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Luxury Car Review: 2005 BMW 760i

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)


2005 BMW 760i

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for BMW

Although executive luxury cars like the BMW 760i are, almost by definition, reserved for relatively small numbers of wealthy people, the influence of such cars goes far beyond their modest sales numbers. Befitting their top-of-the-line status, they are used by their manufacturers to introduce new technologies, new comfort and safety features, and new styling, all of which usually find their way into lesser models. And if such a car is successful or important enough, its features and characteristics will be copied by competitors.

Such is true of the 760i, which sits near the top of the BMW line. Introduced as a 2004 model late in the 2004 model year, the 760i is the first regular-wheelbase V12-powered 7-Series car ever. Large by European, or even contemporary American, standards and powered by a 438-horsepower, 6.0-liter V12 engine, it is a $109,900 (base price) testament to BMW's latest engine and chassis technology. Only the long-wheelbase 760Li model, similarly-equipped, but with a 5.5-inch stretch in wheelbase and length, sits above it.

The 760i is not for the faint of wallet, nor is it meant for the chauffeur-driven set. BMW is noted for its sports sedans, and the 760i is the sports sedan for the ultra-luxury set. It is a technological tour de force, and nearly as high-tech as the latest fighter aircraft - almost every system except the steering and brakes is electronically controlled - and, although there is a direct hydraulic connection between the brake pedal and brake calipers, electronic brake proportioning apportions braking force to each wheel, while dynamic brake control adds adds force to the braking input in an emergency stop. There are no conventional throttle valves in the engine's intake system - ``Valvetronic'' control of valve lift and direct fuel injection do the same job more efficiently. Electronic control of both the stabilizer bars and shocks gives a remarkably comfortable ride, even with ultra-low profile tires, and minimal body roll.

Of course, with high technology comes a user interface. ``User interface'' is a term more commonly applied to computers and similar devices than cars, but since there is probably more computer power in any one 760i than in the entire Apollo moon program, it is a very relevant term. And some of this interface has already appeared in newer BMWs, so expect more in the future.

German cars have always been known as machines that you will adapt to, not the other way around, as in American and Japanese cars. The 760i only reinforces this.

Upon taking delivery, I put the transponder device that takes place of a normal key in my pocket, got in the driver's seat, and pressed the ``start'' button. Nothing happened. In other cars with transponders, the device needs merely to be near the car, and it will signal the car's electronics and allow starting. I looked more closely, and found a rectangular receptacle on the dash, next to the start button, that looked to be the correct size to hold the transponder. Insert transponder, press start button. Houston, we have ignition.

Next, put it in gear. There is no regular gearshift lever on the console, but one of four stalks on the steering column is the equivalent. But it does not operate like a regular column shift. Pull towards you to engage it, then push up for reverse or down for forward. Center is neutral, and the parking brake may be operated by at button on the end of the lever. Three on the tree for the 21st Century....

Then there is the ``iDrive'' knob on the console. It is used to control the audio and navigation systems and various programmable features and parameters. It works with its own logic, which is not necessarily intuitive. Figure on spending quality time with the manual before driving anywhere. It's no worse than systems on other luxury cars where everything is controlled from sub-menus on a touch screen, merely different. After a few days, I adapted, if begrudgingly. The iDrive in the new 5-Series has been simplified, which should be telling.

If the user interface may leave something to be desired, the driving experience does not.

Power is effortless, unsurprisingly as, even though the 760 weighs nearly 4,800 lbs, 438 horsepower gives it a power-to-weight ratio almost as high as that of the serious-sports M3. V12s are know for smoothness, and this one is no exception. The ride is remarkably smooth, especially considering the minimal sidewall height of the P245/40 YR20 front and P275/35 YR20 rear tires, and as quiet and refined as expected in a premium luxury sedan. But because of the electronically-controlled active shock damping, and especially the Active Roll Stabilization, it corners nearly as flat as an M3 - without the stiff ride given by the M3's hard suspension calibration. It's uncanny to be in a car so comfortable and come into a corner at speed and have the shock damping firm up and active roll stabilization keep the car flat. It violates everything I've known about suspensions from the pre-electronic era, but it works, and works very well. Aluminum suspension and brake components should get credit, too, as they reduce unsprung weight for better response.

