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BMW 7 Series Review

2008 BMW 7 Series 750i Sedan

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 accoutrements in the German automaker’s lineup. As such, it’s an obvious choice for wealthy car buyers seeking a spacious and elegant sedan with a high level of curbside prestige.

BMW 7 Series

There’s a fair amount of competition even 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 present-day BMW 750i, 750Li and 760Li. While other manufacturers have been content to build high-end sedans with soft, serene rides, BMW engineers its 7s to engage their drivers on an emotional level. For that reason, the BMW 7 Series is the definitive super luxury sedan for people who like to drive.

Current BMW 7 Series

The most recent 7 Series redesign came in 2002, and this was by far the most radical overhaul the nameplate has ever received. 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 BMW 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 the car beautiful, whether in standard-wheelbase 750i form or long-wheelbase 750Li and 760Li form.

The modernist motif continues in the cabin, where BMW’s typically button-heavy control layout has given way to an all-in-one system called iDrive that governs climate, audio and navigation functions via a single console-mounted dial and a central display. Although iDrive assures the 7’s place in the information age, its steep learning curve has proven bewildering for many a 7 Series driver in spite of BMW’s efforts to simplify it over the years.

Even though it tends toward the esoteric, the current BMW 7 Series has proven quite popular, largely because of its superb driving experience. Here BMW has applied its arsenal of technology to great advantage, as features like self-stiffening antiroll bars, self-leveling air springs and adaptive shock absorbers work together to keep the big sedan stable when driven hard. In addition, all 7s have BMW’s trademark steering feel, such that the driver feels an unquantifiable connection to the car.

With the exception of 2002 when only a V8 was offered, the fourth-generation 7 Series lineup has 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-horsepower 4.4-liter V8, while the 750i and 750Li that succeeded them have a 360-hp 4.8-liter V8. The 750s are slightly heavier, so performance is about the same as the 745s.

Offered continuously since ’03, the 760Li has a direct-injection 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.

Past BMW 7 Series Models

There have been three previous generations of the BMW 7 Series. Most of the examples you’re likely to come across on the used car market will be from the third generation, sold from 1995-2001. Bimmer enthusiasts generally regard this as the finest era for the 7 Series. 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 was easier on the eyes.

Provided the car is in good condition, any 7 Series from this generation would make a fine purchase. Quality was generally excellent on these cars, but like most high-end German products, repair costs can be hefty as they age. 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.

The model lineup included the regular-wheelbase 740i sedan, which was offered every year except ’96, 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 ’95) 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.

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. Sold from 1978-’84, the BMW 733i had a 177-hp 3.2-liter inline-6. Initially, transmission choices consisted of a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic. A five-speed manual with overdrive replaced the four-speed for 1981, and a four-speed automatic finally became available in ’84. BMW swapped in a larger, 182-hp 3.4-liter engine in 1985, prompting a name change to 735i.

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