There have been four generations of the 7 Series:
- BMW E23 (1977–1986)
- BMW E32 (1987–1994)
- BMW E38 (1995–2001)
- BMW E65/E66 (2002–present)
Models offered were the 725i, 728, 728i/iS, 730, 730i, 732i, 733i, 735i, 745i Turbo, 745i South Africa, and L7.
The E32 was introduced in 1987, with the 730i and 735i featuring 3.0l and 3.5l straight-6 engines respectively, and a new, 5-liter, 300 horsepower V12 engine for the 750i. In 1992, 3.0l and 4.0l V8 engines were added to the lineup (730i and 740i). All models were also available in a stretched 'L' version, which had 10 cm of extra legroom for the rear passengers.
The E38 generation (1995-2001) had a five-speed automatic or manual transmission. The engine variants in Europe were 725tds, 728i, 730i, 730d, 735i, 740i (4.0 and 4.4 L), 740d and 750i (with a 5.4 L 322 bhp [240 kW] engine, as was used in the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph).
In the Americas, the models were sold as the 740i, 740iL and 750iL. The 740i and 740iL share the same 4.4 L V8 engine. The 740iL is essentially a long-wheelbase 740i (hence the "L" in the model name). The considerably rarer 5.4 L V12-powered 750iL was only available as a long-body; there was no E38 750i in the US lineup. The 750iL was BMW's flagship sedan.
The current 7 Series is available on two different platforms: the standard-wheelbase E65 (2990 mm, 118 in) and the extended-wheelbase E66 (3130 mm, 123 in).
This car was also the first production BMW to be styled by Chris Bangle. The styling was largely rejected by BMW enthusiasts and resulted in BMW giving the 7-Series a facelift early on in the 7-Series' life cycle, focusing on the rear of the car. Though the general consensus deemed it an improvement, it was still largely unpopular with BMW enthusiasts, resulting in a third facelift.
The E65/E66 7 Series features BMW's iDrive system, consisting of a video screen in the dashboard and a controller mounted on the center console that is used in a similar way to a computer mouse. Using a system of eight menus, most of the car's climate, audio, navigation, suspension and communication settings are controlled via iDrive. However, the system has been criticized by many for being too complex and for distracting the driver from the road. Mercedes Benz and Audi have introduced similar systems that were largely perceived as more intuitive and better designed than the iDrive system.
"Active" Seat continuous passive motion technology is made standard equipment on the 750/760 models and included in the Luxury Seating Package with heated and ventilated seats for driver and front passenger on the 745 models.
The car has been available in twelve variants—of those, 11 are now in production and on sale in Europe, with four available in the U.S. since diesel models are not yet available there.