BMW 7 Series Essential History
1978-1987 First Generation (E23)
BMW launched the original 7 Series in 1977 as a replacement for the previous Bavaria large four-door sedan, the latter having shared its E3 platform with the sporty 3.0 CSI coupe. If the Bavaria was by then a relic of the 1960s, the 7 Series was a huge step forward, meant to compete directly with Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class and Jaguar’s XJ executive sedans. In the U.S., we got the 733i as a 1978 model year car and its fuel-injected, 3.2-liter straight-six produced 177 horsepower and 196 lb-ft of torque, solid numbers for the day. Later models used turbocharged inline sixes for even more power. The first 7 Series was equipped with a four-speed manual transmission as standard (an optional three-speed automatic cost $530). Technology was impressive for the day, with a then-advanced system for checking vital functions, automatic climate control, and a trip computer. With Paul Bracq’s sharp shark-nose styling, the first 7 Series is a true classic. The E3 7 Series ran until 1987 in the U.S. market, even if sales figures didn’t reflect tremendous success.
1988-1994 Second Generation (E32)
The 1988 model year brought an all-new, Ercole Spada-designed 7 Series to the U.S. market at the end of 1987, though the car had debuted in Europe a year prior. The E32 7 Series was another big step forward with handsomely updated and modernized styling that would see the big Bimmer into the 1990s. Though BMW’s venerable M30 3.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine was found in the base 735i, the second-generation 7 Series also received an all-new 300-hp, 5.0-liter V-12 engine in the 750iL, a new long-wheelbase variant that gave rear-seat passengers almost five inches of additional legroom. A mid-life refresh around 1991 brought updated Xenon headlights, a new 4.0-liter V-8 engine and a five-speed ZF automatic transmission. A five-speed manual transmission was still available on certain models. Sales numbers continued to climb as well-to-do clients legitimately considered BMW in the same breath as Mercedes-Benz.
1995-2001 Third Generation (E38)
If the second-generation 7 Series was a success, the third-generation car that arrived for the 1995 model year was a triumph. While styling updates could be considered evolutionary, the changes underneath were more impressive. The unibody chassis was a whopping 70 percent stiffer than the outgoing car and the reworked suspension was aluminum-intensive with a new multi-link rear setup. As a result, this 7 Series was miles ahead of its predecessors in terms of handling, comfort, and performance. The 740i came with the previous 4.0-liter V-8, now rated at 282 hp, and was the last 7 Series to be offered with a conventional manual six-speed gearbox (a five-speed automatic was the more popular option). Two wheelbases were still available, short and long, and the 750i now made 322 hp from 5.4 liters. This was the first 7 Series to offer stability control and satellite-based navigation and the first to option a diesel engine (though not in the U.S. ). Movie buffs will remember James Bond piloting a 750iL remotely from the rear seat in Tomorrow Never Dies.
2002-2008 Fourth Generation (E65)
If the fourth-generation BMW 7 Series is best known for one reason, it’s the controversial styling by then-BMW design chief Chris Bangle. While certainly not as svelte and elegant as the model it replaced, the 2002 E65 7 Series was another step forward in comfort, luxury features, and size. Some two inches longer and taller than the outgoing model, this 7 Series was also the first to introduce BMW’s iDrive infotainment setup, with its game-changing rotary control dial. At launch, the 745i had a 325-hp, 4.4-liter V-8 with variable valve timing underhood, while the 760i boasted a new 6.0-liter V-12 producing 438 horses. A new six-speed automatic was introduced and in 2003, a 750i replaced the 740i with a 360-hp 4.8-liter V-8. A short-lived Hydrogen 7 model used hydrogen fuel cell technology; a 2006 refresh helped clean up the sedan’s awkward styling to a degree.
2009-2015 Fifth Generation (F01)
All-new for 2009, the fifth-generation BMW 7 Series received freshly designed sheet metal which, while not as controversial as the previous model, was seen by many as a somewhat bland design. Again, size increased, two wheelbases were offered and the primary engine range was a mix of a new twin-turbocharged V-8 and V-12 model range. BMW 750i models got the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 for 402-444 hp depending on model year, while the twin-turbo 6.0-liter V-12-powered 760i rated a healthy 536 hp. An ActiveHybrid 7 model was BMW’s new hope for an emissions-conscious luxury sedan, but like the Hydrogen 7 to go before it, sales were slim and the model lasted just over three years on market. Six- and seven-speed automatic gearboxes were offered. New technology introduced with the F01 7 Series included rear-wheel steering, all-wheel drive, and active radar-based cruise control.