With 444 lb-ft of torque, the 760i could make do with a fairly simple transmission. But it has a ZF six-speed automatic unit that shifts very smoothly, a perfect match for a luxury car. And a six-speed allows a wider range of gear ratios, for both acceleration and economy. Shift mode may be selected by a button on the steering wheel hub, for normal, sport, or full manual, which is controlled by buttons on the steering wheel rim. Normal works just fine, thank you. And at American speeds, the 760 is seriously underemployed, being meant for triple digits on the German Autobahn. Even in some truly vile, drenching thunderstorm weather, it was solid and stable.

Which brings me to User Interface, Part 2: the wiper control. If the iDrive is counterintuitive, the wiper control stalk below the shift lever is wonderfully intuitive, and easy to reach and use. And the wipers work very well, even in a downpour that is little different from a trip through the car wash.

OK, the chassis and engine are wonderful, and the controls can be vexing. How is the interior? Two words: ``comfortable'' and ``spacious.'' If you're expecting opulent, soft-padded seats and a forest of burled wood, look elsewhere, though. The interior design is Teutonically severe, but attractive, with matching leather on the seats and door panels and handsome wood and aluminum trim. The standard front seats are power-adjustable in 20 different parameters; my test car had the optional (at no extra cost) sport seats, which are a touch firmer, more bolstered, and adjustable in merely 16 different ways. Heated seats are standard; an inexpensive and highly-recommended option is a heated steering wheel. BMW also makes motorcycles, which are available with heated handgrips, and so was the first to bring that technology inside. It's wonderful on a cold evening. Rear seat room and comfort are first-class, and this isn't even the long-wheelbase model.

Safety is as serious a concern as performance at BMW, and, besides the active safety abilities given by excellent handling and strong, assisted, antilock brakes, the 760i includes the usual front airbags plus active knee protection airbags, front and rear head-protection side airbags, active head restraints, and the Intelligent Safety and Information System (ISIS), consisting of 14 sensors and electronic control hardware and software that integrates them with the restraint devices.

As I said in the introduction, one purpose of a premium luxury car is to introduce new styling to a manufacturer's lineup. And, as can be seen in the newest 5- and 6-Series BMWs, the 7 has had this purpose. The look was, and still is, controversial, but suffice to say that the browed headlights have already showed up on another manufacturer's small sports coupe, and BMWs are not about exterior style as much as an integrated package with great driving dynamics. The high trunk line means a cavernous trunk, into which four golf bags can easily fit, with room to spare.

In summary, BMW's 760i is very much a BMW take on an executive luxury sedan. It begs to be driven, and driven hard, yet supplies all of the comforts one could want, and then some. Some of its stylistic and technical features have already made their presence known elsewhere in the BMW line, with more undoubtedly to follow. If the user interface takes a bit getting used to, it's worth the time, as the ride and handling benefits from the best implementation of active suspension I have experienced are completely worthwhile.

2005 BMW 760i

Base Price		$ 109,900
Price As Tested		$ 116,070
Engine Type		dual overhead cam 48-valve aluminum 
				alloy V12 with direct fuel injection, 
				``Valvetronic'' variable valve lift, 
				``Double VANOS'' variable valve timing
Engine Size		6.0 liters / 364 cu. in.
Horsepower		438 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)		444 @ 3,950 rpm
Transmission		6-speed electronically-controlled  automatic
Wheelbase/Length        117.7 in. / 198.0 in.
Curb Weight		4,782 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   10.9
Fuel Capacity		23.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement	91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires			F: 245/40 YR20 R: 275/35 YR20
Brakes, front/rear	vented disc all around
Suspension, front/rear	independent double-pivot strut /
				independent multilink with self-
				leveling air springs
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy miles per gallon city / highway/observed 15 / 23 / 17 0 to 60 mph 5.4 sec

Convenience Package - includes: soft-close automatic doors, automatic trunk opening and closing $ 1,000 Heated steering wheel $ 150 Electric rear sunshade $ 750 Active cruise control $ 2,200 Satellite radio preparation $ 75 Gas guzzler tax $ 1,300 Destination charge $ 695