most likely to be chauffer-driven, we're guessing the softer steering won't be much of an issue for most owners.
As the new flagship of a lineup that includes some of the most revered sedans in the industry, the 760Li will undoubtedly become one of the most sought-after luxury sedans on the market. And after our introductory drive, we see no reason why it shouldn't be at the top of any well-heeled buyer's wish list. The new V12 is a marvel of advanced engineering that faithfully carries on BMW's legacy of world-class engine design, while the interior adequately reflects the car's stratospheric price tag. Whether there will be enough buyers around with that kind of cash in the near future is debatable, but there's no arguing that BMW's latest and greatest is one of the finest sedans on the planet no matter what the price tag.
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