It’s finally here, BMW’s long-anticipated three-row crossover, the X7.
It’s hard to fathom that over two decades have passed since BMW reimagined the SUV with its X5 Sport Activity Vehicle. With car-like handling and comfort, good-enough off-roadability for going to the weekend cabin, its success sparked a whole new range of smaller X models not just for BMW but for the whole industry.
Despite the X5’s success though, BMW has never ventured into the larger and more profitable territory occupied by the likes of Range Rover. Somewhat ironic since one can assume that the original X5’s success paved the way for BMW to eventually being able to afford to buy the Land Rover brand.
All of this has changed now with the company’s X7. It goes without saying that it’s BMW’s biggest SUV and an extremely important vehicle for the company. Mercedes-Benz’s full-size three-row GL (now the GLS) has been out for 12+ years and BMW dealers have been left without an equivalent competitor all this time.
Therefore BMW has a fair amount of ground to make up. Happily though, based on my test drive, it was worth the wait.
Is it still worthy of the BMW badge?
Not only is the X7 BMW’s most luxurious SUV, it’s arguably the most impossible for overlook. The pair of oversized BMW kidney grills have been mocked gently by ardent BMW traditionalists, but in person, it all seems to work.
Unsurprisingly, the styling is similar to the smaller X5 albeit blown up in every exterior dimension save it for the vehicle’s width. Measuring nearly 17 feet long, the X7 is huge outside, huge inside, but yet even at first glance, refined and luxurious.
Dimensionally, it’s 1.3 inches longer than the outgoing Mercedes-Benz GLS450 and a whopping 23mm (9 inches) longer than the X5.
Taking its themes from the facelifted 7 Series and the 8 Series, the X7 rounds off BMW’s three-flagship fleet. It’s not just about wedging in as many people as possible but rather BMW wanting us to see this top-end trio as a separate high-end luxury series for their brand.
Back to the question as to why BMW has waited so long to introduce the X7. Daniel Nowicki, BMW’s Driving Dynamics engineer explains, “We had to be sure we could design a vehicle this large and still deliver the same BMW driving experience”.
BMW’s expertise in chassis dynamics is evident here and the X7 is far better than the typical American “sports” SUVs based on trucks. The ride was consistently good on coarse highways, the lumpy rural roads, or the urban streets in small town British Columbia.
The X7 represents a different sort of Ultimate Driving Machine, disguising its 2.3 tonne mass commendably on twisty ribbons of tarmac. On a recent press junket, it hung on with impressive dignity through our 400 kilometre round trip of Vancouver Island’s backroads.
The vehicle perfectly illustrates why BMW’s latest SUVs are now competing with their luxury sedans. A haughty driving position, quietness, huge living space for the family, a plush ride when you want it, but yet with just a push of a button, a surprisingly capable machine through the bends.
Roll was shockingly well controlled and steering was conducted with measured authority. When fitted with the BMW Integral Active Steering system -BMW speak for passive rear wheel steering – the X7’s nose feels much quicker to react and dive into a corner.
More on that later.
What does the line-up look like?
A pair of turbocharged petrol engines are available, both of which also appear on other vehicles in the BMW portfolio. The xDrive40i relies on the BMW 3.0-litre single turbo straight-six producing 335hp, and the xDrive 50i a twin turbo 456 hp 4.4-litre V8.
Expect the X7 xDrive40i to complete the sprint from 0-100 km/hr in a very respectable 5.6 seconds whereas the the burly twin-turbo V8 xDrive50i completes the run in a short 4.7 seconds. For comparison, the latter is about as quick as a Porsche 718 Boxster.
Both engines work wonderfully, even when tasked with moving more than 5000 pounds.
All X7s are fitted with ZF’s glorious satellite navigation-guided 8HP eight speed automatic transmission and can tug up to 7500 pounds with the factory hitch. If you intend on towing with the X7, the V8 is the one to get.
For the 2020 model year, both the X5 and X7 will receive new M50i performance variants positioned above the existing 50i models. Both of those will pack a whopping 523 hp as part of the M Performance brand umbrella, like the existing M850i and M340i models.
The X7 is built on BMW’s new expandable modular platform called CLAR. This new foundation is shared by everything from the all-new G20 BMW 3 Series to the X5 to the X7.
As such, many of the suspension parts are shared between the X5 and X7. However, the X7 gets its on specific tuning. Four corner air springs with adaptive damping and adjustable ride height is standard equipment. The suspension itself is comprised of sophisticated front and rear multilink units.
It is easy to tell that the X7 was designed to gobble up long stretches of motorways in the upmost of comfort and driving pleasure. Even with my test vehicle’s attractive optional 22-inch wheels, the ride is comfortable and calm.
In Sport mode, things are tightened up significantly enough to feel a difference through the corners.
While I didn’t get a chance to sample this, X7 customers who plan to take their vehicles off the beaten path can opt for an Off-Road package. This fits the X7 with modest underbody armour, a limited-slip rear differential, and four xOffRoad modes.
These modes (xSand, xRocks, xGravel, and xSnow) automatically alter the four ride height and stability control settings. The air suspension can be raised by up to 40mm, which should more than cope with most owners’ demands.
