It used to be that 12-cylinder engines were found only in the most prestigious, powerful cars. After World War II, V8s took over because they became more efficient and were less costly to make.
Not that V12s went away for special cars. For instance, when Enzo Ferrari started his sports-racing car company in 1946, he concentrated only on making a V12 engine because he felt it was the best type of engine.
The only automakers offering V12 cars with halfway reasonable prices at the moment are BMW and Mercedes-Benz, although Cadillac is working on a V12 and Volkswagen plans to put one in its high-line Phaeton auto. (Never mind the $300,000-plus Rolls-Royce and Maybach V-12 models.)
For 2003, BMW put the 760Li V12 version in its flagship 7-Series line, which will be virtually unchanged for 2004. BMW introduced its radically new 7-Series for 2002 with styling that still is controversial, with unusual looking front and rear ends.
Also new for 2003 is a $3,200 Sport Package for 7-Series V8 versions. It contains items including a sport suspension, sport seats, wider tires and unique exterior trim.
The 760Li stickers at $115,800. It's lavishly upholstered, trimmed and equipped, although its highlight is the high-tech V12. The smooth new 6-liter engine produces 438 horsepower and enormous torque. The car weighs a hefty 4,872 pounds, but the V12 gives it the response of a smaller, lighter car.
The 760Li has the first direct-injected gasoline V12 engine in a production car for added power and fuel economy. Its 11.3:1 compression ratio is the type of high compression ratio in 1960s American muscle car engines that called for long-gone leaded gasoline with a 100-plus octane rating. Such ratios, which add to engine efficiency, never were expected to be seen again, but such things as advanced electronics allow them.
BMW is so proud of its V12 that it puts backlit V12 emblems on the door sill plates for a good show biz touch.
Other cars in the 7-Series line have a 4.4-liter, 325-horsepower V8, which also is plenty smooth and provides strong performance.
The 7-Series V8 models are the $68,500 745i and $72,500 745 Li, whch has the same 5.5-inch longer wheelbase of the V12 model. (The "L" stands for long wheelbase.)
Limo Style Room
All 7-Series cars are large, with even the base 745i having a 117.7-inch wheelbase. But the longer-wheelbase versions have limousine-style back seat room and look more impressive. They have a 123.2-inch wheelbase and are 203.5 inches long, compared with 198 inches for the 745i.
Is the V12 needed? Not really, unless an owner wants bragging rights or lives near wide-open Southwestern highways. The V8 whisks the 7-Series sedan to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, whereas the V12 version hits 60 in 5.4 seconds. Top speed of both versions is electronically limited to 149 mph.
Annoying Power Surges
The 760Li would be faster to 60 mph, but weighs nearly 500 pounds more than the 7-Series V8. However, despite the added weight, the extra power and torque of the V12 make the 760Li more responsive during virtually all types of driving, although annoying power surges occasionally prevent smooth acceleration from a stop or at low speeds.
The V12 is hooked to a smooth 6-speed automatic transmission, which helps it deliver an estimated 15 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway. That's not bad, considering the car's size, weight and power. The 7-Series V8 does a little better, at 18 in the city and 26 on the highway.
Complicated Control System
The 7-Series has BMW's "iDrive" system, which many folks still can't get used to. It uses a silver knob on the console that you push, pull and twist to control such things as audio, climate control, navigation and telephone system functions. Control settings are displayed on a dashboard screen.
Does this seem like technical overkill? BMW says iDrive eliminates a dashboard "cluttered with controls." Still, handing a current generation 7-Series sedan to a valet calls for some explanation of how things work.
No Ignition Key
There's no ignition key. Rather, you plug a small plastic unit into a dashboard slot and push a "start" button to fire up the engine. The same button is pressed to stop the engine, after which you remove the plastic unit.
The gear selector is a small electric lever on the steering wheel column with push-pull activation. Power front seat controls consist of a rotary knob and small buttons. Directional signals call for a driver to cancel their operation after lane changes—although not after turning corners.
Loaded With Equipment
However, there's no arguing with the comfort, sheer luxury and performance of the 7-Series BMW, which is loaded with equipment. The 760Li is especially well equipped, with such things as heated and cooled front and rear power seats.
You can even get an optional refrigerator, which is concealed at the center of the rear seats until you need to use it.
The 7-Series has rigid construction, and safety equipment includes all sorts of air bags.
Sports Sedan Moves
The rear-drive sedan has quick variable-ratio steering. It handles like a sports sedan and has every advanced suspension control item you can think of. One such item is Active Roll Stabilization. It's an electro-hydraulic system that controls active anti-roll (stabilizer) bars in response to cornering forces to reduce body lean. You can zip through curves almost as if in a sports car.
The V8 versions have standard 18-inch tires, while the V12 has 19-inch tires, which are optional for the eight-cylinder versions.
The supple suspension provides a smooth ride, shrugging off even bad bumps. The brakes are powerful, but the brake pedal is overly sensitive.
There's enough room for four professional basketball players and plenty of cargo.
The 7-Series sedan seems like an ideal car to have a V12 because it possesses the unusually good performance, luxury and flamboyance that characterized pre-World War II V12 models.