The V12 engine has been part of the BMW 7 Series range for a quarter of a century but its future at the pinnacle of the brand’s line-up is uncertain, with the prestige German manufacturer yet to sign off on a replacement 12-cylinder for the next-generation flagship sedan.
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BMW Australia product and pricing manager Christoph Priemel told CarAdvice there were no guarantees the sixth-generation 7 Series – due in 2016 – would continue the V12 tradition started by the second-gen model back in 1987.

“The planning for whether the V12 engine will be kept, that’s not decided yet,” Priemel admitted.

“There’s certainly some focuses where [the car’s planners] set targets in the sense of where emissions should go or what technology should be introduced, but whether it [the 7 Series V12] will be continued or not, the final call has not been made.”

Originally accounting for almost one in six 7 Series sales around the world during the late '80s/early '90s, the range-topping V12 variant – currently the 760Li – is now a super-niche model for the brand. BMW Australia expects to deliver only a handful per year as more customers opt for the less powerful but cheaper and significantly more fuel efficient 750i/750Li variants, and to an even greater degree the 730d and 740i entry models.

The 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged V12 in the 760Li produces 400kW and 750Nm – 70kW/100Nm more than the 750i’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 – yet is just two-tenths quicker from rest to triple figures (4.6 seconds versus 4.8).

The bigger engine suffers majorly in the efficiency department, chugging fuel at a rate of 12.9 litres per 100km – 50 per cent faster than the 750i at 8.6L/100km – which translates to filling the 760Li’s tank three times for every two fills of the 750i.

At $391,500, the BMW 760Li is also $93,700 more expensive than the comparative 750Li long-wheelbase and $110,400 more than the standard-wheelbase 750i.

Despite all this, Priemel said he believed there would always be a market for a V12-powered 7 Series among customers who respected the history of the iconic powerplant and wanted the status attached to owning the biggest engine.

“760Li is definitely a special car, it is a very prestigious model,” he said.

“The V12 is just the ultimate 7 Series in a certain way, and there will all the time be a particular customer base specifically wanting the prestige and the heritage of the car.

“For these customers that search for in particular a V12 engine it’s still the pick, however, the rest of the range shows off the best ratio of efficiency and so on.”

He said increasingly stringent emissions regulations in Europe, the US and other markets would not necessarily conspire to kill the 7 Series V12 if BMW did choose to build a new 12-cylinder model, however, as the car is sold in very low numbers and only plays a minor role in the bigger picture of total fleet emissions.

Engine line-up aside, Priemel said the most striking feature of the sixth-generation 7 Series would be its level of distinction from other models in the brand's showroom.

“There will be a great focus on differentiating the 7 Series from the rest of the range as the pinnacle of the BMW line-up,” he said.

“That means in terms of efficiency, dynamics, and safety features – this car will be absolutely superior both compared with the competition and also leading the pack when it comes to the BMW range overall.”

Design-wise, he said the new 7 Series would not simply take an evolutionary step forward but something more dramatic, clearly setting it apart from the next model down, the 5 Series.

An estimated 2016 launch means the sixth-gen 7 Series will give the highly anticipated all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class a two- to three-year head start, with the Stuttgart-based manufacturer set to unleash its new flagship sedan in Australia around November 2013.

Priemel said BMW expected the S-Class to introduce a number of innovations to take it to an even higher level, but expected the current- and next-generation 7 Series to remain competitive.

“We still expect with our 7 Series line-up we will compare very well when it comes to the sportiness and the efficiency, and also innovations-wise.

“BMW is always very driver-focused, especially for a market like Australia, that’s a key issue.

“We’ll just see… [The S-Class is the] main competitor in our segment and we will see what they do. We are confident with our current product. We definitely have a very, very strong competitor.”