On the flip side, the M Sport package is more of a visual appearance package, dressing up the interior with an alcantara headliner, an M Sport steering wheel, and replacing all the exterior chrome trim with more subtle black trim.
Since BMWs are indeed supposed to be Ultimate Driving Machines, BMW has also created a Dynamic Handling package for parents who want even more handling prowess from their X7s.
This package adds active anti-roll bars, larger M brakes, and a very handy rear-wheel steering system which helps to make the X7 feel smaller than it is by increasing steering response. On V8 X7’s, the package also includes an electronically controlled rear differential (clutch-type on 40i trims).
On the active driving technology front, the X7 also uses Continential’s brake-by-wire system, moving away from traditional vacuum-assisted brakes. You’d never know it though, as the X7 handles the way a BMW should.
Moreover, when equipped with the Dynamic Handling package, the computer uses the navigation system data to determine what lies ahead, readying the chassis pre-emptively by stiffening things up.
In essence, the X7 uses predictive-driving technologies coupled with the active anti-roll bars to improve the overall driving experience. Since the X7’s cameras are linked to the system, they enable a smoother ride by preventing the wheels from dropping into road craters.
On the inside
The X7’s interior is perhaps some of BMW’s best work as of late. Like its smaller X5 sibling, the large windshield and commanding front seating position provides a high level of driver confidence due to the expansive view forward.
Unlike a top end full-sized Range Rover, all X7s have three rows of seats. This large SUV can be fitted with either a three-seat second row bench or a pair of captain’s chairs.
Moreover, the third row is comfortable for more than short trips across town. BMW predicts that 40 per cent of buyers will opt for this six-seater option.
The second row can be electrically moved up to 14.5 cm (5.7 inches) and tilts forward to provide access to the third row. The entry point is still a bit of a squeeze but there is decent space for two full-sized adults in the third row once seated. In many larger SUVs, the third row passengers are treated as second class citizens.
With all three rows raised, the X7’s cargo area is smaller than a Volkswagen Golf’s at 326 litres (12 cu.ft). The handy two piece Range Rover-like electric split tailgate actually helps to stop the stuff you’ve crammed in from falling out. When row two and three are electrically lowered, there is up to 750 litres and 2120 litres of space respectively.
Given its status near the top of the BMW tree, it should be no surprise to find that the X7 benefits from all of BMW’s latest generation technology. BMW has done a masterful job to satisfy the whims of those who can afford to spend big dollars on a top-of-the-range SUV.
The aforementioned second and third row seats can be electrically slid, tumbled, tilted, folded in seconds, and all massage and ventilation can be added to the first and second rows if the captain chair’s option is selected.
Up front, nearly every surface can be covered in leather. Even the gearshift lever, iDrive controller, and start button can be spec’d in crystal. Fancy! The plastics feel a notch above the competition’s too. For a price, even the front cupholders can even be heated and cooled.
The driver is faced with BMW’s latest-generation iDrive infotainment system with a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen. There is a second 12.3-inch configurable screen that houses the new all-digital gauges. Fortunately there are plenty of hard physical buttons that still exist to manage most controls, including the HVAC system.
Existing BMW owners should be able to find their way around the system rather quickly, and there are handy pop-up tool tips that help you to find even the fiddly sub-settings quickly. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available and operate wirelessly. No need for cords here.
As an internet connected car, BMW’s new Personal Assistant responds to “Hey BMW” commands and does a convincing impression of Siri. Like Siri, the more you use it, the better it gets. Unlike Siri though, the BMW Personal Assistant is able to respond to commands and questions regarding the vehicle’s function itself.
All of the graphics are clean, clear, and BMW’s whole new interface has a feel of sophistication that befits the rest of the vehicle. Home screens now include customizable window “panes” that can be modified to display a mix of content that you want, be it vehicle information, the weather via ConnectedDrive, media source, and map data. All of this is clearly the first step towards the future of autonomous vehicles being an extension of our homes.
However you control the system, via the iDrive controller or the touchscreen, there is a reassuring smoothness and logic to the BMW system. In my opinion, it’s perhaps one of the best out there.
Although Tesla has widely marketed their “over the air” software updates for their cars, BMW is able to do the same as well, at least for their infotainment systems. Map updates and iDrive infotainment system updates are pushed over the air when new features become available.
No one “needs” full-sized luxury SUVs like the BMW X7. However, it’s clear that consumers want them. While it has taken BMW 12 years to catch-up to its Stuttgart rival, this is the proverbial case of better late than never.
While it won’t be able to convince you it’s a sports car, the X7 rides like a lifted version of the 7 Series flagship, with a good deal of composure and comfort. You are always aware that there is a lot of mass at work, but the same applies to is rivals as well.
Do buyers of large sport utility vehicles really care about vehicle dynamics? Perhaps it’s not that the world wants a seven-pasenger Nürburgring-tuned shuttle, but rather that you don’t know you like it until you try it. While your passengers might not fully appreciate it, the X7 surprises at how well it is game enough to be hustled along.
If you must really have a full-sized SUV, there is a lot to enjoy once you’re onboard the X7. There’s no doubt that its mix of six or seven-seat versatility, dynamic ability, and luxurious refinement will be tough to match by any rivals for comparable money.