Given the fact that BMW’s hallowed M badge is so widely applied these days (on anything from small coupés to huge crossover SUVs), it’s easy to overlook their motor sport division’s original intent, which was to win races. Fortunately, BMW M hasn’t lost sight of their main priority, and they still build all-conquering race cars as a core business. Just last year, for instance, a young gentleman named Marco Wittmann clinched the DTM Driver’s Championship in a works-prepared BMW M4 race car. To commemorate this victory, BMW has released a limited number of race-inspired M4 DTM Champion Edition road cars.
How limited? Well, only 200 examples were built, and of those, only 15 units were allocated to South Africa. If this is the first time you’re hearing about this limited edition M4, I have some bad news: you can’t have one, as they’re completely sold out. Fortunately, I got to drive one of the 15 SA-bound cars, so you can at least read what it’s like behind the wheel…
Even from a distance, it’s clear that the DTM is no normal M4. It bears more than a passing resemblance to last year’s (equally limited-release) M4 GTS, and it would take a real aficionado to tell them apart at first glance. The main differences between the DTM and GTS lies in the aerodynamic pieces at their extremities: the DTM lacks the front splitter displayed by the GTS, and the tailgate spoiler isn’t adjustable. And that’s basically it, right down to the wide air extractor vent on the bonnet, carbon fibre roof, and “666-style” alloy wheels. It bristles with attitude from all angles, and will likely serve as inspiration for many aftermarket styling efforts for the next few years…
Opening the doors reveal a similar contrast to the normal M4, because this is about as stripped-out as a road-going M4 is ever likely to get. The door cards are replaced by simpler (and lighter) moldings, with a strap to function as a door pull. Deep bucket seats in front proudly display their carbon fibre shells, while the rear seats are conspicuous by their absence – the rear half of the cabin is filled by a roll cage, painted in the body shell’s colour. The dashboard is likewise fairly barren, with a simplified infotainment system (still featuring iDrive, though) and single-zone climate control. Noise insulation is also reduced in the interest of saving weight.
It’s not only the DTM’s body styling which takes inspiration from the M4 GTS, as the mechanical bits are largely identical. The suspension is fully adjustable, and the brakes are carbon-ceramic units all round. Most importantly, the engine also receives the GTS’s water injection system (fed from a storage tank under the boot mat), which greatly improves power output over the stock M4’s six-pot mill. Power jumps to 368 kW, and torque is now pegged at 600 Nm – both roughly 50 units more than the normal M4. Combined with the reduced body mass, these figures translate to rather stirring performance: the 0-100 km/h dash is rushed off in 3.8 seconds, and maximum speed is electronically limited to 305 km/h.
I didn’t have opportunity to verify this top speed claim during my (far too brief) time behind the DTM’s wheel, but that acceleration figure actually seemed conservative. The DTM simply bristles with vitality, draws upon huge reserves of power and adds nicely progressive throttle mapping to the equation. Combined with the race-inspired suspension, the engine upgrades transform the M4’s behaviour in fast driving or around the race track.
It sticks resolutely to the chosen line through the twisties (undoubtedly assisted by the grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres), the steering system requires a fair amount of effort (but rewards with greater precision and feedback) and the DTM’s new-found sensitivity to small throttle pedal inputs allows the driver to fine-tune the car’s cornering attitude with small tweaks to the accelerator pedal. In fact, the DTM is, surprisingly, more controllable at the grip limits than the normal M4, an assertion confirmed by a few quick laps in the standard M4 I had on hand for comparative purposes. These enhancements would make the DTM much harder to live with on a daily basis, but then again, it’s clearly meant to spend most of its life at the race track…
In short, the M4 DTM is an exquisite driving tool. It telegraphs its race-bred purity from every weld on the roll cage, and its track-focused attitude drips from every carbon fibre piece. This is what BMW M does best: create race-winning road cars. Just a pity they’re all sold out – a R2.3 million artwork which will surely go down in history as one of the finest variations on the M4 theme. Please build more, BMW!
BMW’s 7-series has been with us for four decades now, and entered its sixth generation about two years ago. You’d think that we would have been treated to a high-performance version or two in all these years, yet BMW M (their motor sports division) have always been steadfast is their refusal to build an M version of the top-flight luxury saloon. Their reasoning made sense until a few years ago: the 7 was simply considered too big and heavy to deliver genuine M-level performance and handling. This even rang true for the rare and unique South African 745i, which received a genuine M5 engine along with the appropriate chassis tuning and luxury features, yet used the same nameplate as the US- and European market flagship (which made do with much more pedestrian turbo’d 3.2-litre “six”). Never would the hallowed M badge be sullied by a lumbering beast, it seemed…
But that philosophy received a shake-up when the X5 first spawned an M version. It went completely against the gospel according to BMW M, being big, heavy, turbo charged and featuring all wheel drive – all characteristics which used to be anathema to M practice. Buyers didn’t mind that at all, though, and snapped up the X5M as quickly as BMW could roll them off the production line. The X5M’s success finally convinced BMW that there’s room for expansion in the M franchise, leading to the creation of another new sub-brand for the company: M Performance – not quite full-fat M-cars, but infused with enough M flavour to capitalise on the public’s insatiable demand for BMWs with some added spice.
