As any fan of LJK Setright will no doubt remind you, the V12 is the king of engines, perfectly balanced no matter the V-angle. The LJK is also something of a dying breed; smaller-capacity turbocharged V8s are more than capable of giving top-of-the-line models sufficient power without the complexity, cost, and and weight of 12 cylinders. But dying isn’t the same as being extinct, and BMW has decided to buck the trend with its new flagship, the $153,800 M760i.
We first saw the big BMW at last year’s New York International Auto Show. But it wasn’t until late last month that the automaker finally allowed the media—Ars included—behind the wheel.
I admit, I have a soft spot for V12s, particularly those built by BMW. My admiration for the V12 began when I was exposed to a 750iL (E32) during my formative car years, and it’s the same reason I stare wistfully at a local 850 CSi while a separate part of my brain tries to comprehend the servicing costs. BMW evidently remembers that E32 7 Series, too, because it played up the 30th anniversary of that model at the M760. Interesting fact: the 600hp (448kW) 6.6L twin-turbocharged V12 that powers the new car is more than twice as powerful as the old 5.0L lump. (Incidentally, the engine is indeed smooth enough to balance a coin on while it’s running, as long as you can find a level bit of engine cover.)
If 600hp at 5,500rpm sounds like a lot, a more telling statistic is the engine’s torque. Not-quite double the old V12’s output at “just” 590lb-ft (800Nm), all available from just 1,500rpm. Coupled with the M760i’s eight-speed transmission and rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive, that’s sufficient to get the big sedan to 62mph (100km/h) in 3.7 seconds—not bad for a vehicle with a curb weight of 4,971lbs (2255kg). Top speed depends upon where you live, as the car is limited to 155mph in most markets, even though it only finally runs out of steam at 189mph (on the autobahn, of course).
Then again, you’d expect mighty performance from a BMW that carries an M badge. That’s probably why BMW had not one but two tracks for us to play on, as well as lending us the talents of factory BMW race driver Bruno Spengler. The first track was a low-speed handling course at BMW’s Performance Center West in Thermal, California. It has few straights, but plenty of turns, and it played well to the M706i’s strengths: that engine, but also the car’s rear-wheel steering, which steers in the opposite direction below 37mph (60km/h), effectively shortening the wheelbase and increasing maneuverability.
After a few laps of the low-speed course, we moved over the road to the Thermal Club, a country club-style race track to test out the car’s high-speed chops. I’ll be honest, Thermal’s South Palm layout is not the M760i’s natural habitat. Few, if any, M760i owners will ever take the car to the track. And yet the big sedan acquitted itself well on the 1.8-mile (2.9km) circuit. Through the fast sweeping hairpin, the car was wonderfully neutral—perhaps a degree or two of oversteer in fact—no doubt helped by the rear-wheel steering, now turning in the same direction as the front wheels to enhance stability.
However, while the M760i accelerates and changes direction like a smaller, lighter machine, BMW’s engineers are no more able to change the laws of physics than Montgomery Scott. This became clear under braking: the car showed its mass when it became time to rein in the speed. Not that the brakes are underpowered, for they’re everything you’d need on the public road, but slowing down from triple-digit speeds was a stark reminder of the car’s almost-5,000lbs.
With the track action complete, it was time to try out the M760i in a more natural environment—the road. The M760i features what BMW calls “Executive Drive Pro,” an semi-active suspension system that constantly monitors the car’s attitude and counteracts body roll. The suspension tuning is typical of BMW’s style, with an emphasis on damper control to soak up road imperfections, bumps, and even the odd race track curb, without upsetting the ride.
The M760i has four different driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Adaptive. Adaptive pulls data from the navigation system and performs an ongoing analysis of driving style; it also has a stereo camera to tweak the suspension, engine, and gearbox to suit the drive. Having had some on-track fun already, I ignored Sport mode. While it sounds better—thanks to active noise enhancement of the engine, which will no doubt enrage some—the bare fact is that Sport makes the car too fast to be fun at legal speeds.
Instead, I spent most of my time in Eco, coasting through corners to maintain speed and comfort. The main instrument display, which changes appearance depending upon drive mode, helped out in this regard. In Eco—a calming blue theme, naturally—a little progress indicator measured in 0.1 mile increments appears around the rim of the speedometer. Drive suitably efficiently and the indicator fills up and resets every time you add another mile to the car’s range through restraint of the right foot. Driven thus, I was able to eke out more than 20 miles per gallon, a figure that is both amazing for such a powerful, heavy car and also depressing for the environment.
Given that the M760i is a technology flagship, don’t be surprised that it comes packed with driver assists, even if they are a $1,700 option. There’s a traffic jam assist, side and rear collision prevention, crossing traffic alerts, and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, the M760i’s lane-keeping assist is not on a par with the latest such systems from Audi, Volvo, or Tesla (HW1), all of whom keep you pinned to the middle of your lane.
Beyond the driver assists, there are plenty of other bells and whistles. The company’s latest infotainment system, iDrive 5.0, is one of the best on the market and a far cry from the early days of iDrive 1.0. There’s gesture control and an extremely competent voice control system (powered by Nuance). While I’m usually not a fan of shouting instructions at my car, Dragon Drive (for that is the system’s name) works better than Siri. Dragon Drive proved a godsend when trying to work out how to do things like adjust the car’s heads-up display without needing to pull over by the side of the road to get out the user manual.
As is usually the case with these media drives, we were paired with another journalist for the road route, which gave me the opportunity to sample the M760i’s back seat. And what a back seat it is! The car is built on the longer wheelbase 7 Series (indeed, it’s badged M760Li in most markets). When fitted with the executive lounge seating package—a $5,750 option—the back seat is a delightful place to spend time. It’s also a world away from the back seat of the old E32 750iL, which may have been plush, but it limited the gadgets to electric windows and a seat that reclined. A little.
The prime spot is the seat on the right (or the left if you’re in the UK, Australia, Japan, or other places that use right-hand drive). With the push of a button, the front seat slides all the way to the front while folding its seatback forward. At the same time, a foot rest folds out. With your own seat reclined, it’s almost as comfy as the lie-flat beds you get in the pointy end of a good airliner. Those airline beds don’t also massage you, though—score one for the BMW.
In addition to a back massage, there’s also a “vitality” program that works the opposite way; instead of the seat poking bits of you, you have to push into different bits of the seat. In theory, this works out your back or leg muscles. (N.B. this doesn’t work well if you’re recumbent.) Fully reclined and can’t reach the infotainment touchscreen mounted behind the front seat? BMW has helpfully included an Android tablet that lives docked to the central arm rest. Simply pop that sucker out and use it to control just about every feature of the car (save for drive modes) with the flick of a finger.
Over drinks later that evening, the topic for discussion among the assortment of automotive journalists revolved around just one thing: does the car really need to badged with an M? Even M Division’s Jörg Hermann was at pains to point out this is no M7; that would require much more weight loss and RWD, among other things. M Performance is a stop along the way from regular strength BMW to track-focused M, and it indicates keener driving dynamics and performance. But, in fact, there’s a mechanically identical version called the 760Li Excellence (mainly for China) that ditches some of the go-faster styling accouterments for an extra dose of chrome bling, something that undermines the M branding on the car we drove.
Whether you want to call it an M760i or not, we still think it’s a remarkably competent flagship model.