First Drive: 2017 BMW M760i xDrive

At first glance, the 2017 BMW M760i xDrive looks an awful lot like a standard 7 Series. But ogle a little closer and you’ll notice some un-ordinary bits: a snoutier nose, lower sills, a racier rear end, and, on the rear pillars, a little badge that says “V12.” That’s right, this thing has 12 cylinders. Salivary glands, engage!

Answering a question nearly everyone has asked, the BMW M760i is, at long last, the application of M Division wizardry to Bayerische Motoren Werke’s largest sedan platform. It’s not an all-out M car (no M7 badges, see), but it’s as close as we’re likely to get because let’s face it: no one is buying a 7 as a track day car first, daily driver second. But this one has the chuff and the stuff to wend its way through the corners like a rabid hound should you ask it to, and that’s certainly good enough for most. It’s definitely a few steps sharper than the previous hot 7 Series, the Alpina B7, which adds power but otherwise focuses on luxury and appearance enhancements.

Why is this BMW’s first application of the M Division’s sharper-edged performance tuning to the 7 Series? Because this is the first car the M Division felt it could truly work with, even if it’s an M Performance vehicle rather than a true M. The chassis is stiff enough thanks to the aluminum-and-carbon structure while the core engineering is conducive enough to the rigors of track work that some medium-scale dressing of key components would yield a car that’s not just fun to drive, but able to survive its driver beating its two-and-a-quarter-ton ass around a track like a rental Mustang.

That’s no small compliment to the guts of the standard current-generation 7 Series, but the M760i goes a long step past your average luxo-barge. With its all-aluminum 601-hp, 590-lb-ft, 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine driving all four wheels, the big Bimmer hits 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds — the quickest of any production M vehicle — using its easy-as-you-please launch mode. To engage launch mode, you just flip into Sport+, stomp the brake, quickly floor the gas, release the brake, and hold on.

The eight-speed automatic transmitting the power might sound like a let down, but this gearbox responds quickly to manual requests from the paddles and sorts itself out flawlessly whatever the situation if you let the computer think for itself. If there’s a shortcoming, it’s the flimsy, plasticky steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Where’s the magnesium, BMW?

It doesn’t really matter, though, where the magnesium is. What matters is the harmony of the chassis, engine, transmission, and xDrive all-wheel drive system — that’s right, this isn’t a V-12 burnout machine; it’s driving all four wheels, all the time, though it is rear-biased with up to 50 percent of torque delivered to the front wheels as needed. What this yields is essentially the fastest of two worlds: most of the dynamic purity and willingness to turn of a rear-drive car with the added benefit of accelerating, whether from a stop or out of turns, with the bite of all-wheel.

This harmony becomes immediately apparent on a track — even on the slick and uncharacteristically deluged tarmac of The Thermal Club, a private track complex stationed in a picturesque section of desert. The Thermal Club is also home to BMW’s Performance Driving Center (PDC), where BMW maintains its own facilities and track, as well as having access to the other tracks on hand. Perhaps it was the sheer volume of the downpour, perhaps it was the interplay of the water and the dust that constantly blows over the track when dry — whatever the cause, the unusually wet weather made for very low grip on track surfaces throughout the complex.

Despite the BMW’s 4,806-lb curb weight, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (245/40 on 8.5 x 20-inch wheels up front and 275/35 on 10.0 x 20-inch rear wheels at rear) provide plenty of friction. That means not just acceleration and cornering, but prodigious braking grip, too, even in the wet. Pushing toward the limits with traction, chassis, and powertrain management systems in their most permissive settings, the M760i happily acquired and maintained small yaw angles, dancing down toward apexes and rocketing out of them under ever-so-slightly-tail-out power.

Part of this friendly at-the-limits attitude is that the M760i comes from the torque-distributing all-wheel drive system, which works to maintain stability through power, rather than brakes, even in the most aggressive drive modes. Like all good large cars, the M-tuned 7 Series seems to shrink around the driver when pushed hard.

Part of that shrinkage effect is due not to the cold water on track, but the BMW’s standard four-wheel steering system, which BMW calls Integral Active Steering. The system, like many others, angles the rear wheels up to a few degrees opposite that of the front wheels at low speeds in order to reduce the turning circle and cants them in the same direction as the front wheels at higher speeds to deliver high-speed stability. It’s tuned so well that it’s completely transparent to the driver yet utterly predictable in use. The system is also reactive to driver mode settings — ramping up its activity for more dynamic driving, settling back for gentler cruising.

Even with this being the driver’s 7 Series, the driver assistance systems that arrived with the current generation of the flagship BMW are here, too. Among the many high-tech safety systems that will make the daily grind a little easier to bear are steering and lane control assist, active cruise control with stop-and-go function (with automatic adaptation to speed limits at the press of a button), traffic jam assist, rear collision prevention, and cross-traffic warning are some.

No discussion of the M760i would be complete with some context, however. For the hottest 7 Series yet, that means comparison to Mercedes-AMG’s treatments of the S-Class and Audi’s S8. While the Audi S8 packs a 605-hp twin-turbo V-8 and an elegant, understated look inside and out, as well as upgraded handling compared to the standard A8, it’s priced well below the M760i and doesn’t have a V-12. The same can be said of the Mercedes-AMG S63, which, despite its interior opulence, comely exterior, as well as 577 hp and a massive 664 lb-ft of torque, also gets its grunt from a twin-turbo V-8. For V-12 fans, the only real alternative is the Mercedes-AMG S65, which takes the BMW formula and turns it up to 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of pavement-stretching torque from a 6.0-liter V-12 and a pair of turbochargers. While the large Mercedes-AMG is more luxurious and certainly more powerful, the edge in chassis tune and handling lies with the M760i, which never exhibits the front-axle sluggishness of the S65. The choice is yours: extreme luxury or driver-focused poise.

Another potential rub for the BMW V-12 buyer: the M760i lacks some of the visual flourish you might expect of a car for kings and autocrats. The small, if not quite subtle V-12 badges on the rear pillars and center console, ever-so-slightly larger air inlets at the front, and a small pseudo-diffuser at the rear are just about the only things to distinguish the M760i from its six-cylinder brethren. For north of $150,000 (or even more should you employ BMW’s individualization services), it may make less of a stir than desired at the valet stand. On the other hand, it may be just the right balance of under-the-radar for the masses, and winks and nods from those in the know. For those looking to fly even farther under the radar, there’s the optional no-charge Excellence package, which does away with the M aero kit and swaps in glossy silver wheels and bright chrome exterior accents.

For the well-heeled hot shoe, however, these aesthetic concerns are easily dismissed. Because no matter how you configure the BMW M760i, you’re getting, without doubt, the best driver’s V-12 sedan on the market.

2017 BMW M760i xDrive Specifications

ON SALE  Now
PRICE $154,795
ENGINE

6.0L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve V-12/610 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 800 lb-ft @ 1,550-5,000 rpm

TRANSMISSION

8-speed automatic

LAYOUT

4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan

EPA MILEAGE 13/20 mpg
L x W x H 209.8 x 74.9 x 58.2 in
WHEELBASE 126.4 in
WEIGHT

4,806 lb

0-60 MPH 3.6 sec
TOP SPEED

155 mph (190 mph w/M performance package)