Now, finally, we can buy a 7-series with an M in its name, even if it still isn’t called an M7. But just because BMW decided to slot the M760Li into their M Performance lineup instead of the M-car range, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t live up to the promise of the hallowed M cars: it’s the quickest-accelerating production BMW yet, and it features a host of refinements to ensure that it lives up to the excellence of its legendary forebears. It is, quite simply, the fastest, most luxurious 7-series yet, and a genuine masterclass in engineering.
Motive power is provided by a gigantic 6.6-litre, twin-turbo V12 engine – the same unit as you’d find in a modern Rolls Royce. Given this upper-class provenance, it stands to reason that the engine is buttery-smooth and quiet (although BMW did tune the exhaust note to add some aural character). But with its extreme refinement, it’s also brutally powerful. Peak outputs are quoted as 448 kW and 800 Nm (the latter peaking at only 1550 r/min), but it bears considering that these numbers are most likely restricted to conserve the gearbox and drivetrain – a suspicion confirmed by the fact that there’s still 778 Nm on tap at the 5500 r/min power peak. In short, there’s massive power available right through the rev range.
This prodigious power output would probably only have been good to create lots of tyre smoke if the M760Li tried to send it all through only the rear wheels, but BMW wisely decided to link this monstrous engine (via the customarily excellent ZF 8-speed autobox) to their xDrive all wheel drive system. The result is explosive: the 0-100 km/h sprint is dispatched in a mere 3.7 seconds, en route to its electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.
Impressive as these numbers are, they only tell a small part of the story. In reality, the M760Li is fast in a most unusual manner. While most powerful cars announce the arrival of maximum acceleration with a bellowing engine and some scrabbling from the driven wheels, the M760Li simply compresses you into its (beautiful, diamond-quilt-patterned) leather seats, grabs the horizon, and nonchalantly drops it in your lap. At most, you’ll hear a faint whoosh from the engine, but even that is almost imperceptible. There’s no drama at all, just mind-warping speed in near-silence – and whatever sounds you notice, are carefully engineered not to draw attention. Those Rolls Royce genes definitely manifest in the powertrain’s refinement.
This focus on refinement extends to the chassis tuning as well, where BMW’s Executive Drive Pro suspension does a commendable job of smothering road imperfections while keeping the heavy, long wheelbase 7-series firmly connected to the road. For the M760Li, this adaptive system places its greatest emphasis on ride comfort, yet manages to quell body motions while cornering, accelerating or braking surprisingly well. Sure, the big car rolls slightly upon initial turn-in, but then steadies itself to hustle around any bend with a surprising measure of agility. You’re always aware that you’re piloting a huge car with a heavy engine way out front, but it’s nowhere near as wallowy and unwieldy as its dimensions would lead you to expect. It might not be up to genuine M-car standards, but it still manages to surprise with its fine blend of sure-footed handling and superlative comfort.
You’ll find normal 7-series fare inside the cabin – with the difference that just about every option box is ticked as standard. In fact, M760Li buyers have very few options to consider, and they only entail details such as paintwork, interior colours and some styling bits. Exterior brightwork is unique to the M760Li, with a satin finish to its kidney grilles and side breathers (the shiny pieces which run from the front fenders through the lower door panels). It all presents a nicely discreet way of announcing your arrival to the rest of world.
Discreet is perhaps the best way to describe BMW’s new range topper. If you don’t pay attention, you might easily mistake the M760Li for any other highly-specced 7-series, were it not for that satin finish brightwork and discreet “V12” badges on the C-pillars. It’s certainly a lot less conspicuous than the Rolls Royces with which it shares its oily bits, and strikes a less shouty pose than the V12 AMGs. But no long wheelbase 7-series will ever completely fade into the background either – it carries far too much gravitas for that. The M760Li strikes a perfect balance between presence and discretion, then – ideal for the tycoon who prefers to drive himself around, and with almost all the opulence and refinement he could wish for. And its pricetag? Well, the asking price falls exactly R100 short of R2.7 million, so only established captains of industry, tenderpreneurs and other politicians need apply…