BMW stepped into the luxury limousine segment in 1977 with its first generation E23 7 Series sedan. Back then its biggest rival was the Mercedes-Benz S-Class that had been around for a long while. BMW had been making the 5 Series executive luxury sedan for five years before launching the 7 Series and it would take ground breaking technology if it really wanted to shake the king of the segment. The 7 Series since its launch has been neck and neck with the S-Class, while adding a new dimension to the segment, of all round dynamic performance.
1. E23 BMW 7 Series (1977-1986)
The first generation E23 7 Series featured advanced chassis technology, speed-sensitive power steering, electrically adjustable ORVMs, the world’s first electronic speedometer and something called Check Control that consisted of an electronic data unit which would tell the driver about engine oil level, brake oil level, coolant level, windscreen washer level, the status of the tail lights and even the thickness of the brake pads. In 1980 BMW introduced the world’s first onboard computer in the 7 Series.
Launched in 1977, BMW offered the 7 Series in two variants, the 728 with 172PS of power and the 733i with 199PS of power. BMW’s expectations with the 7 Series sedan were nowhere near that of market demand. Surging demand left the Dingolfing plant struggling to keep up. By the end of 1977 BMW had sold 20,000 units of the 7 Series.
In 1979 BMW gave the 7 Series a slew of engines to cover a wide range of power outputs and keep sales on an upward graph. The carburetted engines were replaced by economical and advanced injection units.
The 728i succeeded the 728 and the 733i was usurped by the 732i whose engine electronics were unique to the industry. BMW also introduced a more powerful 3.5-litre 735i that generated 221PS of power. In 1980, BMW introduced the range topping six-cylinder turbocharged and intercooled 745i that made 255PS of power.
When the production run for the first generation BMW 7 Series ended in 1986, a total of 2,85,029 units of the luxury limousine were sold.
2. E32 BMW 7 Series (1986 – 1994)
The second BMW 7 Series featured technical and aesthetic enhancements over its predecessor.
With a broad kidney grille, harmonious lines and L-shaped tail lights, the new 7 Series marked a design hallmark that BMWs of the future would follow. And for the first time, BMW introduced a long wheelbase version of the 7 Series.
Under the modern exterior, BMW had implemented innovative chassis control systems for sporty handling. The most significant technological enhancements included the ASC traction control system with electronic accelerator and drag torque control.
Powertrain options for the second generation BMW 7 Series included six-cylinder engines in the BMW 730i and BMW 735i developing 186PS and 213PS of power respectively.
Then in 1987, the second generation BMW 7 Series became the first car to be powered by Germany’s first post-war 12-cylinder engine. The unit was an all- aluminium 5-litre V12 with separate injection, ignition and catalytic converter systems for its two banks of cylinders. But the most astonishing part about the engine was that despite developing 304PS of power and 450Nm of torque it could run on standard petrol.
In 1992, BMW introduced two V8 engines for the 7 Series in the new BMW 730i and the BMW 740i to close the gap between the six cylinder engines and the range topping V12.
BMW later introduced the Adaptive Transmission Management (ATM) on the 745i.
In its eight-year lifespan the second generation BMW 7 Series has sold around 3,11,000 units across the globe.
3. E38 BMW 7 Series (1994 - 2001)
The third generation E38 BMW 7 Series was not an all-new car and its exterior dimensions were virtually unchanged with just mild revisions to the design, comfort and dynamics.
The E38 7 Series was available with only eight-cylinder engine options and the flagship 12-cylinder engine in the BMW 730i, BMW 740i and the V12 BMW 750i. All models were available in long wheelbase form.
BMW increased the displacement of the V12 engine from 5 litres to 5.4 litres for the third generation E38 7 Series and pushed up power output to 330PS of power. At the same time fuel consumption was cut by 11 per cent.
BMW upped the game with active safety features in the third generation 7 Series. The E38 7 Series came loaded with eight airbags, ABS and Tyre Pressure Control (TPS) while Automatic Stability Control (ASC) was optional on all V8 models and the 750i came with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) as standard. The third generation 7 Series also came loaded with a satellite navigation system whose colour monitor also served as a display unit for other functions.
In 1995 BMW introduced a six-cylinder in-line engine 728i that developed 195PS of power.
The following year BMW unveiled a new generation of eight-cylinder engines with larger displacement and more torque, that made the headlines for their low fuel consumption.
All models specified with the five-speed automatic gearbox were available with steptronic functionality.
In 1996, BMW introduced the 7 Series with a diesel engine. The 725tds was offered as a frugal alternative with a 2.5-litre diesel engine that developed 145PS of power. Two years later, BMW introduced a second 7 Series diesel, the 730d with a 3.0-litre common-rail engine that developed 186PS of power.
