2017 BMW M760i xDrive Review: Is This V12 Better Than the B7 Alpina and Its V8?
In the battle of BMW flagships, M760i brings 601 horsepower—versus 600 for the B7 Alpina. We're gonna need a bigger yardstick.
- Test Drives
- Test Drives
For decades, packing 12 cylinders below the hood made a car—and by association, its driver—the unquestioned ruler of the road. But that royal veneer is cracking. Luxury automakers are cranking out turbocharged V8’s that are lighter, more affordable and fuel-efficient than V12s, and require fewer natural resources to build. These downsized V8s generate such crushing power that it seems ridiculous to complain about the cylinder count.
BMW M760i xDrive is an M7 in all but the name
The BMW M760i xDrive is the latest case in point. With 601 horsepower from a twin-turbo, 6.6-liter V12—an M Performance version of the same haughty engine that powers the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Wraith and Dawn—this range-topping 7 Series gives CEOs something new to moon over when they’re wondering how to spend their bonuses. But as with some new Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Aston Martins, and Mercedes-AMGs, the shopping has become more complicated.
To wit: the BMW B7 Alpina xDrive.
The "other" fantasy 7 Series, created by the cult heroes of Alpina in Buchloe, Germany, wrings 600 horsepower from a twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V8—just one fewer horse than the V12. Torque is an identical 590 pound-feet. If power is a wash, the price is not: The B7 Alpina’s $137,995 base price undercuts the M760i by nearly $19,000.
Game over, I figured, especially after I drove the Alpina first. Ah, but the M760i makes its own case for rich-family adoption. Consider the Alpina the Daddy Warbucks special: It’s insanely fast and capable, including a 193-mph top speed that would actually surpass 200 miles per hour if not for an electronic limiter. Yet the B7 Alpina is still as correct and cosseting as any conventional 7 Series. It’s the stealth bomber of this duo.
The M760i is more like the car you'd use for a remake of Ronin. It’s a mobile grenade launcher that’s eager to blast a Mercedes-AMG S63 or Audi S8 out of its path on a mountain chase. Compared with the B7 Alpina, its aggression is more naked, beginning with its standard M aerodynamic package. A pair of front air intakes are so large, they eat up the space normally afforded to fog lamps. Metallic gray trim adorns the intakes, BMW twin-kidney grille and active air flap louvers, along with body-contrasting mirror caps, lower doors, Air Breather side vents and oversized twin tailpipes. 20-inch, double-spoke M alloy wheels feature their own painted, matte gray surfaces.
Throw in "V12" badges on the C-pillars, a slim rear spoiler, and my tester’s martial matte paint called “Frozen Dark Brown Metallic” (a $5,200 option), and you’ve got one pissed-off-looking 7er. This Bimmer sounds just as intimidating. BMW’s M Performance unit makes the exhaust system as straight and large-diameter as possible to reduce back pressure. Two-stage exhaust flaps highlight the Hallelujah Chorus of the V12 over an especially broad acoustic range, from a pianissimo hum to a full tabernacle roar.
And what an engine it is, as you’d expect from an M Performance version of the TwinPower V12 that already moonlights in the Rolls-Royce lineup. A pair of mono-scroll turbochargers sit outside the dual six-cylinder banks, each cooled by a separate air-to-water intercooler. An additional water pump feeds a separate intercooler circuit, its efficient heat exchangers positioned directly on the intake manifold for the first time in a BMW V12. Fuel injectors spray precise bursts of atomized fuel at up to 2,900 psi. There’s Double-Vanos continuously variable camshaft timing, a forged crankshaft and forged connecting rods.
As noted, both models bring 590 pound-feet of torque, but the M760i brings it quicker: Peak torque arrives at 1,500 rpm, compared to 3,000 rpm for the Alpina V8. Like the 605-hp Audi S8 Plus, both sedans recalibrate your idea of big sedans when you floor the gas. In the M760i, I dialed up Launch Control, mediated via the stellar eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, and achieved 0-60 mile-per-hour enlightenment in 3.6 seconds.
BMW cites the B7 Alpina’s 0-60 mph blast at an equivalent 3.6 seconds, and some testers have seen as little as 3.4 seconds. The point is, these are both roughly 2.5-ton, all-wheel-drive sedans—4,899 pounds for the Alpina, 5,128 for the M760i—that can out-accelerate most sports cars you’re likely to meet at stoplights. The M760i’s limited 155-mph top speed pales before the Alpina’s 193 mph, but good sense suggests that either car has a surplus of speed for American roads.
Faced with that surplus, and such closely matched cars, I would have loved a back-to-back drive. Yet in my separate test drives, the M760i strikes me as the (barely) faster bolt of lightning, and the more-aggressively tuned machine in terms of chassis dynamics, despite its 229 pounds of extra weight. On the twisty playgrounds of the Hudson Valley north of Manhattan, the M760i is the playground bully, effectively slapping the shit out of the pavement. Invisible hands include an xDrive AWD system that’s tuned for extra rear bias. Adaptive dampers, variable-ratio steering, a dual-axle air suspension, four-wheel-steering and electromechanical anti-roll stabilization are all retuned for the M760i’s sportier mission. Ditto for the driver-selectable Adaptive mode, which analyzes your real-time driving style, navigation data and even stereo camera readings to preview the road and regulate onboard chassis systems. Hmm, now I know why the BMW drives like a futuristic fortress: That camera must have noted every blurry tree during my test drives.
