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BMW 760Li 2011 Review

The bumpy BMW 760Li has different qualities to its Rolls-Royce companion .

WHAT makes a Rolls-Royce different from other cars? Of course, one thing is that owners never know how much they cost, because otherwise they could never have afforded one in the first place. At least that's what we're led to believe.

Everybody else knows they cost a fortune and one other fact: they're so quiet inside, all you can hear is the incessant ticking of that infernal clock. But what else? How different can four wheels, an engine and a metal box be?

VALUE

BMW, when it took control of Rolls in 2003, had its answer ready in the shape of the Phantom. The Phantom is a statement of such rarefied luxury that it bears little relation to other cars made by the BMW group. It stands alone, like a stately home among the McMansions, hand-built from unique ingredients.

However, that answer doesn't work for the second Rolls developed under BMW, the Ghost. Launched this year at the yes-you-can-ask price of $645,000, it must be built to tighter cost constraints. Which means it must share bits with other cars. That makes the question of how it differs a more nuanced affair.

The car that comes closest to the Ghost under the skin is the BMW 760Li, a long-wheelbase version of the brand's flagship and the most expensive model it offers, at $386,000. The 760Li and the Ghost share the same platform, or engineering underpinnings.

DESIGN

The V12 engine block is the same and so is the eight-speed German transmission. All the control systems, safety technology and gadgets are functionally identical. Rolls-Royce says 18 per cent of each Ghost is effectively a BMW.

If you focus on the technology, then there's a lot about the Ghost that will feel familiar to a BMW driver. But around Melbourne's suburbs, at least, it didn't remind me of a BMW in the way it drove. It's huge -- longer, taller and wider than a 760Li -- and you cannot drive one without being aware of its aristocratic road presence.

The fittings and furnishings fall short of the cabinet-maker quality achieved by the Phantom, but still feel a class above almost everything else. You don't get into a Ghost and immediately think, ``Oh, I'm in a fancy Beemer.'' Whereas in a Maybach, the badge relaunched by Mercedes to take on the elite market, all you can think about is how similar it is to an S-Class. On the other hand, coming from the opposite direction (and with the benefit of a bit more time in the driver's seat), the 760Li feels nothing like a Rolls.

One of the main reasons is the BMW's high-performance low-profile rubber, which leads to one big problem: the ride. The overall composure of the 760Li is good, but there's an unrelenting nobbliness to the ride quality that no amount of fiddling with the suspension settings can fix. Any sort of bump sends a shimmy through cabin. The tyres feel -- and sound -- too heavy. They're wellingtons when they should be brogues.

Luckily, you can adjust the powertrain settings and the chassis independently, and even in comfort mode, which is fairly lenient in terms of body discipline, the car handles well. It's easy to place accurately on the road, helped by light and precise steering, and more agile than a car this length deserves to be.

DRIVE

Under the bonnet is a 6.0-litre V12 with all the latest fuel efficiency tricks. The Rolls version has a larger displacement, at 6.6-litres, but the 760Li is quicker to 100km/h, with an impressive 4.6 second time. But not by much. Despite hauling an additional 200kg, the Ghost is only a third of a second slower.

This engine is a peach and in the 760Li it gathers speed like a train, relentlessly, with a creamy potency that only a V12 can deliver. It's almost impossible to tell when it's changing gear. The soundtrack is higher pitched than a V8 but music to the ears.

The 760Li cabin is a great place to enjoy these 12-piece harmonies, with an abundance of leather, an Alcantara headlining and piano black trim personalised with a cream pinstripe in the test example. It's beautifully finished and wants for nothing in the gadget department, with BMW's latest night-vision system the latest toy -- a system that's also offered in the Ghost.

VERDICT

So there are an abundance of similarities between the two but despite this, there's an enduring difference in character. The BMW wants to be driven with an intensity of purpose that I can't imagine finding in the more formal environment of the Ghost. And the Beemer needs to be driven like that because thanks to its awful ride, there's simply no way it can do what a Rolls does best: waft.

Need to know

BMW 760Li - $386,000 plus on-road costs

VEHICLE: Long-wheelbase luxury sedan
ENGINE: 6.0-litre turbocharged V12
OUTPUTS: 400kW at 5250rpm and 750Nm at 1500rpm
TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Read more about prestige motoring at The Australian.

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$47,605
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