First Drive: 2018 BMW M760Li xDrive

Palm Springs, CA – The latest edition to BMW’s M Performance lineup comes in the form of the 2018 BMW M760Li xDrive sedan. With a starting price of $159,900, BMW says it’s designed to combine luxury, style, safety, innovative technologies and high-performance driving dynamics. But really, BMW says that about every vehicle it builds, so what does this one have that the others don’t?

0 to 100 km/h in 3.7 seconds? That’ll get your passengers’ attention, no doubt.

How about a 6.6-litre, twin-turbocharged 600 horsepower V12 engine that rockets this 2,326 kilogram (5,128 lb), long-wheelbase flagship sedan from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.7 seconds? That’ll get your passengers’ attention, no doubt.

Indeed, this car drives like nothing most people have ever experienced, and it does so with a curb weight that’s on the heavy side, even though the engine is all-aluminum, as are most of the chassis components and body panels. Additionally, carbon fibre is used for the vehicle’s core structure, saving weight and adding strength.

Weight notwithstanding, the V12 will deliver 590 pound-feet of torque at a super-low 1,500 rpm, so it’s got the brawn to get you off the line almost instantly. Comes with launch control, too. Surely just for fun, as there’s no practical use for such a feature. Unless...

“Hit it, Jeeves!”

Hot rod-like, the M Sport exhaust fitted to the M760Li xDrive consists primarily of straight pipes of the largest possible diameter for optimal flow, says BMW. Via rear silencers and a flap activation system, you can select everything from tasteful refinement to, as BMW puts it, a “full-bodied 12-cylinder soundtrack”. This option does actually give you a performance bump in combination with other dynamic tweaks, we’re told, but not more horsepower.

Under the hood and under a full-width plastic shroud, the V12 seems to fill the engine bay. It’s the only V12 in the BMW fleet, and everything is optimized in this M Performance-designated engine. That includes oil supply, camshaft timing, turbocharging, breathing, cooling, fuel injection, compression ratio, emissions control, acoustics, rigidity and weight reduction.

M Performance optimization continues throughout the car. The eight-speed automatic transmission, for instance, features specially tuned shift programs that deliver sharper gear changes and quicker downshifts. There’s a paddle-shifting manual override as well, which holds the selected gear until the driver changes it.

The M760Li xDrive rides on unique 20-inch wheels and an active air suspension designed to cancel body-roll forces in corners, and increase comfort in straight-line driving. Brakes are branded Brembo (the calipers), but not the rotors (they’re BMW). Active Steering turns the rear wheels in either the opposing or the same direction depending on the driving situation, further contributing to the vehicle’s agility.

BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control (Eco, Comfort, Sport) offers driver selectable modes that alter the vehicle’s steering system response and chassis controls, along with engine and exhaust profiles. A new Adaptive Mode features an “anticipatory chassis control function” that automatically selects a driving mode based on driving style analysis, data from the navigation system and a stereo camera.

A number of standard semi-automated driving assists can be utilized including Traffic Jam Assist, lane-keeping assistance with active side collision protection, rear collision prevention and cross-traffic warning. Intelligent cruise control with front collision prevention is also, of course, standard, and the all-wheel drive system can distribute torque fully between the front and rear wheels (no torque vectoring, however), but features a 60–40 rear-wheel bias in normal driving. For those interested, we got 12.4 L/100km on mixed roads.

Basically, the M760Li xDrive permits its driver to control just about everything (for the micro-manager); sit back and let the car take over (for the pampered executive); or choose some point in between (the delegator). In fact, it’s really trying to be two cars in one, as it’s destined for markets where owners will typically drive themselves (North America, Europe), or sit in the rear and be driven (Asia).

Inside, and I won’t belabour this... let’s just say the M760Li xDrive is exquisitely appointed, an exemplary expression of European design in wood, metal, leather and fabric. Front seat occupants are treated to superb craftsmanship and the most pleasing of surfaces, the driver gets an electronic gauge cluster, bold head-up display and uncomplicated controls that manage sophisticated vehicle systems. Wi-Fi keeps everyone connected. I will mention that the car features gesture control, whereby the driver can activate communications and entertainment functions by the wave of a hand or the point of a finger.

