There is something inherently intriguing about stealth and subterfuge. Especially when that intrigue takes the form of a car. When eyes slowly examine your car at the lights, trying to catch a glimpse of what is hidden underneath that unassuming shell of aluminum and steel. I am, of course, talking about the much attempted, yet rarely perfected art form of the “sleeper”. A car that, to an an unassuming eye, wouldn’t look any more out of the ordinary than sand at the beach. But upon closer inspection, would reveal something very sinister indeed.
German luxury manufacturers have quite a successful record of creating these types of cars over the past few decades, what with BMW’s M-division, Audi’s RS line and the bonkers AMG boys over at Mercedes (has anybody told them they’re basically building muscle cars?). Although, I would argue that most people have begun to expect performance from an M-badged BMW, but do they expect it from a 7-Series? A car that, from all outward appearances, looks as normal as any other luxury car. Well, I wouldn’t be so sure.
BMW has owned Rolls-Royce, the British purveyor of all things luxury, for nigh on two decades now. And as such business deals go, crossover is only to be expected between the two marques. In all honesty, it would be a wasted investment otherwise. Before I get accused of digressing unbearably far from the main topic of this piece, there is a reason for the short history lesson. And it is a simple one: the BMW 760Li and Rolls-Royce Ghost, for all intents and purposes, share more similarities than your local Rolls Royce salesman would like to admit. But all this fluff about the two cars sharing the same chassis and engine essentially boils down to one thing: the crossover between Rolls and BMW has made the 2013 760Li one of the best luxury cars on the market today. And one of the most overlooked.
As with all luxury cars in this day and age, you come to expect a certain level of gratuitous luxury, especially when you are sat square in the driver’s seat of the most expensive car BMW makes. At just a hair over $140,000, taxes and delivery charges withheld, the 760Li is appointed unlike any other car in BMW’s line up. The best analogy to describe the experience is a rather simple one — no matter what you wear while driving, you will feel underdressed. For all intents and purposes, you are driving a Manhattan penthouse that can, at your bidding, get you across town at 155 mph.
As cliché as it sounds, the leather oozes a milky, smooth texture; a texture that is only truly surpassed by its sister car, the Rolls Royce Ghost (and let’s be honest, it should be). But, undoubtedly, an overwhelming majority of 760Li buyers will opt for a driver to handle the mundane task of getting from point A to point B. While I don’t have an inherent problem with that fact, it does become slightly saddening to realize how much of the driving experience they are going to miss. And let me assure you, it is a lot to miss.
People often harp on about the end of the V12. The petrolhead’s bible, Top Gear, even dedicated a piece at the end of their 13th season; recounting, against a somber backing of classical music, that the V12 era was dead and dusted. An era which saw Formula 1 outlaw the use of any engine 12 cylinders or above and in which the top step at Le Mans was dominated by a 12 cylinder car more times than I dare remember.
Obviously this news has yet to reach the offices of BMW, tucked away in the sprawling German metropolis of Munich. Under its hood, the 760 packs a walloping great V12, producing just as hair over 530hp with the help of two equally great turbos either side. The choice of a twin-turbo V12 over a much more sensible power plant is what sets this car apart from its rivals at Mercedes and Audi, who both have opted for more sterile V8 setups.
Giving it the boot from stand still will get you to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds (we were able to time 4.4 seconds) and onward to your welcoming party at the local state penitentiary in a time you dare not think about. Electronics limit the car to 155 mph, but there is no doubt the engine could push it further. And all this from a car that weighs as much as a small moon. At a listed 5000 lbs, there is no denying it is a heavy car. Only it doesn’t feel quite that heavy. Not in the slightest.
The moment BMW adopted the rather clever marketing slogan, “the ultimate driving machine”, they became marked men, even if they didn’t dare admit it. If any one of their cars befell that promise, well, the BMW faithful would cry bloody murder from the hilltops. And, as such things go, probably flee to one of their German rivals. In much of their range, obtaining a well thought out, exhilarating driving experience, on paper, shouldn’t be all that difficult. But it is when you begin to get to the more difficult cars – cars like the 760Li – that you can truly learn to appreciate the engineering work that goes into making a 5000lb luxury apartment on wheels feel no heavier than a fully-loaded 3-series.
The car we tested came fitted with optional M paraphernalia scattered around the cabin on things like the doorsills and steering wheel – all very trick. At first, it was all a bit amusing – like a sumo wrestler threatening to beat Usain Bolt in the 40 yard dash – but once you drop the car in sport, you forget to laugh. You forget, mostly because you are pinned back into your seat as though that same sumo wrestler was now affixed directly to your lap. The car should not handle the way it does. And after driving the car on mountain roads for hours upon hours, I still cannot believe it can handle turns the way it does. The way the computers are working under the skin, you would half expect to see smoke pouring out from behind the dashboard.
And that brings up a fair point. The dashboard is one of the main problems I have with this car, although I think you will find my issues easily debunked. The gauges, even for my (relatively) young eyes, are difficult to read at a quick glance. I know, first world problems, right? It is a problem easily solved by engaging the heads up display which, as you can imagine, abolished my cleverly devised get-out-of-a-ticket-excuse of not being able to read the speedometer.
The heads up display, on the other hand, is one of the best executed examples of the technology I have experienced. Instead of the ghastly Windows 1.0 DOS green all too familiar to Corvette owners, the 760 uses a cool white which dims/brightens the display based on current lighting conditions. Admittedly, over the course of my review, I did inherit a penchant for driving into direct sunlight just to watch the display auto adjust. A habit that did make the fuel economy drop a little bit. We were getting – in sport mode – an average of around 13 mpg, which is not entirely unexpected given the shear amount of monstrosity living under the hood. Dragons need to eat, or something like that.
The BMW 760Li is a car seldom spotted, thus leaving it sorely overlooked by much of the petrolhead collective. Both are fates that should never befall a car of such an impressive nature. It is a car that plays its specified role as an ultra high performance luxury sedan to a T. And for those who simply fail to see the need for a $140,000 BMW, take solace in the fact that BMW is continuing to produce a 500hp+ V12 in 2013. That is the single most staggering fact about one of the most staggering cars BMW has ever made.