In 1999 BMW launched the 740d that became the world’s first sedan to combine a V8 diesel engine with common-rail injection. The engine developed 248PS of power and achieved a top speed of 242km/h.
At the end of its lifespan the third generation E 38 BMW 7 Series sold approximately 3,27,600 units.
4. E65 BMW 7 Series (2001 – 2008)
The previous generation 7 Series was beginning to show its age. The fourth generation 7 Series was new from the ground up. In its latest avatar the E65 racked up numerous international awards owing to its advanced technological features that ultimately resulted in the E65 7 Series topping the sales charts in 2004 for the luxury vehicle segment, a figure that rose further the next year. Shortly afterwards the fourth generation 7 Series became the most successful 7 Series ever.
The reasons behind the car’s astounding success were its technologically advanced nature be it the all-new eight-cylinder engines, the power transfer duties, Dynamic Drive roll stabilisation, iDrive system, Electronic Damper Control (EDC), drive dynamics and ride comfort.
The new range of eight-cylinder engines featured seamless variable valve timing (Double-Vanos) and variable vale lift control (VALVETRONIC) that broke new ground for performance and efficiency.
The 735i and 745i were the first models to be launched with power transfer duties for the world’s first six-speed automatic gearbox that came as standard fitment.
The ride and handling capabilities of the E65 7 Series were class leading owing to the Dynamic Drive roll stabilisation system that complemented the Electronic Damper Control (EDC) and largely aluminium chassis.
The iDrive system was used to control all the electronic features of the E65 7 Series. It was an attempt to make it easier for the user to have all the controls in one place. However, the plethora of functions it could control led to the formation of numerous sub-menus that were quite confusing and complicated.
In 2003, BMW launched the range topping 760i that was powered by a 6.0-litre V12 engine that developed 451PS of power and 600Nm of torque.
In autumn of 2005, BMW upped the power of the 730d and the 745d. BMW also introduced its Night Vision Technology and Europe’s first high-beam assist system on the E65 7 Series.
The fourth generation BMW 7 Series was given a face-lift in 2006 that featured lowered trunk lid height, new taillights along with the headlights and kidney grille being raised, a new front air dam and new fog light assembly.
BMW also unveiled the world’s first hydrogen powered luxury sedan in 2006 in the shape of the BMW 760Li. Since then the car has covered 16 lakh kilometres proving that hydrogen can meet the demands of day-to-day use and is a realistic fuel of the future.
BMW also built armoured versions of the fourth generation 7 Series that featured carbon fibre reinforced armour plating, under body armour, laminated windows, emergency lowered door windows, front windscreen exit, run flat tires.
Production of the E65 BMW 7 Series came to a halt after seven years of production in 2008.
5. F01/02 BMW 7 Series (2008 - )
The latest generation BMW 7 Series features an all-new chassis along with the world premier of the Active Steering system along with a suite of exclusive driver assistance systems and infotainment functions.
The F01/02 7 Series was put on sale with the 730d, 740i, and 750i trims on offer. They were followed by the 740d, 750d and the new 760i. The newly developed 12-cylinder engine features TwinPower Turbo (two turbochargers) technology coupled with direct injection to produce 551PS of power and 750Nm of torque. BMW also introduced a new eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox on the F01/02 to improve power delivery.
In 2009, BMW introduced the first ever all-wheel drive 7 Series featuring the xDrive four-wheel drive system. In the same year, BMW also introduced the ActiveHybrid 7 that uses an internal combustion engine as well as an electric motor to power the wheels of the car for improved fuel efficiency and a lower carbon foot print.
The fifth generation BMW 7 Series is also available in long wheelbase versions.
In 2012, BMW gave the F01/02 7 Series a face-lift that includes some cosmetic tweaks but more importantly technical advancements as well.
The six-cylinder and eight-cylinder engines have been made more fuel efficient. The eight-speed ZF gearbox has been made standard across the model range. The car now gets LED headlamps, newly designed front seats, a 1,200-watt Bang & Olufsen surround sound stereo along with an entertainment package for rear seat passengers comprising of 9.2-inch screens. A customisable digital instrument cluster is also on offer. Also, the entire fifth generation 7 Series range gets new suspension parts including a self-levelling rear air suspension.
The F01/02 7 Series ActiveHybrid 7 has been made more economical as well.
In March 2012, BMW recorded an increase of 20 per cent in worldwide sales of the 7 Series and BMW hopes to make the sales curve of the 7 Series steeper with the refreshed car.
Also read: New BMW 7 Series: First Drive
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