In four-seat configuration, rear occupants get what appear to be two capacious bucket seats, one of which – the Captain chair – reconfigures itself and the seat in front in order to supply a reclined position with elevated footrests, a desktop and surfaces for your laptop and containers for your beverages. Watching the front-seat head restraint apparently bow in deference as the entire seat makes itself scarce is something to behold.

It’s not standard equipment, mind you, requiring an extra $10,000 for the Executive Lounge Tier 2 Package, in which it is featured. For this price you also receive the four-seat configuration, massage, ventilation, rear entertainment and BMW Touch Command via a removable Samsung tablet.

The exterior – our vehicles were finished in Frozen Dark Brown (one of a family of “frozen” colours and finishes available at added cost) – is agreeable and familiar enough, but on the road the M760Li xDrive basically blends in, its already conservative lines not requiring help from a matte paintjob. The 20-inch wheels do provide a flash of character, and the presence of V12 specific aluminum enhancements in the front and rear fasciae hint that this is a special model. But kind of stealth luxury, I thought. A bit too stealth, perhaps.

Despite its startling off-the-line performance and uncanny handling and braking abilities, the M760Li xDrive is admittedly not an M7. It is, as one BMW rep agreed, M Light. This explains why on public roads in everyday driving, even in Sport mode on twisty mountain roads around Palm Springs, the car for me was less of a sport machine than expected. The roar implied by the BMW press materials is more of an aggressive purr, and despite all the sophisticated electronic technologies, one does feel the weight of the car on tight corners, where handling lacks the immediacy and sharpness that I expected. In that sense, in these driving conditions, I thought the M760Li xDrive somewhat underachieved as an M designated sports machine.

On the highway, however, the car just hunkered down and flew. It is, except for tire noise, silent in the cabin; the exhaust all but inaudible even in Sport mode while travelling at, shall we say, a hasty pace (80 mph generates an engine speed of 1,700 rpm). Under acceleration the steering tightens, the driver unconsciously repositions in the seat as hands properly drop to nine and three, and here, I think, is where you experience the urge in this car. It waits, somewhat impatiently, for you to let it loose.

If only.... Because this is North America, don’t you know, where even if you generously interpret the speed limit, you’re only just approaching the start point for this vehicle’s happy place. The M760Li xDrive is designed for high-speed (160 km/h-plus) motoring and indeed what a thrill it would be to blast effortlessly down the German Autobahn at 200 or more, just because you can.

However, we also visited the nearby BMW Performance Center West, where two tracks are located that promised genuine thrills. Under the tutelage of BMW race driver Augusto Farfus, we activated Sport, deactivated Traction, and let loose on a challenging road course where the M760Li xDrive totally overachieved. It’s true, this big car can drive small, and I don’t know about you, but driving a 5,000-plus pound sedan at over 200 km/h as you approach tight corners and sweeping decreasing radius bends while feeling thoroughly confident and secure is something of a major achievement. Not my achievement, mind you, but BMW’s. Yes, it was more the car looking after me than me taking care of business, but hey, I’m happy to be on the receiving end of something so competently engineered. And those brakes delivered all day long.

What can I say? In one environment – driving on twisty mountain roads – I found the car less sporty than expected; in another environment – a fairly hardcore track, I reckon it over-delivered. And on the highway at speed (or presumably stuck in traffic, for that matter), its performance is everything the mobile executive would want.

The M760Li xDrive expresses what BMW calls “breadth of capability”. That is... two cars in one, for the two main markets. It succeeds brilliantly on the highway, where its polished power offers a truly satisfying driving experience in combination with tasteful luxury and sophisticated technologies. It also succeeds on the track – not, I think, that many owners will ever visit one. But if they do, they’ll keep up at least. And I guess you could say it succeeds in the back seat, where the car won’t distract its occupants at all.

Key Facts: 2018 BMW M760Li xDrive

Price: $159,900

Production begins: March, 2017

Estimated arrival time in Canada (if pre-ordered): Late May/early June 2017

La dolce vita, with a hint of M loca 2/4/2017 6:01:00 PM