Of the many things we have to thank the Chinese for, this brand new BMW V12 engine is perhaps the most surprising. No, the unit wasn’t built in Beijing, it’s just that were it not for China’s insatiable taste for tasty limos you surely wouldn’t be reading this. A quarter of all the V12-powered BMWs built since 2002 ply their trade under the shadow of the Great Wall, while Europe moves on to smaller, more efficient engines.
So, is the new BMW 760i's V12 an inefficient engine?
God, no! It’s inescapably the most superbly crafted lump ever to pack this many pots, and claimed to be the most efficient V12 on the market. The figures back this up: power is up 22% on the previous BMW V12 (the new engine produces 544bhp), yet fuel consumption is down 5% (to a still rather scary 21.7mpg).
The engine is all aluminium, with the two banks of the Vee set at a 60deg angle, making room for the two turbos to sit on either side – the first time a 12-pot has ever used twin turbos, with high precision injectors and double-VANOS variable valve technology. The effect is one of effortless, seamless power and incredible refinement – floor it on the autobahn and you simple can’t imagine there’s such a huge lump working in front of you.
And what about the new gearbox?
It’s the first eight-speeder for BMW. Developed by ZF, it’s no heavier than a six-speed, and features uniquely designed cogs which allow the engine to skip gears fluently to minimise unnecessary work and friction. The box was designed with the V12 in mind, and it shows in the fluency of the delivery.
Presumably, performance is a given?
Yes, the BMW 760Li is viciously fast, hitting 62mph in a dizzying 4.6 seconds and hitting its 155mph limiter before you can quite imagine you’re travelling anywhere near that fast. The ultimate pace is a red herring in the real world – even on derestricted autobahns traffic prevents you using the envelope, but the energetic urge through those eight gears is really refreshing, making a big car seem almost fleet-footed on tight-curving Bavarian twisties.
So it’s a rewarding drive?
It is – this generation 7-series sits on a finely balanced, beautifully set-up rear-wheel drive chassis with a composed ride and loads of grip, and taking care of all that extra power is a cinch. What lets it down most is the steering – our car was fitted with something called Integral Active Steering, which acts on the rear wheels as well as the fronts at certain speeds. To judge by the car’s road positioning, cornering poise and stability the system works well at the wheels, but you wouldn’t know it from the flaccid, incommunicative lull you get through the steering wheel. It’s an option – I say don’t tick it.
How can you tell a V12 from a lesser Seven?
Quad tailpipes are the dead giveaway, but a closer inspection yields a chrome housing for the front-wing-mounted indicator with a ‘V12’ badge and similar on the bespoke door sill plates, and chrome vertical slats on the kidney grille. Inside the dash is leather with walnut bits, and you get a load of tech including the multimedia nav system with a 12 gigabyte hard drive. The latter is good to go for BMW’s latest, most terrifying foray into onboard technology yet – Connected Drive. This packs every gizmo imaginable, including lane departure warning, active cruise control with stop/go and night vision, plus connection to BMW Assist, location finder and, if they can just get the UK’s ISPs to play ball, unlimited internet access with voice control.
So, the Chinese will love it – but will we Europeans?
Not too many of us will fork out £94k for a high performance limo – all but a handful of 7-series sales in Europe will be diesels, even in stretched spec, which means even a three-year-old example won’t be a mega bargain in 2012 due to its rarity.
The bottom line is the 760Li is a superlative, awesome piece of showcase engineering, to be admired but ultimately unused. And you can’t help wondering, once China has figured out the planet stuff, whether BMW will ever build a 12-cylinder engine again.