$66,350 is a significant sum. In the automotive world, it can buy you a variety of delicious drivables, including the BMW M3, Cadillac CTS-V or Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. It can buy you exactly 4.67 Mazda2 hatchbacks, if that's more your style, but no matter how you look at it, $66K isn't chump change.
So when you consider that the 2010 BMW 760Li commands a wallet-gouging $66,350 over an entry-level 7 Series, which itself starts at at a lofty $70,650, you'd be right to expect the standard BMW flagship treatment with a heaping helping of sport sedan prowess thrown in for good measure. And that, folks, is exactly what you get.
Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL
The F01 7 Series is looking quite sharp these days, not only within the BMW portfolio, but against newly tweaked competitors like the Audi A8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But while the 7 looks decidedly German and stately, we feel its design has been immediately trumped by that of the stunning 2011 Jaguar XJ.
The 12-cylinder 760 model is only available in the long-wheelbase body style, which adds 5.5 inches of length between the front and rear wheels – 98 percent of which is enjoyed by backseat passengers, as the Li designation signifies an added 5.4 inches of rear legroom. Other model-specific changes include V12 badging between the front doors and wheel wells, quad exhaust tips out back and larger 19-inch wheels as standard equipment. It's a looker, combining luxurious understatement with a commanding road presence.
Our test car came equipped with a handful of BMW's Individual Composition options – a sort of leather-bound wine list of color and wheel choices available exclusively to the 7 Series. They aren't cheap, and our tester's Moonstone Metallic paint, AmaroBrown full leather interior with Alcantara headliner, 20-inch wheels, Shadowline exterior trim and "BMW Individual" rear badging added $8,300 to the $137,000 starting MSRP. Add in a rear seat entertainment package ($2,200), active cruise control ($2,400), night vision ($2,600), destination ($875) and the gas guzzler tax ($2,100), and you wind up with a final, out-the-door price of $155,475 – more than double the price of a base 740i.
Sure, spending that sort of coin will ensure you have the finest of 7 Series models, complete with nearly every option you could ever want in a luxury sedan, but what you're really paying for is the absolute sweetheart of an engine that lies underhood. Of course we're talking about BMW's new 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V12.
All 7 Series models are available with turbocharged engines these days, and while we have nary a complaint about the 4.4-liter V8 found in the 750i, the 12-cylinder powerplant is just so much more special. It makes 535 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque – 135 hp and 100 lb-ft more than the twin-turbo V8 – and while the 760Li is 385 pounds heavier than a similarly equipped 750Li, it sprints to 60 miles per hour a full seven-tenths of a second quicker (4.5 versus 5.2).
What's most impressive, though, is the 6.0-liter's difference in power delivery over the 4.4. The all-important low-down thrust comes on strong at just 1,500 rpm – 250 rpm sooner than with the V8 – and when you consider there are 100 more foot-pounds being sent to the rear wheels, the acceleration is more akin to that of a muscular sportscar than a luxury barge. There is the slightest hint of turbo lag right off the line, but you'll soon forget about it once your right foot is marshaling the 760's full onslaught of power. It's seriously fast, but the whole forward thrust experience is silky smooth.
At speed, the 760Li's eight-speed automatic transmission does a fine job of keeping the engine running in the lower end of the torque band, mostly in an effort to maximize fuel efficiency. During full highway cruising, the 760 can muster up a relatively impressive 19 miles per gallon (there are 12 hungry cylinders to feed, after all), and during our test, we averaged a respectable 16.4 mpg during a fairly even mix of city and highway driving.
BMW's Driving Dynamics Control and Dynamic Damping Control work with both the transmission and chassis to offer four different levels of driver engagement out on the road, with Sport being our obvious favorite. While we do enjoy occasionally selecting Comfort mode for the most plush 7 Series experience possible, we preferred tweaking the Sport mode's chassis settings and leaving the transmission alone. Although the eight-speed 'box handles shifts with aplomb, the sportier transmission settings tend to hold gears a bit longer than we'd like in everyday driving. Normal mode is a nice blend of Comfort and Sport, and the intense Sport + setting is something we'd reserve only for serious canyon carving. Not exactly normal 7 Series territory, but with the 760, we'd be up for the challenge.
The stiffer suspension settings and more responsive steering feel at home in the Big 7, and the Sport mode's slight reduction in traction control allows you to let the back end play around a bit more during hard cornering. It's rather remarkable how nimble the 760Li is at speed – it's not nearly as portly as an S-Class – which is what tends to separate the Bimmers from the rest of the boys.
We know that only a very small fraction of 7 Series sales will be made up of the 760Li, and while that is indeed a shame, it's perfectly understandable. At $70,650, the 740i is an elegant mix of luxury and taste, and the $82,500 750i is marginally more engaging from behind the wheel. It almost makes the 760Li seem like an incredible stretch for standard luxury sedan shoppers, but this is definitely a case where if you have the means, then by all means. There is quite simply nothing sweeter than the power provided by a BMW-sourced twin-turbo V12, and when it's wrapped up in something so comfortable, so stylish and so unabashedly awesome, the 760Li provides an ultimately unique luxury sedan experience. And besides, there are certainly worse ways to spend $137,000.
Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL