All images shot on location in Miami by BMW. Click image to enlarge
by Paul Williams
“Oh, my!” said the beautiful girl hanging out the car window next to my shiny 2003 BMW 760Li.
“Oh, my, my, my!” she continued, her tongue now appearing to crash heavily to the road below.
Naturally, I thought she was referring to me, so I smiled acknowledgement, while rapidly raising and lowering my eyebrows. I was just about to say something suave and urbane, like, “Hey, baby,” when she purred: “How do I get myself into a gorgeous car like that?”
Numerous thoughts rushed through my mind, but the light turned green and a touch on the gas pedal launched the $187,000 760Li into the Miami sunset, leaving the love struck BMW fan behind.
And that’s the way it was with this car. From the attendant at the toll booth (“I love it!), to the doorman at the hotel (“Man, that’s some piece of car!”), to the Rolls-Royce drivers studiously ignoring it, your presence was announced and your status immediately elevated by your association with this mobile symbol of wealth, taste and flair.
Where to start?
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Well, BMW started the assembled journalists at the exclusive, art deco inspired Delano Hotel in Miami’s South Beach. This striking building was filled with artefacts of modern American and European design, from the cheeky Charles Eames rocking chairs to the aqua iridescence of the Philippe Stark swimming pool.
BMW Head of Product Communications, Rudy Probst, explained that this was the kind of environment where BMW’s new V12 sedan would fit right in: a place of affluence and style.
Indeed this car easily shouldered its way between the Ferraris, Bentleys and Mercedes that seemed to exclusively populate the district. The BMW logo on the hood, the V12 badge on its fenders and an uncanny bearing of complete self-assurance were its bone-fides. No wonder people noticed.
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But we didn’t stay in tony South Beach for long. First came the back seat experience, perhaps anticipating the typical location of most executives and well-heeled owners when they use the car. The back seat is a fine place to be in the 760Li (L for long wheelbase; 14 centimetres longer than the V8 BMW 745, to be exact). There’s a video console to watch DVDs and control heating and cooling functions, a sound system with ambient volume controls (louder on one side than the other), power adjustable seats, power privacy curtains, vast legroom, a cooler for your beverages, and the feel and smell of the finest leather and carpets from your raised seating position. All in a whisper-quiet, and airliner-smooth environment.
Even when the car is moving at a brisk pace, the passengers are blissfully unaware of the driver’s manoeuvres. According to Johann Mitterer, BMW Director of Chassis Development, this is a result of BMW’s “dynamic drive” system that permits a smooth ride at cruising speeds, and sports car behaviour when requested. Yes, you can certainly do business back there.
But most people who choose a BMW, even chauffeured owners of a 760Li, will do so because they want a driver’s car. So it is that one can move from the back seat into the front, and this b�hnstormer will acquit itself in a manner that will embarrass just about every other vehicle on the road.
0-100 km/h arrives in a scant 5.5 seconds, 200 km/h in 17 seconds. This from a car that weighs over 5000 lbs even if you leave your chauffeur at the office. The 6.0-litre, V12 motor makes 445 horsepower with torque to match at 444 lb.-ft. The motor uses a direct fuel injection system, where one high-pressure jet per cylinder injects fuel directly into the combustion chamber rather than into an intake manifold. According to BMW, this boosts output and torque without increasing the size of the engine or using a turbocharger.
In combination with the proprietary Valvetronic variable valve timing, this reduces fuel consumption while maximizing power delivery and minimizing emissions. The car delivers 13.4 L/100 km in combined city/highway driving, and can cruise at 160 km/h at only 2500 r.p.m.
The engine doesn’t sound like a V8. In fact, when idling and cruising it doesn’t sound like anything. Silent is word to describe the operation of this motor, unless you put your foot down. BMW whimsically describes the sound of an urgent V12 as a “melodic chortle.” Matching the chortle is a, “Don’t-even-think-about-it,” look to the back of the car, which is mostly what you’re going to see as it leaves you in its dust.
Not content with demonstrating the 760Li’s prowess on public roads, BMW arranged an additional test at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of various IRL and NASCAR races. There the 760Li was put through its paces on a shortened but entertaining track, where it danced through pylons, screamed around corners and made close to 200 km/h on a back straight before unfortunately running out of road. Top speed is a goverened 250 km/h.
The more adventurous drivers deactivated the car’s comprehensive electronic systems to get a purer driving experience. With the systems on, if you unsettle the car it’s like the Hand of God descends to grab hold of it, sit it straight, point it in the right direction, and give it an affectionate pat on the rear.
This “divine intervention” is actually a combination of dynamic drive, electronic damper control and BMW’s dynamic stability control that continuously conspire to keep you on the straight and narrow, actually taking over the drive train, suspension and brakes to assist you when the car is unsettled. Leave the systems on and it won’t get up to speed as quickly, but it will stay vertical and pointed in the right direction unless you’re a complete moron.
Subjected to 10 spirited laps on the track, the brakes felt strong after repeatedly and rapidly hauling the big car down from 140-40 km/h. The gorgeous 18″ alloy wheels, however, became black with dust from the embattled brake pads.
Back on public roads this thoroughbred luxury sedan continued to impress with its comfort, handling and power. The frustrating part of the driving experience was learning to bond with the sophisticated “iDrive” system of driver and passenger controls. Although this unified system of electronic controls is supposed to, “adjust technology and control functions to the needs and thought patterns of the driver,” I, frankly, couldn’t even figure out how to tune the radio.
The control display mimicked a computer screen, but it was typically confounding, containing no “back” or “undo” function, as you’d actually find on your familiar computer operating system or software. My driving partner and I were never able to share the same wavelength as this system (and presumably the people who designed it). We found ourselves longing for a simple and familiar knob or switch to perform basic activities. Perhaps a longer time spent with this car would reward one with the opportunity to better appreciate the iDrive control system.
There are many other things to discuss about a car of this pedigree and advanced technology. The “intelligent” cruise control system that keeps you from getting too close to the car in front, the six-speed automatic transmission and its unique shifter, the automatic-closing doors and the unexpected (and from the inside, not always pleasant) sound they make, the unique ignition key, the sound of the V12 coming to life after pushing the big black button on the dash.
BMW’s Herr Mitterer explained that, “Some owners of the 760Li may spend a lot of time in the back seat, but we know they’ll want to get behind the wheel. When they do, they’ll expect the best: a sporty, dynamic driving experience. The car has to be ready for that.”
The car certainly is, but the driver may want to sign up for one of BMW’s driving courses before exploring its full potential.
2003 BMW 760Li
Price as tested: $187,000 (base price: $169,000)
Type: Luxury sports sedan
Engine: V12, 455 h.p., 442 lb.-ft torque
Fuel consumption: City/highway: 16.1/9.6 L/100 km