HELLO? Hellooooo? Is anyone still out there? Or has everyone glossed over these pages [in the Sunday Times Magazine] and become engrossed in the recipes? I only ask because you could be forgiven for thinking that there are now fewer car enthusiasts in the country than there are registered ventriloquists. That means three, in case you were wondering.
Car magazine sales have dwindled to virtually nothing. Fifth Gear went into the outer reaches of satellite television and has now disappeared altogether. Top Gear’s audience figures are way down. And as far as I can tell, most of the mainstream car makers are now offering cash money for you to scrap your car and buy an Oyster card instead.
My children are fairly typical, I suspect. They couldn’t care less what they drive, just as long as it does a million miles to the gallon. Speed? Handling? Style? They can’t even get their heads round the idea such things could matter. My son wanted a Fiat Punto, not because of the Ferrari connection, but because the manager of Chelsea is Italian. And I bet Fiat’s top brass hasn’t factored that into its marketing strategies.
In the wider world we have governments saying that petrol and diesel-engined cars will be banned from the roads completely by … (pick a date shortly after the people making the announcement have died). And the news coverage of motoring-related issues focuses entirely on the need for lower speed limits and driverless cars.
When I go out to dinner these days, people often say: “If you’re going to talk about cars, I’ll sit somewhere else.” Seriously, being a car enthusiast is like being a Tory. You just don’t admit it in polite company.
And yet there are Tories out there. And plainly there are car enthusiasts too. I met one last week. He was a young removal man, who looked at the BMW M760Li xDrive V12 that I was driving and said, quietly, so his mates couldn’t hear: “Why has that got less power than the M6?”
I was staggered. So staggered that I was unable to correct him. The M760Li has 601bhp, which means it has more power than any BMW since the time of Nelson Piquet. And that raises a question. Why? Because this is a long-wheelbase, super-comfortable limousine full of soft headrests and adjustable interior lighting. So why on earth has BMW fitted it with a bonkers 6.6-litre V12 engine with TwinPower turbo?
“Being a car enthusiast is like being a Tory. You just don’t admit it in polite company”
Why has the company made it accelerate from 0 to 62mph in less than four seconds, which is faster than most Porsche 911s? Why has it given it four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, so that on country roads you can drive as if you’re in a Caterham? Surely the people who buy cars such as this ride around in the back, and any chauffeur who uses the launch control system would be sacked before he’d hit 40mph.
Ah, well, that’s the thing, you see. If BMW had made it silent and smooth, above all else, what would be the point of spending even more on a Ghost from Rolls-Royce? Which is a BMW company, remember. And, let’s be honest, anyone who wants a silent and smooth car in which to arrive at Heathrow is going to choose a Mercedes S-class.
BMW, then, was forced by marketing and its own history of making the “ultimate driving machine” to come up with something different. Which is why the car I borrowed was finished in the sort of matt-black paint the drifting community love so much, and a red leather interior. And I don’t mean subtle red. I mean bright red. Very bright red — 1950s-film-star-lipstick red.
It looked hilarious. And everyone who climbed inside said the same thing: “It’s fantastic.” Then they found the iPad-type thing mounted in the rear armrest that controls the rear displays, and they liked that too. And then they found the fridge and were all swooning about that when I put the car in its Sport setting and put my foot down. “Aaaaaargh,” they all said. “That’s horrid.”
This car blows your mind with its turn of speed. Not because the turn of speed is so vivid. A Lamborghini or a McLaren is faster still. No. It blows your mind because you’re just not expecting it. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but it reminded me of those bespectacled and rather fierce-looking women in old-fashioned porn films. You cannot believe the transformation when she takes off her specs and lets her hair down.
“What’s an eco-mode doing in the M760Li? Who wants Uber-driver fuel efficiency in a turbocharged 6.6-litre supersonic boss wagon?”
And neither can you believe how planted it all feels when the going gets twisty. Some of this is down to the four-wheel-drive system and some to the clever-clever suspension, but, whatever, as you sit there with your passengers vomiting into their handbags, you really are left open-mouthed by the way BMW’s engineers have made a 2¼-ton limo handle, grip and go like a hot hatch.
But then, when I was leaning forward to adjust — oh, I don’t know what it was: the night-vision cameras or the massage-seat facility perhaps — I accidentally hit a button and everything changed. The car slowed down. The readout from the sat nav became a Toyota Prius-style diagram full of arrows and dotted lines telling me that the engine was off and I was charging the battery. And the dash? Well, that went blue and was full of stuff that I couldn’t read if I wasn’t wearing spectacles and that made no sense if I was.
There was a diagram of a petrol pump on the left with a symbol saying +0.6mi, and a dial that read from 90 down to 50 and then, for no reason I could work out, 16.2.
Plainly, I had put the vehicle in some kind of eco-mode. This required some investigation, so I went onto BMW’s website, where I couldn’t find anything about an eco-mode in the M760Li. I therefore rang the BMW PR man, using the number listed on the publicity material. But was told his number isn’t listed any more.
It’s all a bit of a mystery. Not just the way I activated something that doesn’t seem to exist in this car. But what it’s doing there anyway. Because who wants Uber-driver fuel efficiency in a turbocharged 6.6-litre supersonic boss wagon?
It’s true. Using this mode would save a few pounds over the course of a year, but the fact is, anyone who’s interested in not wasting money would never in a million years think about buying a big-engined, super-complicated large Beemer. Because history has taught us that they depreciate like a piano falling down a mountain. The car was supposed to be collected the other day at eight. And I suspect the reason it’s still with me is that it’s now worth less than the cost of sending a man to pick it up.
So there we are. A very expensive, pointless car that will, in this Uberised world of average-speed cameras and silly insurance premiums, appeal only to one removal man who can’t afford it and who would rather have an M6 anyway.
But still, there’s nothing like going out in a blaze of glory, is there? For what it’s worth, I thought it was tremendous.
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