ANN ARBOR If Tom Wolfe had written The Bonfire of the Vanities today rather than in 1987, Sherman McCoy would be driving a BMW 760i. Spend any time behind the wheel of this car, and you, too, will feel like a master of the universe.The short-wheelbase, V-12-engined 7-series looks understated but moneyed, a plutocrat's transport. Once you've overcome all the impediments in the 7-series man-machine interface-the goofy seat controls, the plethora of column stalks, the impenetrable iDrive system-this is a sensational car.
The powertrain, straight out of the long-wheelbase 760Li, is superb, even if it doesn't have the remarkable poke of a Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG or S600. The combination of 438 hp and 444 lb-ft moves the 760i along very smartly, and there's a delightful, creamy howl in the process. Whether you opt for standard, sport, or manual actuation for the six-speed automatic transmission, shifts are crisp and smooth, although the manual push buttons on the steering wheel are every bit as counterintuitive as many 7-series secondary controls.
All is forgiven, though, when you're wafting along in supreme comfort on the highway or carving into a series of corners, at which point the 760i feels so much more responsive and alert than the long-wheelbase car. It helps that the electronic damping's default mode is Sport. The 7 is hardly a lightweight, nor is it small, but it is remarkably wieldy for a luxobarge. You would think that anything that rolls on 245/40 and 275/35 rubber-band tires would ride like an Abrams tank, but the 760i is quite compliant. And while there isn't space in the back for a party, your rear-seat passengers won't be complaining about second-class accommodations.
There's nothing second-class about the 760i, as the $110,595 price attests. But that's no problem for a master of the universe.