2003 BMW 7-Series Review

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Jim McCraw Jim McCraw Editor
December 12, 2002
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sponsored by Mercedes-Benz USA

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MIAMI, Fla. — BMW's new flagship sedan, the 760Li, comes to market with a entirely new and enormously powerful 6.0-liter V-12 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, and not one, but two sets of controls for its iDrive system, one for the front seat, and one for the rear seat. You see, this is BMW’s most often chauffeur-driven model, so the company had to provide a complete extra control system for the owner, who might be in the right or left rear seat.

2003 BMW 760Li

2003 BMW 760Li

Positioned against formidable competition from the Mercedes-Benz S600 with its twin-turbocharged V-12, the 760Li is built on the 123.2-inch wheelbase 745 sedan platform and replaces both the short- and long-wheelbase versions of the old 760 with no increase in physical size over the 745Li. Nearly every option on a 745 becomes standard on the 760, plus a whole lot more. You can tell them apart, though, because the 760Li wears V-12 markings, and has a larger grille surround than the 745Li and its own wheel designs.

On a roll?

On the heels of enormous sales success in this country in 2002, up more than 25 percent in a crazy market, BMW wants to continue the momentum with the Z4 roadster just introduced, the new X3 SUV based on the 3-Series, and at the top end of the market, this ultra-luxury 760Li (they changed the name from 760iL to be more consistent, they say).

2003 BMW 760Li

2003 BMW 760Li

BMW's latest offering shines still more light on its prowess at working with electrical and electronic systems suppliers and systems integration, with still more electronics built into the V-12 engine. This is the world’s first mass-produced V-12 engine with direct gasoline injection and common-rail technology borrowed from BMW’s diesel engine. It’s a 60-degree V-12 with very high 11.3:1 compression, four overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, and the heads feature BMW’s Double Vanos variable intake and exhaust valve control system as well as the Valvetronic variable-valve-lift mechanism and an electronic drive-by-wire system that effectively eliminates the traditional throttle on the engine.

2003 BMW 7-Series

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With all this technology and more, the 6.0-liter V-12 develops 438 horsepower and 444 pound-feet of torque, 103 hp and 114 lb-ft more than the 4.4-liter V-8. This dynamo is coupled to a new Steptronic six-speed automatic transmission, smaller and lighter than the previous five-speed, with three modes, full manual control and steering-wheel-mounted upshift and downshift buttons, a combination that should make 0-60 mph times in about 5.5 seconds, pretty amazing for a 4900-pound limousine.

Interestingly, the BMW iDrive system works with the transmission and brakes, and can automatically apply the brakes whenever the car is stopped to avoid creeping, and automatically set the Park brake whenever the engine is switched off.

The chassis of this behemoth is as sophisticated as everything else, of course, with variable-ratio, variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering, electronic damping control, active roll stabilization, rear air suspension, and huge 13.6-inch front and 13.7-inch rear disc brakes with ABS, dynamic brake control, and the world’s first electronically applied parking brake.

BMW has given the big car three tire and wheel package designs: new 19-inch wheels, with 245/45R-19 front and 275/45R-19 rear all-season tires; smaller 18-inch wheels with 245/50R-18 handling-biased tires all around; and a third option, run-flat 18-inch wheels and tires are optional, as is a tire pressure warning system. Other options include active cruise control, security glass, the rear cooling box, and rear seat side airbags.

Behind the velvet rope

2003 BMW 760Li

2003 BMW 760Li

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Behind the standard side and rear window curtains, the 760Li’s cabin is spacious, comfortable, almost eerily quiet, and beautifully executed. There is leather everywhere, perforated on the seats, sueded on the headliner, solid on the doors and consoles, so much that the leather smell will probably never go away. The seats are huge, thick, and very, very plush, and the instrumentation and control layout large and complex, before we even talk about iDrive and its complexities. This is, after all, the ultimate BMW, and it has more wood, more leather, and more chrome than any other Bimmer by far, and more sound. The Logic 7 sound system, with 13 speakers and 420 watts of power, is standard, and it really adds to the enjoyment of both music and DVD entertainment, with crystal clarity even at low volumes.

2003 BMW 7-Series

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Driving and being driven (by handsome young BMW chauffeurs imported from Munich) in the 760Li in South Beach Miami and south Florida was a unique experience. With all the time in the world in the back seat to work with the iDrive system, and our own adjustable 9-inch monitor screen, we could dial up TV, DVD, CD, or radio entertainment, with satellite navigation thrown in for good measure. Mostly, though, we just sat back, played with iDrive until we almost understood it, and enjoyed not having to drive in Miami traffic.

In the afternoon, after a spirited session driving on the race track at Miami Homestead Speedway, when it was our turn to drive on the road, we did what we normally do; we waited for a good, straight road, and we legged it as hard as we could for as long as we dared. In a trice, the luxurious ambience of the rear seat area and its optional cooling box for drinks and snacks gave way to the raw power and torque of what was under the hood. In near silence, the engine makes torque, power and rpm in huge quantities, and it is incredibly smooth and quiet.

The six-speed transmission (two overdrives) is a jewel, especially in manual mode, with shifter buttons on both front and back sides of the steering wheel for instant gratification. However, we did find some situations involving braking, downshifting, and then getting on the gas where the car didn’t quite know what to do next. A little electronic dithering can be forgiven, especially when it’s apparently just a software fix, but it did happen.

The same electronics that got befuddled occasionally in the powertrain never put a foot wrong, figuratively speaking, when it came to cornering hard, braking hard, and changing direction very abruptly. This is still a BMW, no matter how heavy or complex, and they all turn corners better than just about anything else out there.

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2003 BMW 7-Series

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Safe as houses

As for occupant safety, front driver and passenger smart airbags are standard, along with front side-impact airbags and dual front and rear side air curtains, and now  knee airbags for front seat passengers, too. The fabulously comfortable and every-way adjustable heated seats have generous head restraints and front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters, and the rear seats are likewise 14-way power adjustable, with heating, cooling and massage.

BMW expects to sell close to 2000 of its new 760Li sedan versions in the U.S. this year. As the unquestioned star of the BMW show, the new 760Li is one of those technological tours de force that we always talk about, absolutely dripping with electronic technology, graced with a wonderful interior design and a sporty flavor exuded by no other $116,495 luxury sedan, although the $107,000 Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG supercharged V-8 and the $121,000 S600 twin–turbo V-12 are both extremely fast and luxurious machines.

2003 BMW 760Li
Base price: $116,495
Engine: 6.0-liter V-12, 438 hp/444 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 203.5 x 74.9 x 58.7
Wheelbase: 123.2 in
Curb weight: 4872 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 12/16 mpg
Safety equipment: Driver and passenger front and side airbags, roof bags, knee bags, anti-lock braking, traction control,  yaw control, active roll  control, electronic brake force distribution, cornering brake control
Major standard equipment: front and rear iDrive, cruise control; automatic climate control; 20-way adjustable, heated front and rear seats; leather seat, headliner and dashboard surfaces, steering wheel shifting; power windows and sunshades; tilt/telescopic steering wheel; heated electrochromatic rearview mirrors;  multiple-function car computer; navigation system, 13-speaker am/fm/CD Logic 7 stereo with subwoofer; 18-inch tires and wheels, alloy wheels, cross-drilled  brakes
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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