The Magnificent 7s: How BMW took on the executive class. BMW’s 7 Series is now a byword for executive luxury. But that reputation was hard-earned… Words Nathan Chadwick. Photography Simon Thompson.
Why BMW's path to exec glory wasn't assured
How BMW tackled the executive car establishment with the E23, E32 and E38 – and won in the end
The battle to build the world’s best executive car was a fierce one, as you’ll have seen from our cover feature. The Lexus might have aced it on its first try, but it took nearly a decade to complete. Even now, Lexus struggles to have the brand cachet in the UK, despite the game-Changing LS400 30 years ago.
Membership of the elite executive class can take much longer – just ask BMW.
Its take on the executive class as we know it began in the late 1960s with the BMW E3, but fielding a serious Mercedes-Benz Contender would have to wait for the 7 Series line. Even so, it would take Munich around 30 years to break the Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz stranglehold.
Nowadays the 7 Series is up therewith the most prestigious executive saloons you can buy – even if BMW's current design direction hasn't gone down well with anyone other than Silence of The Lambs enthusiasts. It's also under threat from downsizing and a shift away from the saloon form in favour of SUVs.
So before it disappears, we’ve arranged the three greatest eras – E23, E32 and E38 – to chart how BMW went from also-ran to class leader, before it all went slightly awry with the Millennial 7 Series. Which one still cuts the executive mustard? Let's find out.