2016-Present Sixth Generation (G11)
The sixth-generation BMW 7 Series launched for the 2016 model year and the major news was the luxury sedan’s new carbon fiber chassis, which pulls more than 100 pounds out of the curb weight while adding torsional rigidity. This 7 Series launched with two engines: a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six making 330 hp (later revised to 335 hp) and a turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 that makes 445 hp (later boosted to 523 hp). In 2017, a new plug-in hybrid version dubbed 740e launched with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor, for 326 hp total. Then, for the truly power hungry, the 2017 M760i launched with a 601-hp, twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V-12. Eight-speed automatic transmissions, a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive (the latter is standard in the V-12-powered car) and active lane-keeping cruise control up to speeds of 130 mph are all notable features, though European models can be parked and summoned from their owners garages with the push of a key fob button (an extra not yet legal in the U.S. ).
BMW 7 Series Highlights
For those who find even the top-shelf versions of the standard BMW 7 Series uninspiring, there’s Alpina, BMW’s factory-partnered tuning arm. Alpina has offered its B7 model, a modified, even more powerful and exclusive version of the BMW 7 Series, for several generations now. The current 2020 Alpina B7 has a 600-hp version of BMW’s 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 and starts at a hefty $142,800. Bespoke interior and exterior trim, unique wheels, and sportier suspension tuning round out the changes.
BMW 7 Series Buying Tips
As with other flagship luxury sedans from other brands, there’s lots to go wrong with age on any BMW 7 Series model. Because this market segment is especially prone to both heavy depreciation and complex, expensive repairs, we’d advise only purchasing a used BMW 7 Series through BMW’s certified pre-owned programs with an extended warranty. Out-of-warranty service work on used BMW 7 Series models can quickly result in costs equal to large percentages of the vehicle’s total value. This goes double for V-12 models, with service costs sometimes doubling that of V-6 and V-8 powered cars. Remember, even though a used luxury car may depreciate from $100,000 to $20,000, its maintenance costs become ever greater as time goes on.
BMW 7 Series Articles on Automobile
Luxury and fun—but you’ll pay for it.
BMW’s refreshed flagship says more is better.
A wet track drive of Munich’s V-12 sports sedan.
A part of BMW’s electric future.
A new flagship for a new era.
Our thoughts on the fifth-gen 7 Series.
What’s in store for the new Seven.
BMW 7 Series Recent Auctions
BMW 7 Series Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1978
- Last year of production: Still in production
- Original price (base): $21,365 (1978)
- Characteristic feature: A German limousine purportedly built for those who prefer driving themselves.
BMW 7 Series FAQ
Is the BMW 7 Series a good car?
The BMW 7 Series is BMW’s perpetual flagship model and typically leads the marque’s styling, luxury features, and latest technology. As such, the 7 Series is a world-class automobile, but can also be somewhat complex and costly to run.
Why are BMW 7 Series so cheap?
Certainly, new BMW 7 Series models are not cheap, with prices starting at nearly $90,000 before options. Used models can be quite inexpensive because as these electronically complex vehicles age, they tend to require more expensive services. Additionally, many buyers of new 7 Series models are quick to trade up to the latest version after a few short years, as older models lose their luster.
Is the BMW 7 Series expensive to maintain?
You betcha. While a new BMW 7 Series may need few non-standard services in its first several years, these are large and heavy cars which stress powertrain and suspension components more than smaller models while also having many advanced electrical systems with many parts that can fail with years and miles. Best to buy a 7 Series with a warranty.
What year is the best BMW 7 Series?
While many enthusiasts look back on the 1995-2001 third-generation car as a high point in 7 Series evolution, the reality is the best BMW 7 Series is the newest one you can afford with a warranty.
|2017 BMW M760i XDrive Specifications|
|ENGINE||6.6L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve V-12/601 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 590 lb-ft @ 1,550 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/20 mpg|
|L x W x H||209.8 x 74.9 x 58.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.6 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph (190 mph w/M performance package)|