For a brand long associated with driving dynamics, you might have expected the fastest, most powerful, and most expensive BMW production car yet to be a supercar. Or, at the least, some kind of special M car.
Those honours, however, instead go to a limousine – the M760Li xDrive that marks the German car maker’s first attempt at a high-performance 7-Series in the model’s 40-year history.
Priced $140,000 above the 750i, from $419,000, it joins a niche-within-a-niche group containing elder statesmen such as the Mercedes-AMG S65, Audi S8, and Jaguar XJR.
And while there’s an M Performance-based badge rather than M7 on the bootlid, the M760Li still takes the chairman’s position on the acceleration board with a 0-100km/h time of 3.7 seconds.
All-wheel drive is key to that figure – and marks a milestone in Australia as the first BMW sedan to be sold that doesn’t solely drive the rear wheels.
The M760Li’s 448kW twin-turbocharged 6.6-litre V12 is a further development of the old 760Li’s unit, now matching the capacity of the Rolls-Royce 12-cylinder with which it shares its technical base though modified components target greater response.
If initial lag when requesting a burst of acceleration isn’t ideal, in the car’s Comfort mode there’s a hushed civility to the way the V12 goes about its business that wouldn’t be entirely alien to owners of a Ghost or Dawn.
Combined with restrained wind and tyre noise, and a comfortable ride, the pacified cabin is a suitable match for an interior dressed more luxuriously than any other 7-Series: BMW Individual Merino leather for the upholstery and dashboard; Piano Black wood trim; high-pile floor mats; super-soft anthracite Alcantara roof-lining; Bowers & Wilkins 16-speaker 1400-watt audio.
BMW Australia says 85 per cent of 7 Series buyers are owner-drivers, yet the rear seat still facilitates a grander experience via the Executive Rear Console, which divides the two outer seats, and the Executive Rear Seating, which brings pillowy-soft headrests and a front passenger seat that moves up to the dash and features a footrest to allow sir or madam to pop their feet up.
This is all you might expect from a 760Li. Yet tap two buttons – Sport and DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) – and flick the gearlever left and assume control of gearchanges via the paddles, and you discover why the M letter exists.
Car and engine both adopt a completely new character. The V12 becomes more vocal as a flap opens in the exhaust system, shifts from the eight-speed auto focus on speed rather than seamlessness, and the throttle pedal becomes more responsive.
Putting a 5.2-metre, 2.2-tonne luxury car on a racetrack – as BMW did during the international launch in Palm Springs, USA – might be considered perverse, if not pointless considering the target market.
Yet if a Launch Control test didn’t feel 3.7-seconds quick, a handful of laps confirmed the company’s M division has worked some extra magic on the 7-Series’ competent underpinnings.
While no engineer’s wand is going to make physics vanish, electro-hydraulic roll bar stabilisation, faster-acting dampers, and rear-wheel steering combine to bring a tautness and agility to the M760Li’s handling that is rare for this class.
The big BMW flows just as naturally on Tourist Drive routes, with the all-wheel-drive system, sporty 20-inch Michelin tyres, and huge, 19-inch M Sport brakes ensuring confidence in the areas of traction, grip and stopping.
And where the front seats feel underdone for lateral support on a track, they’re perfect where the M760Li will be driven.
Only the disconnected steering disappoints slightly, though it’s at least direct.
For a 7 Series that feels sportier to drive than either of Mercedes’ AMG S-Classes, there are few cues inside to remind the driver about what’s at their disposal. The M-badged steering wheel and footrest, plus a ‘M760Li’ driver display logo, (or M760i if you have the shorter-wheelbase version) is about it.
There’s even a V12 Excellence option, at no cost, which trades the M760Li’s sportier, aerodynamic exterior design for more subdued body parts. The badge also switches to simply ‘V12’.
It’s mainly aimed at Asian markets such as China, though it does reinforce BMW’s assertion that, despite the M Performance involvement, the M760Li is still more about being the pinnacle of luxury and technology rather than performance.
The new M5 due in 2018 will surely claim to mantle of fastest-accelerating BMW, though the power- and prestige-focused M760Li will still be on message for its brand.
BMW M760Li xDrive pricing and specifications
On sale: Now (by order only)
Price: From $419,000 plus on-road costs
Engine: 6.6-litre V12 twin turbo
Power: 448kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 800Nm at 1550-5000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Fuel use: 12.6L/100km