BMW 760iBuilt to fly at warp speed.
Whistling through California's Ibex Pass at 2100 feet and 150-plus mph, a click-turn-click of the iDrive mouse commands the in-dash display to report instantaneous fuel mileage. The 6.0-mpg reading at this velocity and the cloud-like ride suggest a biz-jet trip, but the reality is that we're piloting a BMW 760i confidently in touch with its aviation roots.
BMW built its first V-12 seventy-nine years ago by lashing together two of the in-line sixes it had designed nine years earlier for aircraft use. Faithful to those origins, the 760i is still a splendid way to fly. The cockpit is all business, with no fancy burl or bright chrome to distract the captain. The seats are firmly bolstered to cradle four occupants comfortably when high-g maneuvers are in order. Forced induction and all-wheel drive are ex-cess baggage when there's 438 hp on tap from a four-cam, 48-valve, direct-injected V-12 that hums with a gas turbine's ease.
BMW's early aircraft engines had three throttles the pilot opened in stages according to altitude. Likewise, the 760i offers three shift modes; when you select manual, each gear waits patiently for you to cue the shift.
When the pavement heaves like some third-world airstrip, the 760i's chassis systems engage autopilot to maintain a straight, true path. With perfect steering, superb suspension geometry, and impeccable damping in touch with your fingertips, white knuckles are never part of the deal. What a pity this airship is restricted to a Vmax of 155 mph.
VOLKSWAGEN PHAETON W12 The ultimate People's Car.
The VW Phaeton is an enigma, an impassive, brooding sedan that crouches Sphinxlike in the middle of the prestige car market. No one seems able to solve the riddle of its existence. Is it an authentic attempt to move Volkswagen into the rarefied class of premium carmakers? Or is it an expression of engineering vanity by the brilliant but eccentric Ferdinand Pich, the former chief of Volkswagen AG?
Once you drive this heavy, 5399-pound car to its top speed of 130 mph (the speed rating of this car's soft-riding tires), you finally get it. This is the ultimate Volkswagen, all function and no pretense. It's the perfect expression of Pich, the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who undertook the winning of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by building fifty identical Porsche 917s as if they were mere passenger cars.
Make no mistake, this car has plenty of luxury. In its four-passenger configuration, the Phaeton gives each occupant his or her own private space, with every necessity except a personal minibar. When you're hurtling across the landscape at 100 mph, it's like having your own private railroad car.
Just like a locomotive, the Phaeton is nearly effortless at speed. The 420-hp W-12 engine delivers its power without drama, simply winding up like a giant electric motor. You never really notice it.
There's no artificiality in the Phaeton, no image or fake personality. It's all car, no hype. No wonder that those who are more comfortable with brand-speak and marketing messages just don't get it.