New models - BMW - 7 Series
First drive: BMW 760Li tops the fleet
The most expensive 7 Series is also pretty stunning to drive
30 Apr 2003
BMW tops off its luxury 7 Series line-up in May when it launches the long wheelbase V12-powered 760Li onto the Australian market.
It joins two short wheelbase models - the V8-powered 735i and 745I - and two long wheelbase models - the 735Li and the 745Li. The V12 is signified on the car's body by subtle badging and more chrome than the other 7s.
Priced from $332,400, the 760Li is the most expensive BMW on sale here, but it is not the top-dollar ask from the BMW Group. That honour goes to the Rolls-Royce Phantom due on sale around mid-year for $1 million.
It is hard to think of a $300,000-plus car being cut-price, but nevertheless the 760Li and the Phantom do share one very significant common area - the engine.
The all-new high technology 6.0-litre V12 in the BMW is fundamentally the same unit as that in the Phantom, albeit in that case punched out to 6.749 litres.
Nevertheless, the BMW owner still gets a substantial 327kW and 600Nm to shove along the not insubstantial 2200kg (approx) bulk of the 760Li.
There's no shortage of technology within the 60-degree 48-valve lump - direct petrol injection, Valvetronic electronic control of the four valves per cylinder, Bi-Vanos camshaft control and Lambda emission sensors that ensure the engine can cope with our higher sulphur fuel.
And it mates to one of the best automatic transmissions going around at the moment - ZF's marvellous six-speed, which also graces the Jaguar S-Type and the Audi A8, the latter soon arriving on our shores.
BMW claims the 760Li can reach 100km/h in just 5.8 seconds and 200km/h in 17 seconds, with an electronically controlled top speed of 250km/h. Fuel consumption on the combined cycle is claimed to be 11.4L/100km.
It's a big car obviously, but not outlandish in Aussie terms where long wheelbase luxury has long been accepted courtesy of cars like the Ford Fairlane and Holden Statesman.
Millimetre for millimetre, the BMW is actually 24mm shorter than the new WK Holden Caprice, although in terms of wheelbase, width and height it edges the $260,000 cheaper local product.
Not that the local iron is the BMW's rival. It lines up here as it does everywhere else against Mercedes-Benz, and in this specific case the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V12 S600L, which retails for $349,900.
Like the BMW, the Benz borrows engine technology from its ultra-luxury relation, in this case Maybach. Despite being de-tuned, the Benz still offers 380kW and 800Nm.
Not unexpectedly, the 760Li is weighed down with standard gear, using its little brother the V8 745Li as a starting point, but adds such features as dynamic headlight control, high-grade leather finish to the instrument panel and special high gloss seasoned walnut wood trim.
Further touches include a soft close automatic system for all doors, alcantara roof lining, electric rear and side window privacy blinds, active front seats and comfort rear seats, a 13-speaker hi-fi system and a rear video screen linked to a boot-mounted DVD.
Believe it or not, there are options, such as a heated steering wheel, separate rear air-conditioning system and cool box, in-dash mini-disc player and two no-cost options - a rear seat ventilation and heating system and a choice of 18 or 19-inch alloy wheel designs.
But like other 7s, the 760Li gets the controversial exterior styling and the equally controversial one-knob-for-everything iDrive system, as well as EDC-C electronic damper control and Dynamic Drive - the active electronic stability control system that virtually removes bodyroll.
The longer wheelbase of the Li models liberates 140mm of extra space in the rear, which is appropriate considering this is a car for captains of industry, just like its Benz rival.
In fact, BMW estimates it will sell up 20 760Lis to the end of the year. The LI range should account for around 200 sales in 2003, while the company believes total 7 Series sales should add up to 500.
It's a similar story over at Benz where in addition to the 600 there's also the S350L, S430L and S500L. Benz estimates 10-12 sales for the 600 and 120 for all the Ls combined. Total S sales are expected to be around 400 for 2003.
Naturally, BMW Australia boss Franz Sauter is rhapsodic in his praise of the 760Li, describing it as "the pinnacle of automotive performance and luxury in the most spacious of surroundings, unmatched by limousines of the past or present day".
What about BMW's Phantom you ask? Well, fortunately Herr Sauter does not have to worry about stepping on any political lines here as the Rolls-Royce is being sold independently of BMW in Australia.
