Palm Springs, California, USA –
If you’re thinking of a lux-limo, there are a few typical candidates: the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and the next Lexus LS are the big names on the 2017 card. You can’t ignore the new Porsche Panamera either, which is due for a March launch here.
You’d think that going one up into the 12-cylinder super-lux-limo in the sub-S$1m segment would see a shrinking list, but that’s actually not true. The Bentley Mulsanne hasn’t got a 12-cylinder, although the W12-powered Bentley Continental Flying Spur slips in at that price range. Audi offers the same W12 A8, while V12 versions of the S-Class and 7 Series exist in the ‘price on demand/indent’ basis, and Mercedes even has the V12 S 600 Maybach on offer for just under $800,000 with COE.
But if you add a sporting bent to the equation, well, very little exists at that level and price. The Rolls-Royce Ghost comes into consideration, but like the Mercedes-AMG S 65, both are well clear of the million-dollar mark. Thus the latest BMW M Performance Automobiles offering is more or less in a class of its own: The M760Li xDrive.
In case you’re wondering, ‘MPA’ stands for M Performance Automobiles, and before you roll your eyes, we should qualify that MPAs are a sweet spot that sit between the range-topping standard models and the full-blooded track-ready M models. Some fair-weathered enthusiasts are too hung-up on branding, so tend to disqualify the MPA models even before they’ve had a chance to turn a wheel in anger.
The MPA cars offer real-world fast-road performance, driveability and reliability without the hard-edged compromises of their hot-blooded M counterparts. Even then, you’d be surprised at how many people in Singapore are quick to pooh-pooh the MPA cars just on principle, and not because they’ve actually driven them hard under the influence of the red mist. For what it’s worth, kudos to BMW for keeping things honest and the ‘M’ branding unadulterated, because they could have just lumped all its models under the broad and popular ‘M’ umbrella, if only for branding purposes, as one or two of its rivals are wont to do.
And so the M760Li xDrive makes its appearance under the MPA banner, not M, purely because of the 7’s purpose as executive express limo. This means it has to deal with occasionally playing the composed host to business wheelings and dealings without unsettling the status quo with a rock-hard ride or obtrusive exhaust note. We think the fact that it’s top-dog under the MPA umbrella, as well as range-topper in the overall BMW hierarchy, is clear indication from the brand that MPA is here to stay, and should be regarded as a credible force to be reckoned with.
The V12 isn’t a fresh phenomenon to the 7 Series, because a V12 has been represented in every generation of the 7 after the original E23. However, this current ‘G’ model 7 Series is the first to see the V12 derivative tuned to deliver dynamic handling characteristics. At the international media drive, we ask what took the brand so long to get started on a ‘sporty’ 7?
A spokesperson reiterates that the 7 shouldn’t be a full-fledged M model because it can’t supercede the model’s primary role as a luxurious limousine. Furthermore, M Performance models only started appearing post-2012 as ‘official’ products from MPA, which was around the tail-end of the last generation ‘F’ 7’s product life-cycle.
“BMW also offers the car with an ‘Excellence’ trim option that sheds the M aerodynamic package and sporty exhaust note so your ride won’t look and sound overtly sporty – even if it really is.”
However, we should qualify that BMW has had a long history of producing such ‘M-lite’ models. Spanning early to late 1980s, two generations of the 5 Series spawned M535i variants, even if at that time, they weren’t branded as such. Also, although the first of these, the E12, was completely fettled by the BMW Motorsport division (this would become today’s BMW M), the second, the E28, would subsequently be assembled on the normal model’s production line, much like today’s MPA models.
The army of test-cars at our disposal was available in a trendy ‘Frozen’ matte colour, which proved a good base to highlight the Cerium Grey accents on the exterior. Apart from the M aerodynamic package, lightweight 20-inch alloys, MPA brakes and sportier bumpers, there’s also a smattering of ‘V12’ and ‘M’ emblems around the car, but nothing so OTT that it becomes a big brand-fest.
BMW pulls no punches with the M760Li xDrive as far as equipment, trim options and personalisation opportunities go, while its dynamics are further tweaked by the M Performance division. However, if it’s discreet performance and even more lux you’re after, BMW also offers the car with an ‘Excellence’ trim option that sheds the M aerodynamic package and sporty exhaust note so your ride won’t look and sound overtly sporty, even if it is.
BMW’s familiar taut cabin quality is elevated to the luxurious through the use of choice materials, colours and textured surfaces. However, don’t be fooled by the gloss and glamour, because the main event resides under its bonnet.
The 6.6-litre V12 at the heart of the ‘7’ is also shared with the Rolls-Royce Wraith and Dawn, with several small differences in power delivery. The BMW revs slightly higher at the top-end, while it has access to the mammoth 800Nm at a rather moot 50rpm higher than its RR counterparts.
The engine wakes with a thrum before settling into an idle you don’t so much hear but feel. Even at standstill, the tingling you feel is a prelude to the V12’s elemental performance, because this layout, a V12 with twin-turbos, is one of the true remaining engines that deliver ‘force of nature’ type performance.
Due to the 7’s insulation, there’s only a muted bellow from the tailpipes as we begin the technical exercises on a tight circuit, which allow us to experience the Integral Active Steering (or active rear steer) at work – the result is a 3,210mm wheelbase car with the agility of a much shorter rear-driven sportscar. Like the other sportscars that have started including variations on the active rear-steer theme to their all-wheel (or rear-wheel) drivetrains, the ‘7’ boasts sharp crisp responses with a decidedly keen-ness to attack the corners.
From a standstill, the 7 will demolish the 100km/h sprint in comfortably under four seconds, and you can even call upon Launch Control to help you do so. There’s good steering feel at the helm and it’s possible to confidently string together a series of canyon corners without wallowing like a boat after the first two or three fast direction changes – this comes courtesy of active roll stabilisation, which ‘cancels out’ body-roll forces swiftly and surely to let you enjoy maximum attack mode.
Like the chassis, the eight-speed ‘Steptronic’ transmission is attuned to the characteristics and power delivery of the V12. There’s an authoritative whump with every gear-change, and the gearbox logic is quick to learn. Although there are paddle-shifters, we never needed to faff about with them, because the in Sport, the gearbox accurately anticipated our gear-needs, so it would redline through the gears before downshifting as we hard-braked for a corner. In normal mode, it would serve up smooth, seamless shifts that would ensure the occupants remained coddled in comfort.
Despite the rarefied realm in which the M760Li xDrive operates, we reckon it’ll find its fair share of fans, especially among low-key owners who appreciate its blend of discreet, yet luxuriously appointed superlative performance. Some may feel there’s nothing like a Bentley to show the world you’ve made it, but there’s another school of thought that eschews such conspicuous displays in favour of more anonymous, albeit ‘special’ choices that will only be recognised by the cognoscenti.
BMW M760Li xDrive
Engine 6,592cc, 48V, V12, twin-turbo
Power 610bhp at 5500rpm
Torque 800Nm at 1550rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100kmh 3.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 12.8L/100km