Tallahassee, FL – Forget about those grilles for a minute. Seriously. Armchair critics and BMW fanboys have been on the X7’s case about those chrome teeth since the concept was shown almost 2 years. And I get it. They’re big. Really big. But then, so is the new X7.
Pictures tend to hide this SUV’s bulk. It’s bigger than you think it is, and this largest of BMWs gets the largest of grilles. Proportionally they work. At least to these eyes they do.
Judgment needs to be reserved until the X7 becomes a more common sight on the roads. And it will because BMW is going to sell a lot of them.
This is the right vehicle at the right time and the seventh SUV model in their lineup. My, how times have changed.
Tallahassee to the Bayou
BMW decided to do a US cross-continental run that would start at the factory in Spartanburg, SC and work its way south to Florida. From there it would then run west along the Gulf Coast and through the wilds of southern Texas, eventually ending up in California.
Attending media from around the world were separated into groups. Each would drive a different portion of the route, an X7 relay race if you will. Just minus any actual racing.
Our portion of this ambitious drive began in Tallahassee, Florida and would take us west through the gorgeous beaches of Pensacola, through Alabama and Mississippi, and then onto our final destination of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. With just under 500 miles to cover in a day, this was the longest leg of an all-American road trip.
And as we would discover, the X7 was just about the ideal tool for the job.
Bigger is better today
With the proliferation of 3-row crossovers and extra large luxury SUVs like the excellent new Lincoln Navigator, big vehicles are finding their way onto more driveways today than they were just 10 years ago. Back then you couldn’t pay people to buy them.
Thank cheap fuel and a strengthening economy for this trend to up-size. In Florida fuel prices were hovering around the $2.40 per gallon mark (85 cents a litre). While it’s not that cheap here in Canada, we pay about the same for gas now as we did in 2007.
The 2019 BMW X7 is based on BMW’s CLAR modular platform, the same one that underpins most of the new sedans and crossovers they sell. Even the new Z4 convertible and Toyota Supra are based on it. How’s that for modularity?
This platform is able to house an underfloor battery pack and even electric motors, so not only will it be able to support future plug-in hybrid applications, it can accommodate fully electric drivetrains as well. Does that mean a plug-in hybrid X7 is on the way? Maybe. If enough customers demand it they can build one, thanks to the innovative CLAR platform.
Park an X5 beside the X7 and the size difference comes into focus. It’s 52 mm taller, 229 mm longer and there’s 130 mm more length in the wheelbase. That’s just half an inch short of a Chevy Tahoe. Inside, near minivan accommodations can seat 7 in standard guise or six with the optional second-row Captain’s chairs.
Supreme Comfort in all three rows
It may have minivan space, but this cabin is quite a bit more upscale than even the spiffiest Odyssey and Sienna. There are many similarities to the new X5: dual 12.3-inch high-definition displays, BMW’s 7th generation of iDrive, enhanced ambient lighting, and optional glass controls on the centre console. In fact, the two have an almost identical dashboard layout, with the exception of plusher leathers and nicer trim materials.
Both X7s I drove were outfitted with the BMW individual two-tone night blue and ivory interior package. The contrast-stitched seats with panels of perforated and quilted merino leather and details like braided piping are quite honestly stunning. They’re even better to sit on, supportive and coddling, with multiple different types of massage a mere screen jab or controller click away.
Look behind you and all similarities to the X5 end.
If you get the second row Captain’s chairs, then those are also powered, and heated, with the same range of adjustments as the front seats. There are individual climate zones and USB ports, and an available next-generation touchscreen rear entertainment system.
Flip a small lever on one of the second-row seats and it will automatically move forward and up, while the front seat moves forward and out of the way to allow maximum access to the third row. The second and third rows can be folded down and then folded back up at the touch of a button in the cargo area. And you never have to worry if the second-row seats are positioned too far back. They will just move out of the way. Smart.
So, how about that third row? Well, my six-foot frame fit back there no problem. And if you think it’s just any old third row, like whoever sits there has been banished to a cramped and dreary dungeon, you’d be wrong.
For starters, third-row passengers get their own sunroof. They also get their own climate zone and heated seats, ambient lighting accents, USB ports, and cupholders. It’s an impressive level of kit in a row that’s usually a barren wasteland in most other vehicles.