How they compare
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:LET there be no doubt - the new 7 Series flagship offers a whole new dimension of performance over lesser, V8-powered versions of BMW's controversial new limousine.
Sure, the 6.0-litre V12 of the most expensive 7 Series may fall short of the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V12 found in its direct rival - the Mercedes-Benz S600L - by 53kW and some 200Nm of torque. And an extra 100kg of kerb weight sees the top-shelf Seven claim a 0-100km/h acceleration time that's almost a second slower than the priciest S-class.
But the S600L is also more expensive and, let's face it, at more than five metres in length and with a kerb weight no less than two-and-a-quarter tonnes, the 760Li's 5.8-second 0-100 sprint is hardly pedestrian.
In fact, the most luxurious BMW accelerates as quickly as, say, a Commodore SS - but that's about where the comparisons end.
Operating with the type of smoothness, refinement and driveability an SS driver can only dream of, the Seven's new V12 comprises all the major engine technologies currently available to produce a seemingly limitless wall of torque at any revs - with just the right amount and kind of noise.
Performance, considcring the vehicle's bulk, is nothing short of astounding and makes the 760Li deceptively quick in all environments - both around town and over the fast, open Victorian country roads we sampled during the launch. To top it off, the V12 returns amazingly efficient claimed fuel consumption of just 11.4L/100km (combined) - less than its predecessor despite being more than a second quicker to 100km/h.
But the V12's driveability is aided greatly by ZF's excellent six-speed automatic, which manages to extract every last Newton metre of the engine's significant performance, as well as being intuitive in traffic situations and, above all, seamless in its shift action.
On bumpy Victorian highways we found the standard 19-inch alloys to provide far superior ride quality than that of the optional 20-inch units, which provide crisper turn-in but at the expense of increased steering nervousness and even a little rack rattle. So, for those that value ride comfort more highly than appearances, it stands to reason the 18-inch alloys - available as a no-cost option - would provide the most luxurious ride.
Of course, the 760Li is more than just a long wheelbase 7 Series with a bigger engine and wheels.
The larger, more heavily chromed kidney grille and subtle "V12" and "760Li" badging on the front quarters and bootlid respectively are the most obvious external clues to the uniqueness of this BMW. Once inside, passengers are confronted by a sumptuous (fake suede) Alcantara headlining material that extends to the pillars and sun visors, leaving the interior completely leather-clad.
Where there's no leather there's carpet and, in the case of the even more expensive Individual-optioned versions, "piano" coloured black woodgrain inserts that make a real feature on the doors, console and dashboard. Of course, there are many other features that set the 760 apart, such as alloy kickboards and a plethora of more standard equipment.
One such item is BMW's clever Active Cruise Control system, which maintains a constant distance behind cars on the road ahead. Drivers can select cruising speeds in increments as small as 1km/h, which the system will stick to with strict attention - even down steep hills. Drivers can even adjust the distance at which it will follow other cars.
There can be few automotive seating positions as opulent as the expansive rear pews of the 760Li, which cosset back passengers with all manner of occupant comforts such as no fewer than 10 air-conditioning outlets (including two in the roof, two in the centre console, two in the B-pillars and two under the seats), fully adjustable seats and more legroom than a railway carriage.
In true BMW style, however, even the most expensive 7 Series - effectively a replacement for the even longer LZ - offers optional equipment, including rear seat heating, steering wheel heating, skibag and rear air-conditioning control including a coolbox.
And then there's the 760Li Individual, which at a $14,190 premium (bringing the total cost to around $375,000) raises the interior ambience even further via surprise-and-delight features like the twin rear DVD monitors in the front headrests and platinum leather, along with the outside's carbon black paint and bolted 20-inch alloys.
Niggles? Of course, the controversial iDrive multi-function system at the heart of all 7 Series remains difficult to master in a short time and we found the rear headroom a little tight for tall occupants, despite the scalloped roof lining.
Yes, the rear seat of the 760Li is a special place to be and there's no doubt BMW limousine buyers are accommodated more luxuriously than ever before.
We like V8 Sevens too but, as either a car for drivers or passengers, it's hard to resist the broader performance and luxury envelope the 7 Series range-topper now offers.
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