BMW 7L: A Bavarian Castle on Wheels, and Expensive

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BMW 7L: A Bavarian Castle on Wheels, and Expensive

Welcome to the theater of the excess and the extreme. There's no other way to describe the BMW 7L (L for limousine). It's as long as a U-boat, comes with a 5.4-liter V-12 engine and a jaw-dropping nine-digit price tag. You approach it on bended knee and hesitantly, not knowing whether to sit in the back or in the driver's seat.

Doing the math on this one is an inevitable game. If you have 250 million won ($210,000) to spend on a car, options abound. You could buy three of Hyundai's top-of-the-line Equus limousines (at 80 million won apiece) and still have plenty of change left over. You could also get a fleet of 47 Daewoo Matiz minicars that could put you into the pizza delivery business.

So who drops this kind of money on a car, you wonder? You'd be surprised. For starters, the L7 was expressly designed for the Asian market. Europeans have little interest in limousines and BMW makes no effort to market the car in Europe. Just about the entire production run of the L7 is exported to Asia. And according to BMW Korea's marketing people, dotcom tycoons constitute a greater percentage of the L7 customer base than do the silver-haired captains of industry. For up and comers, there's nothing like a black BMW limousine to command instant attention and respect on the road, in the parking lot and with those very special opinion leaders and arbiters of good taste, parking valets. The blacker, the bigger, the better. And, incidentally, L7 buyers never haggle over the price and tend to pay in cash.

This is a car that's as solidly built as a Bavarian castle and feels like it could withstand a hit by a Scud missile. Built in a limited edition of several hundred units a year, it oozes quality and careful craftsmanship at every turn. Exotic hardwoods like rosewood or burled walnut abound. No tacky plastic veneers at this price. The seating surfaces are finished in cowhides that are buttery soft. Even the dashboard and center console are encased in hand-stitched leather.

What's it like to drive, you must be wondering? It's a serene zen-like experience, like a walk in the summer woods. Taming 12 cylinders into working this quietly and effortlessly takes a requisite amount of science plus alchemy. Designed for the rigors of the passing lane on the autobahn, this engine is almost oblivious to the car's hefty 2,195 kg body and is pleasantly responsive and uncomplaining at any speed. Treehuggers regard the V-12 a monument to excess but among car buffs, it's the closest thing to perfection on wheels. You're either a believer or not.

Inside, the quiet is disorientating. The usual tell-tale clues of motion and speed are gone, magically banished. There's only the faintest hint of wind noise and only a barely, barely perceptible sound of an engine humming away in muffled silence. If it weren't for the scenery streaking by or the occasional ripple driving over the pavement, you'd hardly have any sensation of speed at all.

To shield away noise, BMW engineers have specified double-glazed side windows that are filled with a low thermal transmission gas. Some would argue this car is over-engineered. But so is a Patek Philippe watch. Both are designed to last: You merely take care of it for the next generation, as they say.

As with all luxury cars, the L7 clobbers you with electronics and switches. Up front, there's a TV/GPS Navigation system with a color LCD screen while the rear compartment gets its own screen and TV/video disc player. My favorite toy? The powered window dividing the front and rear compartments into two worlds. You know who's in charge when the glass slides shut and you hit the intercom switch: "Home, Jeeves!"

Price as tested: 250 million won. Options: fax, customized exterior and interior finishes are available on special order.

Next Week: Kia Spectra Wing

by Oles Gadacz

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