There are just two reasons to buy a V-12 full-size luxury car: exclusivity and cache. And no, they’re not the same thing.
In the case of the BMW 7 Series, most cars sold have either carried inline six-cylinder or V-8 engines. But since 1987, there’s always been a higher echelon to reach for if you’re an executive: The V-12 engine.
Where V-8s typically rumble, a V-12 breathes a soft whir, hardly noticeable if you’re being chauffeured to your next country club golf course of the day. While BMW’s V-12 engines haven’t always been considerably more powerful than the V-8s below them, they’ve always been smoother, effortless in their power.
And now BMW is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its beloved flagship engine.
BMW wasn’t close to being the first automaker to stick the 12-pot into a large luxury car; even the Jaguar XJ had a V-12 before BMW. But it was the first German automaker to do so with its 1987 BMW 750i and extended-length 750iL, provoking Mercedes-Benz to follow suit in 1991 with its S600 sedan. Before then, Mercedes-Benz just made larger and larger V-8s. And while they had similar horsepower numbers, 12 is always better than eight.
BMW’s first V-12 was a 5.0-liter engine with 300 horsepower. Subsequently, the company made a 322-horsepower, 5.4-liter engine upgrade for 1995; 375 horsepower from a 5.6-liter version used in the BMW 850CSi luxury coupe. When the 7 Series was redesigned for the 2002 model year, the V-12 version underwent a name change, now being called the 760i and 760Li to denote the car’s move to 6.0 liters of engine displacement. The new engine would produce 438 horsepower in the nearly $130,000 sedan, a sizable markup from the outgoing car and more than $40,000 over a base V-8-powered 750i.
Again, a redesign brought forth a new 7 Series for the 2009 model year. And, again, the engine changed dramatically. With the help of twin-turbochargers, the 760Li (the short-wheelbase model was dropped for the U.S.) has reached 535 horsepower, and the engine pulls double duty as the powerplant for the $250,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost. If it’s good enough for a Rolls, it’s good enough for your BMW.
And, here we are, with the V-12 now 25 years old, representing the most exclusive engine BMW sells in the U.S. in the brand’s most luxurious car, lined with exclusive features not found in any other 7 Series. And at a starting price of $142,795, including destination fees and gas-guzzler tax, it ought to feel like it.
So happy birthday, BMW V-12, and here’s to many more years of opulence and excess.