New cars: BMW 750i

Seven heaven

BMW’s newest product heralds the end of an era for one of its greatest rivals. For many years now, Jaguar’s 5.3-Litre engine has been the only mass-produced V12 available (the only other contender, Lamborghini, assembles its version in tiny quantities). The unique prestige that this attribute gave to the British car is now gone with the arrival of the V12-engined BMW 750i.

Inevitably there have been enormous strides in technology since the Coventry unit was sketched out, and the new Munich saloon is packed with innovation throughout. Based on the recently-launched 7-series, the V12 package will be supplied with absolutely every possible luxury that BMW can manage, and in the meantime the company is working on an even more lavish version. It is as if there is no limit to what people will pay for a car, because the “basic” 750i will come to Britain at something like £53,500.

A long-wheelbase version will be available which will come equipped with air conditioning, self-levelling suspension, ABS, leather upholstery, electric seats front and rear, rear headrests which retract when not in use, remote locking which closes the sunroof and windows, lamp washers, heated mirrors, computer, reading lights, and a rear blind, plus all the extras which more ordinary cars have. There are options to be specified, though: Electronic Damper Control for one, and Automatic Stability Control (ASC), which prevents the wheels spinning under power, or under deceleration.

The lightweight alloy 60deg. 4988cc unit has a single chain-driven cam per bank operating two valves per cylinder by hydraulically adjusted followers. Noise has been reduced by a special quiet oil-pump, insulating sump and rocker covers, and a one-piece cover in the centre of the vee. Interlaced individual intake trunks cross over within the vee to be fed by two separate manifolds, each with its own throttle butterfly.

These are linked to a purely electronic throttle control: there is no mechanical connection between pedal and engine at all — the intake butterflies are driven by electric motors which respond to pedal movement. Separate Bosch Motronic engine management systems for each bank are tied into the four-speed automatic transmission, the ASC, and even to sensors for wear, as well as having self-diagnosis and emergency programmes. The result is 300 bhp at 5200 rpm, with torque reaching 332 lb ft at 4100 rpm, with or without catalytic converters.

Other mechanical specifications are essentially the same as for the 735i, bar a larger fuel tank, more cooling, uprated brakes, a more sophisticated air-conditioning system, and Servotronic power steering, which responds to road speed rather than engine speed. External differences are confined to a wider “kidney” grille and square exhaust pipes like those on BMW’s K100 motorcycle.

On the road the new engine feels exceptionally smooth and quiet, although induction noise is apparent under firm acceleration, and the gearshifts are very gentle. The steering is pleasant without being exceptional, while ride quality, as might be expected, is very good indeed, whether on the Sport or Comfort setting.

This is a taut car which handles like something far smaller, and it is quicker than any big saloon has a right to be: 0-62 mph takes out 7.4 sec, while a speed limiter cuts in at 155 mph. BMW is evasive about why, but this does translate to 250 kph, a politically sensitive figure in Germany where the ecology parties are successfully fostering an anti-speed stance which is already affecting car advertising in Britain.

BMW describes the 750i as being in a class of its own, and it is difficult to specify just which manufacturer is going to lose sales to it: Jaguar perhaps, although all the Coventry products are far, far cheaper and the new XJ6 is arguably equal or better in chassis terms; Bentley, possibly: the Eight is a similar price; or Mercedes, although customer loyalty to both German marques is of a particularly high order. This may in itself indicate that current 6 and 7-series BMW drivers are the most likely to trade up to the company’s most impressive car yet. GC