First Drive: 2017 BMW M760Li xDrive

First Drive: 2017 BMW M760Li xDrive
 

Even as an impartial observer, one must concede that BMW Motorsport has the heritage and nostalgia aspects down pat in South Africa.

That is not to discount the formidable cachets of equivalent sub-brands such as Mercedes-AMG and Audi Sport. But over the years one could argue that the Bavarian automaker was more relentless in trying to forge an affinity among true enthusiasts, especially thanks to storied racing pursuits locally.

Just think of pedigreed legends like the 333i and 325iS (E30), covetable classics with fascinating histories. Or the 530 (E12) Motorsport Limited Edition, an icon from the more arcane corners of the BMW archives.

Nor can we forget the 745i (E23); which lays claim to being the only BMW-sanctioned 7-Series racing car in the history of the brand. Campaigned by the late Tony Viana, the fearsome saloon went on to win the 1985 Group One Championship, trouncing competitors of its day from Ford and Alfa Romeo.

It was on the back of this misty-eyed retrospection that BMW unveiled its M760Li xDrive (G12) to media at the Aldo Scribante circuit in Port Elizabeth last week. And though the newcomer represents an achievement that cannot be scoffed at – it was its retro racer forbear that seized our attention. Particularly since owner Paolo Cavalieri of Pablo Clark Racing was on-hand to field questions… and ferry us around for a few laps.

In red Winfield livery, the 745i cut a mean profile in the pit lane, illuminated by the soft early morning light.

The tranquility of daybreak is overrated anyway – and it was shattered by the firing-up of that 3.6-litre, straight-six, 24-valve engine. Seeing the 745i manhandled into submission gives an inkling of the bravery (or madness) it took to champion the car flat-out during the track battles of its heyday.

Granted, the rubber and bitumen was cold during our shotgun ride at Aldo Scribante. Still, even with everything warmed-up, Cavalieri admits that it takes sharp wits and quick reflexes to keep this thing tidy. I watch intently as he counter-steers and executes heel-and-toe shifting with cool dexterity. Obviously, that kind of nonchalance in the saddle comes with decades of experience.

By contrast, riding in this new flagship version of the big BMW sedan is as frantic as taking a hot bath to the backdrop of candlelight and a Kenny G collection.

I start out in the rear quarters, which boasts all the amenities expected from a stately, top-tier luxury saloon. Since it is underpinned by the long-wheelbase platform, rear occupants are afforded a little more stretching space. All very cosseting and presidential: no change from the non-M 7-Series model in that regard.

But the benefit of M760Li xDrive ownership will mostly be reaped by your chauffeur. Because, get this, it is the fastest-accelerating production BMW model money can buy. “Until further notice,” quips BMW South Africa group product communications manager, Edward Makwana.

A claimed sprint time of 3.7 seconds puts it in the realm of more exotic thoroughbreds. And while top speed is pegged at 250km/h, for a fee BMW will avail the potential of 305km/h for customers who might have one of those Get Out of Jail Free cards in their wallets.

How did they achieve this? Basically, the engineers lifted the 6.6-litre V12 engine from their brethren at the Rolls-Royce division – which is part of the BMW Group, in case you forgot. They gave it an acoustic character befitting that of an M-car: the cylindrical dozen yields a noise that is assertive, in comparison to the whispery smoothness of the Rolls-Royce application.

With an output of 448kW and 800Nm, all-wheel drive was an imperative to facilitate effective transfer of grunt-to-tarmac. Although the system is rear-biased. Hustling this vehicle in such a dynamic environment borders on comical. That said, the 7-Series appeared quite tenacious in its ability to maintain serious velocities around corners.

Modulate the brake and accelerator, stay attuned to the transfer of (substantial) weight and you could get into a good rhythm on a track day. Not that you are ever, ever going to find a unit being subjected to such undertakings. In a BMW commercial, maybe.

Ideally, what you should do is get the 7-Series for the purpose of being carted to the track. And an M4 DTM Champion Edition in which to dominate it. The model, which was available to sample at Aldo Scribante, has already attained collector status. Only 200 were made in commemoration of BMW Motorsport Works Driver Marco Wittmann’s victory in the 2016 DTM series.

The 15 that were allocated to our market are already spoken for. It is largely the same as the hardcore M4 GTS that debuted last year, albeit with the omission of some adjustable aerodynamic accoutrements. Power output remains at 368kW and 600Nm – and as you would expect, it is an astonishing thing to pilot, making its regular M4 counterpart seem almost blunt in comparison.

Yes, one can confidently say that these offerings from the BMW Motorsport shelf are poised to further cement the mystique and allure of the performance sub-brand. – Brenwin Naidu

Pricing:

BMW M760Li xDrive: R2.69-million
BMW M4 DTM Champion Edition: R2.3-million