Standard air suspension at all four wheels is tuned for comfort and delivers a remarkably serene and stable ride, befitting this class of car. Bumps and pock-marked roads barely register. The suspension auto levels and can be raised or lowered at the toggle of a switch. On the highway at speeds above 120 km/h, ride height will automatically drop by 20 mm. Want to go off-road? Then raise it. Up to 40 mm. Yes, this 2.8-ton luxury SUV can off-road, and it does so quite well as I discovered last year.
The X7 is quiet too. 7-Series levels of sound insulation and double-paned acoustic glass shut the outside world out as soon as the soft-close doors whir shut. Like your own merino leather lined sensory deprivation tank, the pin drop silent cabin is one of the biggest differences between this and the X5. Makes it easier to enjoy the stellar Bower and Wilkins Diamond Surround stereo. With pin sharp highs and booming lows this is a system that will please even the biggest audiophiles in the group.
Energetic powertrains, athletic for the size
There are two choices, both gas powered: a 3-litre single turbo inline-6 (335 hp, 330 lb-ft torque) and a 4.4 litre twin-turbocharged V8 (456 hp, 479 lb-ft torque). Both engines are hooked up to snappy 8-speed automatics.
The smooth, sonorous power delivery of the venerable B58 straight-six continues to punch above its weight class here. Capable of hustling this biggest of BMWs from 0-100 km/h in a tick over six seconds, the base engine is all most will ever need. Highway passes were effortless and unless you’re a glut for MOAR power, there isn’t much of a case to step up to the bigger engine.
Yes, with the V8 the X7 is significantly faster and it will shave about a second off that 0-100 run, but you’ll spend more time at the pumps.
Neither powertrain was a model of efficiency though. I recorded 12.8 L/100 km on a long highway stint with the 6-cylinder. The V8 was worse but not that much worse, surprisingly. Still it’s hard to expect more from this size of vehicle. If you’re spending six figures on luxury, economy might not necessarily be a priority.
Florida’s flat, straight roads were conducive to nodding off behind the wheel but bouts of heavy rain and poor visibility kept me alert. There really wasn’t much to see until we hit the white-sanded beaches of Pensacola. And then as if by magic, the clouds vanished and the sun came out. Thanks, Sunshine State, you really came through!
The X7 handles like you would expect a BMW SUV to handle. There was just the right amount of steering heft, although it lacked any meaningful feedback, and less body roll than I expected through that one corner we encountered.
Available integral active steering will passively steer the rear wheels, increasing both stability and agility. You get it with the optional dynamic handling package, and that’s one option worth checking off on.
I had a chance to drive a pre-production model on some twisty roads and I was impressed with its stability and grip. And while you never forget that you’re in a full-size SUV, weighing as much as the factory it was built in, they’ve done a good job here making this behemoth feel competent through the corners.
The 6-cylinder X7 starts at $92, 500 and that price will rise quickly as you tack on extras.
The xDrive50i with the V8 starts at $110, 100 and it must be noted that this is still cheaper than BMW’s flagship 7-series sedan.
Both models come standard with the aforementioned air suspension, 22-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and BMW’s suite of driver assistance features that includes lane departure warning, blind spot detection, front collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, and more.
Steering assist, lane control assist, and active cruise control enable semi-autonomous driving capability, even in stop-and-go traffic, but that remains an option. It was equipped on our X7 and, confined mostly to interstates, we used it a lot. Even with varying levels of driving quality that varied greatly from state to state, the system didn’t falter.
Those dual 12.3-inch screens are also standard and come loaded with iDrive 7.0, one of the slickest new infotainment systems in the industry.
The xDrive50i is pre-loaded with the M-Sport package as standard boasting a rortier exhaust, fewer chrome bits, and upgraded M Sport brakes. It also gets standard laser headlights, and 5 zones of climate control.
For those customers that feel they need Range Rover-like off-roading capability, an optional off-road package will pair a locking diff, skid plates, and terrain specific off-road modes to allow the X7 to go places you didn’t think possible.
So, yeah, there’s a lot more to the X7 than those grilles. Love ‘em or leave ‘em, this is probably the best SUV in BMW’s lineup and it’s on sale now.