A honk of the horn forced my attention back to the road, and that’s when it hit me – no matter how efficient or comfortable you are with using BMW’s iDrive system, it is still a major distraction. I had almost run off the road while trying to adjust the radio station, and the driver behind me honked his horn to get my attention back where it should have been – on the road.
iDrive aside, the 2004 BMW 760 is an incredible car, one that earned huge accolades from our staff for its road manners, powertrain, comfort and dare we say, styling? The controversial 7-series has grown on us, and our staffers now fawn over the flagship from BMW. Comments about the 760i included, “The 760i looks muscular without being cold,” and “BMW wheels have always been gorgeous, but the alloys on the 760i are downright sexy.”
Those sexy 19-inch alloy wheels are stretched to the far corners of the car, not only to improve handling and stability but to give the car a sportier appearance. The traditional “twin kidney” grill of the 760i resembles BMWs of days gone by, albeit with a touch of a modern make over. The 760i further distinguishes itself from other seven-series cars with chrome accents and a little tattle-tale badge on the front fenders that reads V12.
And speaking of tails, there’s that rear end. And while it’s still a bit abrupt, we’re learning to like it. One staffer noted that the E65 body style bares a striking similarity to the E39 profile by pointing out, “If you look closely, the E65’s C-pillar is more E39 [previous generation BMW 5-series] than the E60 [current generation BMW 5-series].”
Inside, the 760i is nothing but first class. From the large and comfortable, 14-way power, heated and ventilated, massaging rear seats to the infamous Alcantra suede headliner, the 760i pampers its occupants. The perfect fit and finish of the wood-trimmed and brushed aluminum accented interior further reinforces a sense of stately quality, and while the $109,000 price tag on the 2004 760i may exceed what many folks in rural America have paid for their homes, we can honestly say that it wouldn’t be difficult to live in the 760i – it’s that comfy.
In addition to the top notch fit and finish, the BMW 760i boasts some incredible technological achievements. Inside, there are individual climate controls for all four corners of the cabin. When combined with the power seats that offer ventilated heating or cooling and massage functions, it’s easy to be lulled into a complete state of relaxation – great for whisking away the stresses of the day. Conversely, a secondary iDrive unit resides in the rear cabin, perhaps so that your passengers can share in your frustration (or find reason to activate the soothing massage features of the seats).
But don’t let all of the luxury features fool you into thinking the 760i is a hoity-toity, high brow avenue cruiser. The real technology sits under the hood, in the form of an all-aluminum, 6.0-liter V12 with double overhead cams and a Bi-Vanos Valvetronic system that generates 440 horsepower along with 444 pound-feet of run-flat roasting torque. BMW assures us that the 760i motor shares nothing with the previous generation’s 5.0-liter V12. No sir, the boys from Bavaria really tweaked their thinking caps for the new powerplant.
The 6.0-liter V12 utilizes direct injection, a first for a gasoline powered V12 (diesel powerplants have been using direct injection for some time, with great success). The benefits of direct injection include more power, smoother throttle response, increased engine efficiency and better fuel economy. Rather than having fuel delivered to the combustion chamber via an intake port, direct injection allows the fuel to be delivered precisely to the combustion chamber.
The change to direct injection does away with the traditional throttle body, and replaces the butterfly-like valve assemblies with infinitely adjustable variable intake valves. This technology is similar to that of the BMW M5 – there are 12 individual throttle blades, and each can meter air to its own port individually.
Other nifty touches include a liquid cooled alternator that increases output while reducing noise, a revised Bi-Vanos system (variable camshaft control), and a special silicon-impregnated aluminum alloy dubbed “Alusil” is used in the construction of the engine block and cylinder heads. The net result of all of these technological marvels is an engine that pulls hard, runs silk smooth and emits nary an unwanted sound into the cabin (save for at full throttle, where the engine sings with the best of them).
The six-speed automatic transmission performs in harmony with the big V12, and thanks to full manual controls (handily mounted at the “10-and-2 position” on the steering wheel in the form of push buttons), the driver retains the option of mixing things up himself whenever the urge strikes. Our only complaint about the 7-series transmission controls is the overly complex and unnecessarily tiny shift lever that’s mounted to the steering column. We’re sure it becomes second nature after a while, but therein lies the problem – a shifter stalk shouldn’t require “training” to use.
On the road, the 760i is an absolute wonder. Never mind all of the technological magic that surrounds you, what’s impressive is how well the car rides, drives, handles and responds. And while the 760i seems big when it’s parked in the driveway, it conveys a surprising sense of svelteness on the road. We had to remind ourselves that the 760i weighs nearly 4,900 pounds as we pushed it hard through turn after turn, and hauled it down from sixty miles per hour in distances that rival most sports cars.
Most of the remarkable road manners are the direct result of an extremely advanced suspension system that’s composed of aluminum components (to cut down on unsprung weight), Dynamic Drive Control (DDC), and Electronic Damper Control, which is in its own right an impressive system that would require volumes to describe properly. Let’s just say the suspension on the E65 is miraculous, as it’s able to translate 4,900 pounds of sheet metal into something nimble, sporty and confidence inspiring. The ride is compliant and firm without being abusive, and the 760i corners dead flat, even in tricky off-camber turns.
At the strip, we observed zero to sixty times in the low-to-mid five seconds, with quarter mile figures in the low fourteen second range. Not bad for a two-and-a-half-ton four door with more gadgetry than the first lunar rover. Top speed is governed at 155 mph, and probably for good reason. Our tachometer read a lazy 3000 rpm at 155mph, indicating that there’s plenty more top-end available.
All in all we really enjoyed our time with the 760i, even if it meant fighting with iDrive system. The car’s road manners are impeccable, its styling graceful, its interior lavish and its engine vivacious. If BMW would only drop the iDrive system (or at least modify it so that it’s easier to navigate), the 760i would truly be a world class leader in the luxury performance sedan market and give the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Aston Martin and the Bentley Continental GT a serious run for their money.