Style with more substance

…but are 12 cylinders really necessary in a luxury limo? 

This might seem a contentious thing to say but in my experience it is true: big 12-cylinder saloons are hardly ever as good as their more modestly powered brethren.

I have, for instance, never driven a Mercedes-Benz S600 or S65 with its 6-litre V12 that I preferred to a similar car powered by merely eight cylinders.

I’ve not yet driven the 12-cylinder version of the all new Audi A8, but I never drove one of its predecessors and concluded that it was the best of the range, despite being the by far the most expensive.

Indeed, the closest I’ve come to seeing the sense in such a car is with this new BMW M760Li, which is as charming a 12-pot limousine as you’ll find this side of a Rolls-Royce Ghost whose 6.6-litre engine, incidentally, it shares.

What’s different about it?

For a start, it has a wonderful motor, better by far than the ancient V12 used by Mercedes and both smoother and more sonorous than the Bentley/Audi W12. It’s silent when you want it to be and has a deep, rich and complex note when extended. It also throws the 7-series down the road at a quite preposterous rate, for right now this the fastest accelerating BMW you can buy.

Actually it’s even better than that because it’s not just far more capable on a difficult road than you’d imagine (thank standard four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering for that), it’s even reasonably entertaining, at least by the standards of such cars.

There are a few downsides, particularly ride quality that is good rather than superb and an interior that looks too closely related to far cheaper BMWs, but as the first 7-series to wear an M-badge, even if it is not a proper M-car itself, BMW has judged it nicely.

It is first and foremost a large and very luxurious saloon, but with a frisson of dynamism I’ve not experienced in other cars of this ilk.

Whether it is worth £135,340 is another question. On the one hand it seems barely believable that it should cost more than twice as much as the entry level 7-series, even in long-wheelbase configuration and, were you to take the plunge, I’d try to think very hard about likely depreciation beforehand and not at all thereafter.

On the other hand it is probably the best car of its kind out there at present.

Even so I’d still struggle to recommend it over a lesser diesel 7-series because, for almost everyone almost all the time, something like a 740d will not just be cheaper but, in certain critical ways, better too, not least in terms of its ability to travel at least twice as far on a tank of fuel.

All I would say to those people who buy such cars, because it is important to them to have the flagship model, is that while they might be spending a lot of money on what is probably not the best BMW 7-series, I can see a case for it beyond mere vanity.

And that is something I have often struggled to do with any of its erstwhile rivals.

BMW M760Li 

Price £138,265 Engine 6.6 litres, 12 cylinders, turbocharged Power 600bhp@5500rpm Torque 590lb ft@1550rpm Weight 2255kg Power to weight 266bhp per tonne Transmission eight-speed automatic, four wheel drive 0-62mph 3.7sec Top speed 155mph Economy 22.1mpg CO2 291g/km