Like shaking hands with an NBA center, you can’t help but notice the BMW’s sheer size and mass. We’re talking a nearly 207-inch-long sedan, just 1.5 inches shorter than a Mercedes S-Class. Yet the M760i also moves like a gifted big. One clear win for the M760i, at least for people who like to shift, is a set of generously sized metal paddle shifters; the Alpina goes with a pair of somewhat awkward shift buttons behind the steering wheel.
Before you start picturing an overwrought, super-sized hot rod, be advised that the M760i will cruise as sweetly and luxuriously as any 7 Series. Ride quality and cabin isolation are outstanding, thanks in part to the 7 Series’s “Carbon Core” construction – which integrates carbon fiber in key areas—and that driver-adjustable air suspension. My M760i was replete with dramatic, ivory-colored Nappa leather and dark wood, a thick M steering wheel, 20-way power seats (with heating, cooling and multiple massage functions), and a full array of semi-autonomous driving gizmos.
The sixth-generation 7 Series hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for its cabin, which nearly matches the benchmark Mercedes S-Class for visual dazzle and all-day comfort, and even outdoes the Mercedes in some technical areas. But here’s how it works with some auto journalists, especially at choir-preaching enthusiast magazines: If Mercedes invents something or sets a new standard, it’s worth an entire technical feature. If Audi invents something, gaseous encomiums will ensue. And if BMW invents something, it’s just a cheap gimmick that no buyer could possibly want, let alone a “real” BMW man who knows that they stopped building cars with the E46 M3. (And if you didn’t realize that last bit, the writer will start name-dropping chassis numbers soon enough).
For the latest-generation 7 Series, the innovations include a seven-inch digital tablet (actually a Samsung Galaxy), integrated into the rear center console as precisely as an artwork in a museum frame. Press a button, and one tablet edge pivots upward, beckoning a backseat rider to free it and command an array of onboard functions. This 7 Series is still the world’s only automobile with an integrated, portable tablet aboard—though certainly not the last. My daughter got a huge kick out of controlling the satellite radio, videos on a pair of optional rear-seat entertainment screens, the multi-massaging seats, and motorized sunshades for the backlight and side windows. Navigation maps can now be updated over-the-air; and the onboard speed limit camera sends pictures of road signs to an anonymous BMW server, which can then update the database for users.
But the innovation that has drawn the most scoffing dismissals from grumpy journos is Gesture Control. The BMW technology lets a driver or passenger make hand motions to perform functions without touching a physical switch. For one example, twirl a finger in the air, in opposite directions, to raise or lower audio volume. Point two fingers at the screen, and up comes a new radio station, or another programmable function: Point, boom, done.
Yes, Gesture Control is a redundant system, just as steering-wheel controls, touchscreens, and voice commands supplement traditional switches. But as with the rear tablet, passengers love Gesture Control, and drivers will love showing it off. Since it adds just $190 to the price of this six-figure car—what Porsche would charge you for a branded lint roller—why all the fuss? Ultimately, such novel gizmos are one of the reasons people spend big bucks on luxury cars.
And the subject of “big bucks” returns us to this clash of Bavarian heavyweights, the M760i and B7 Alpina. The M760i starts from $156,495, versus $137,995 for the eight-cylinder Alpina. As tested, my well-optioned M760i shot to nearly $172,000, versus $154,000 for the Alpina. Continuing that financial comparison, the M760i’s insatiable thirst for premium unleaded nets it a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax; its 13 city/20 highway mile-per-gallon rating compares poorly with the Alpina’s healthier 16/24 mpg.
But most people who can afford a $150,000 sedan can also afford a $170,000 sedan, and the gasoline to go with it. So considering their mirror-image performance and luxury, the choice between these flagships comes down to personal preference. (Interrupting for reality, I should note that a BMW 740i, with a turbo six-cylinder whose 320 horses feels more like 370, starts from barely $82,000.) At the risk of stereotyping, the M760i seems more the Young Turk’s car: “Young” being relative, since you rarely see anyone under 45 driving a 7 Series. But I can see a Silicon Valley hotshot gravitating toward the M760i, with his more-sober venture capitalist/father figure preferring the B7 Alpina.
I guess that makes me the father figure: Even independent of price, I’d choose the B7 Alpina, because its lighter, more-efficient V8 makes sense to me. Also, because I love a stealth sedan, in terms of both aesthetics and under-the-radar advantage. Finally, because the Alpina brand is pure engineering awesomeness, minus the superficial, Beverly Hills-baggage of, say, certain Mercedes-AMG cars. The average Joe has no idea what Alpina even is...and that’s just the way I like it.