2004 BMW 760Li

Rolling proof that BMW builds bigger even better

There's a fine art to making a big sedan that's truly capable of performing like a sports car-one that shrinks to fit you and run with most two-seaters-yet convey a quartet of tall adults in sublime luxury and comfort. And, no one does it better than BMW.

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Since 1987, BMW has sold over 100,000 12-cylinder cars-a remarkable achievement. The company's initials stand for Bavarian Motor Works, so engines have always been important. While BMW's reputation was and is made with high-revving, powerful sixes, BMW beat Mercedes-Benz to the punch with its first V-12, and has once again revitalized this engine configuration with a powerful new version. The 760Li's 438 horsepower and 444 lb.-ft. of torque dwarf the 745i's hardly insignificant 325-hp/330 lb.-ft. V-8 output; and, although the bigger model is 5.5-inches longer, it weighs less than 300 pounds more. That translates to a 0-60 sprint of just 5.4 seconds vs. the 745i's impressive 6.0 seconds. When you consider that the 760Li weighs two-and a half tons, it's all the more extraordinary.

Before you rush to email us that the Maybach 57 has a 5.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12 and knocks out 543 horsepower, do understand that we've driven the Maybach. It's certainly a tour de force, but it weighs nearly 1,200 pounds more than the 760Li, and with a 10-inch longer wheelbase and two feet more overall length, it feels somewhat ponderous in comparison. So does a Bentley Arnage. BMW has mastered the knack of taking excess weight out of a big car and making it nimble and agile.

Some years ago, Dr. Wolfgang Peter, former head of passenger car development for Daimler-Benz, commented that it was easier for Mercedes-Benz (with help from its captive division, AMG) to make credible high-performance cars out of its luxury sedans than it would be for BMW to make true luxury cars out of its sporting models. Time and development have proven him wrong. At an average age of 54, BMW buyers are six years younger than Mercedes-Benz owners. They are also wealthier and more entrepreneurial. Compared with the current competition in the premium luxury sedan field, BMW definitely wins high marks in fit, finish and accoutrements.

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The 760Li shares the 745Li's wheelbase and overall dimensions. Sharp-eyed spotters will see V-12 badges on the front side panels and a 760Li trunk badge. The grille surrounds are wider than the 745Li's and the V-12s get their own distinctive wheel designs. Almost every 745 option is standard on the V-12 and there's much, much more. Both long-wheelbase variants have distinctive chrome roof moldings that sweep from A-pillars to trunklid, and there are discrete chrome accents on the front and rear bumpers. Inside, you can opt for a second set of iDrive controls for the rear passengers. About the iDrive: this remarkable controller accommodates nearly 700 functions and has been simplified for 2004. No, it's not immediately intuitive, but it's like a new computer: you don't just fire it up and expect to run it. There are things to learn, but once you've spent some time, your fingers will fly and you'll be surprised how easy it is to master.

Admittedly, I was a bit unnerved by the 745i's new styling when it appeared-but, now, extended into the 760Li's finely chiseled shape, the bold, extruded decklid, and the tall, well-filled wheel arches and pinched grille have grown on me. Look at any new BMW 7 Series alongside its predecessor and you'll have to agree-the latest version is more majestic, with a commanding, modern presence. That's particularly true of the long-wheelbase variant. And it's why the new 7 Series has been breaking BMW sales records the world over.

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Under the hood, the V-12 supplies a lot more than high horsepower. BMW offers the world's first direct-injected gasoline V-12, incorporating a common-rail high-pressure injection system with a high 11.3:1 compression ratio that maximizes fuel economy. You may think economy and V-12 don't belong in the same sentence. BMW North America's CEO, Tom Purves, insists that while his luxury buyers aren't worrying about the cost of fuel, they are pleased that the 760Li's 10-percent increase in fuel economy makes it "the smart buy" in the segment. BMW's sophisticated Valvetronic Double VANOS variable valve timing system provides infinitely adjustable valve and cam timing, ensuring a seamless transition from economical cruising to full throttle power. When cruising at 100 mph, the engine revs are just 2,500 in Sixth, even less for a barely legal 70 mph. Top end, electronically limited, is 149 mph.

The 760Li's impressive handling is due in part to a light-alloy suspension system and standard Active Roll Stabilization (ARS). Both front and rear anti-roll bars are supplemented with integrated hydraulic actuators, virtually eliminating lateral body movement under hard cornering. Standard are electronically controlled shocks and rear air springs that ensure maximum grip, while a myriad of sensors and computers instantly fine-tune the V-12's lightning-quick (by wire) throttle responses. Star-spoke forged-alloy 19-inch wheels are standard. In an interesting switch, optional 18-inch exclusive alloys are available with run-flat tires. The huge 13.6/13.7-inch cross-drilled disc brakes with ABS, plus electronic brake proportioning and dynamic brake control, haul this baby down like a giant hand.

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The 760Li incorporates nearly all of the 745i's inclusions and options. You get 10 airbags, (including knee bags for front passengers), that imperceptibly shifting six-speed manu-matic transmission (now with Steptronic selectable sport and manual modes), adaptive transmission control and steering wheel-mounted upshift and downshift controls. There are 60-something computers(!)-several to power BMW's updated Dynamic Stability Control system, which bundles ABS, all-speed traction control, the aforementioned dynamic brake control and brake proportioning-and over 85 electric motors, including a tiny dash-mounted unit that "sniffs" interior air then alerts an array of filters. Several features are infinitely variable: like the speed-sensitive, road-sensing, power rack-and-pinion steering, and the V-12's specially-designed intake runners that optimize power and torque for every rev selection, ably assisted by variable intake and exhaust cam timing and Valvetronic intake valve lift control. Oh, and did we mention the electronic parking brake?

Inside, there are yards of micro-perforated leather trim, even more leather on the instrument panel and front seat sides, and a leather bag for vehicle documents. Lumber lovers will enjoy the high-gloss, 2-tone wood trim and discrete C-pillar mounted Ambiance LED Lighting. The superb, 420-watt Logic 7 sound system boasts seven channels, 13 speakers and a 6-disc in-dash CD changer. It utilizes the space between the car's framerails for subwoofer echo chambers. Standard 20-way front comfort seats are paired with rear seats that adjust 14 ways and include articulated upper backrests and 4-way lumbar support, active ventilation and 3-stage heating plus massage. If you insist on the rear climate control and cool box, though, you have to pay extra. Other options include active cruise, rear seat side airbags and security glass.

BMW chief Purves calls this car, "the Pinnacle of the Brand." We flogged it around Homestead Speedway in Miami, and were surprised at how it dive-bombed corners and gathered speed on the straights. Then we dodged Florida State Troopers halfway to Key West, enjoying the smooth ride and the occasional opportunity to nail the throttle. The 760Li is like a pro football tight end-a big man with blinding speed and all the moves. Getting used to the shift buttons takes a few moments, but once you've got the drill, with the traction control switched off, you can toss this behemoth around like a roadster. If you're looking for the world's best all-around, fast, sporting 4-door? no further. (www.bmwusa.com)

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