I recently had the chance to sample the entire range of BMW passenger cars. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but I did drive our long term BMW 135i for a night and then the range-topping BMW 760Li the next night. It was interesting to go from the smallest BMW right to the largest. Ironically, the smallest BMW is the newest and the flagship car is showing its age. I suppose that's a good description of the owners of the 1-series and 7-series, respectively.
The 135i feels very energetic, young, and downright tiny. The car is a blast to flick through a turn and every gear change is rewarding. Power from the twin-turbo inline-six seems to be infinite and our car is about as minimalist as you can find at a BMW dealer: no iDrive, no navigation, no Bluetooth, and plain white paint. Basically, this is the definition of an enthusiast's car. Staffers are split on the $40,000 sticker price; some of us think it's a bargain to get the twin-turbo six for less than 40 grand, but others think the jump to a 335i is worth the extra money. Nobody is complaining about the way this car drives.
Sliding behind the wheel of the 760Li feels very different. A dizzying array of controls, buttons, and dials takes up the dashboard and steering wheel. This 760Li is pretty much loaded and comes with the worst iteration of iDrive currently on the market. I'm not an iDrive basher, but the 3- and 5-series have much more logical iDrive controls, which should be remedied when the new 7-series debuts this fall at the Paris Motor Show. The 760Li is propelled by a normally aspirated V-12 and the power is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Power delivery is incredibly smooth and linear, not explosive like the 135i. The 7 feels much more dignified when you depress the accelerator and tip-in isn't as sharp as the 1. Luxury features abound and the air-conditioned seats (with massage feature) were most welcome as the mercury approached 90 degrees. Our 760Li test car carries an incredible $148,620 sticker.
There's really no comparison between the 760Li and the 135i. Buyers are completely different, but it's fun to think you could buy a small fleet of 135s for the price of a lone 760. I'd prefer a 335i wagon to either of these Bavarians, but I wouldn't turn down another chance to drive either of the bookends.