Since its introduction for the 1978 model year, the BMW 7 Series luxury sedan has remained true to its original character. It's the BMW flagship, and this full-size, rear-wheel-drive sedan has always represented the pinnacle of technology and luxury in the German automaker's lineup. As such, it's an obvious choice for discerning buyers seeking a spacious and elegant sedan with a high level of curbside prestige.
There's a fair amount of competition in this elite vehicle class, but the 7 Series sedan's athletic handling dynamics have long set it apart, starting with the early 733s and carrying through to the five present-day 7 Series models. While other manufacturers have historically been content to build high-end sedans with soft, serene rides, BMW engineers its 7s to engage their drivers on an emotional level. There are a few recent contenders that have gone after this emotional engagement, so the 7 Series is no longer the only game in town, but it remains a prime luxury sedan for people who like to drive.
Current BMW 7 Series
The current 7 Series is offered in five different models. The 740i and long-wheelbase 740Li feature a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 315 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. The 750i and 750Li feature a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that cranks out 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. The top-of-the-line 760Li features a 6.0-liter V12 that produces 535 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive are standard across the board, while all-wheel drive ("xDrive") is optional for the 740 and 750 models. All are very quick, with even the 740i being able to run from zero to 60 mph in a claimed 5.6 seconds.
The 7 Series boasts a handsome, spacious interior with supple leather and rich wood accents adorning almost every surface. Highly adjustable front seats ensure comfort for virtually every body type. The 7 also showcases a wealth of high-tech luxury features such as a night-vision camera and sideview cameras. Some may still find the iDrive electronics interface system a bit complicated, but we think the current model's improved layout is an elegant solution to a button-heavy dashboard.
Although rear passenger space is limolike, especially in Li form, the 7 Series remains a standout in the handling department. The "Dynamic Driving Control" system contributes to this status, featuring four different settings that alter the driving characteristics of the car. We'd bet good money that most folks will leave it on "Normal," but it certainly rewards owners who like to customize their cars to their own driving tastes. Only recently has the 7 Series begun to be challenged by athletic new rivals in this segment.
Used BMW 7 Series Models
The current, fifth-generation 7 Series debuted for 2009. Compared to the controversial previous model, its styling is considerably more restrained, with tauter bodywork and a conventional trunk design. The interior is also more traditional. The gear selector has migrated from the steering column back to the center console, for example, and the iDrive electronics interface is vastly improved. Turbocharged engines are now the norm for BMW's top sedan.
There have been a handful of notable changes during the current 7 Series' production run. In its first year, the big Bimmer could only be had in 750i or 750Li trim with rear-wheel drive. The 760Li arrived for 2010, while the 740i debuted the following year, becoming the first six-cylinder 7 Series in two decades. For 2013, the 750's twin-turbo V8 was upgraded from its original output (400 hp, 450 lb-ft) to current levels, while the 740 received a new inline-6 with a single turbocharger in place of the original twin-turbo engine. The iDrive interface was also updated for 2013, and an eight-speed automatic became the standard transmission on all 7 Series models.
The previous-generation BMW 7 Series was produced from 2002-'08 and was by far the most radical version of the nameplate. Traditional exterior styling cues from the previous 25 years were largely abandoned in favor of a more aggressive, avant-garde design. The car was still recognizable as a 7 Series, but many purists found the look abrasive. A refresh for 2006 smoothed out some of the harsher elements, but it's still a stretch to call this car beautiful, whether in standard-wheelbase 750i or long-wheelbase 750Li/760Li form (previously known as "iL").
With the exception of 2002, when only a V8 was offered, the fourth-generation 7 Series lineup always included sophisticated eight- and 12-cylinder engines paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The 745i and 745Li sold from 2002-'05 were equipped with a 325-hp 4.4-liter V8, while the 750i and 750Li that succeeded them had a 360-hp 4.8-liter V8. The 750s were slightly heavier, so performance was about the same as for the 745s.
Offered continuously from 2003, the 760Li had a 6.0-liter V12 capable of 438 hp. Unlike the V8s, which are eager to rev, the V12 delivers a massive wave of thrust as soon as you nudge the accelerator pedal. BMW offered a short-wheelbase 760i from 2004-'06.
The edgy exterior styling of this generation carried over to the cabin, where BMW's typically button-heavy control layout gave way to an all-in-one system called iDrive that governed climate, audio and navigation functions via a single console-mounted dial and a central display. Although iDrive assured the 7's place in the information age, its steep learning curve proved bewildering for many a 7 Series driver. During the car's lifespan, iDrive was consistently upgraded, so newer models will come with later (and less maddening) versions of this control device. Be sure to thoroughly exercise the iDrive system before purchasing a 7 Series of this vintage.
Despite its quirks, the 2002-'08 BMW 7 Series proved quite popular, not least because of its superb driving experience. Here BMW applied its arsenal of technology to great effect, as features like self-stiffening antiroll bars, self-leveling air springs and adaptive shock absorbers worked together to keep the big sedan exceptionally stable when driven hard. However, it's complexity like this that makes the fourth-generation 7 Series an intimidating used car in terms of expected maintenance costs. "Buyer beware" is the operative phrase here.
The third-generation 7 Series, sold from 1995-2001, is generally regarded as a high point in the model's history. It was a true driver's car just like today's 7, but there was less in-car technology to distract from the task at hand. And most people agree that its sleek, classically styled body is easier on the eyes.
The model lineup included the regular-wheelbase 740i sedan, which was offered every year except 1996, and the long-wheelbase 740iL and 750iL, which had an uninterrupted run. The BMW 740s were powered by a 282-hp 4.4-liter (4.0-liter in 1995) V8, while the 750iL had a 5.4-liter V12 good for 326 hp. All 7s came with a five-speed automatic transmission. Either setup provided strong acceleration, but fuel economy was poor by today's standards.
A well-kept third-generation 7 Series could be a rewarding purchase if you've got the time and budget to keep it on the road. The main advantage to choosing a car from later in the model cycle is added standard feature content. BMW's Dynamic Stability Control system, for example, debuted across the line for 1998. Quality was generally excellent on these cars, but like most high-end German products, this 7 Series can incur hefty repair costs over time.
Similar in style and focus to its successor, the second-generation BMW 7 Series was on sale from 1988-'94. This was the first 7 Series to include both regular- and long-wheelbase models, the advantage to the latter being increased rear legroom. For most of the cycle, the base engine was a 208-hp 3.4-liter inline six-cylinder offered in 735i and 735iL models. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard, but a five-speed manual was offered as well. The 282-hp 4.0-liter V8 replaced the inline-6 in 1993, yielding the 740i and 740iL, both of which took a five-speed automatic only. The BMW 750iL was offered throughout the run; the first V12-equipped BMW, it had a 296-hp 5.0-liter engine and a four-speed automatic.
The first-generation BMW 7 Series enjoyed a long run from 1978-'87. It was the largest sedan the company had ever built and directly targeted the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. All 7s of this era were powered by an inline six-cylinder engine.