JOHANNESBURG – “You have arrived,” announces the driver as he parks the shuttle vehicle at the hotel ahead of the South African launch of the new BMW X7. To buyers at which the largest and most luxurious SUV from the Bavarian brand are aimed, these words have more than a mere literal meaning. Yes, in their case, "arrived" shows they have accomplished a certain amount of success. 

X-terior to the power of 7

As with the updated 7 Series sedan (first impressions here), the largest X-badged model is equipped with a hefty iteration of the firm’s signature kidney grille. Why did BMW fit this opinion-splitting item to its flagship sedan and SUV, you ask? It’s simple: presence. And the thin headlamps (here fitted with Laserlight technology) make the grille look even more pronounced.

Measuring nearly 5,2 metres long and a full two metres wide, the X7 (seen here in an Alpine White hue) simply can't go unnoticed. BMW’s seven-seater "sports activity vehicle" (as the automaker bills it) garnered a great deal of attention on our launch route, particularly since it was equipped with an M Sport package complete with flared front air-vents and blue brake callipers. 

Adding to its imposing stance are optional 22-inch two-tone alloys, shod in Pirelli P Zero rubber (sizes 275/40 fore and 315/35 at the rear).

'Business class on four wheels'

Inside, the most luxurious X won’t leave you wanting, in terms of space or specification. Standard features include BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional set-up, Vernasca leather and a Harman Kardon sound system. 

However, the X7 we sampled on the local launch was furthermore specified with an optional (R108 900) “Exclusive package”, which jettisons the middle-row bench of the standard seven-seat arrangement for two individual "comfort" seats. With all pews upright, we slotted one carry-on suitcase and a duffel bag in the 326-litre boot, which can be expanded to 750 litres once the rearmost pews have been folded flat via the press of a button. With all seats folded down, the X7 will swallow almost triple that.

Other extras included in this package are a crisp 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system and Sky Lounge panoramic sliding roof (the latter item comprises small LEDs, which gives the impression of a star-filled sky when driving at night), as well as two large screens sited behind the driver's and front passenger's seats. 

Diesel first, petrol to follow

Sited behind the enlarged kidney grille is the Munich-based firm’s B57 oil-burner (also doing duty in the X5 M50d tested earlier in 2019) to which air is fed, first via two low-pressure turbochargers before being channeled through a couple of high-pressure items. The quad-turbo 3,0-litre inline-six sends 294 kW and 760 N.m of torque to BMW’s rear-biased xDrive four-wheel-drive system via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Joining this diesel derivative in the upper-echelons of the X7 line-up in October 2019 will be a petrol-powered model in M50i-guise (see pricing here). The top-of-the-range petrol derivative will employ a 4,4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine churning out 390 kW and 750 N.m. The xDrive40i model we sampled at the international launch in March 2019 will, however, not be introduced here.

The German automaker has not confirmed whether it will produce a full-fat "M" variant of its most luxurious X offering, but “anything is possible”, a spokesperson told us.

On-road … and off

The X7 ships standard with adaptive air suspension and an M Sport rear differential. Thanks to this set-up, the posh SUV offered a plush ride in most circumstances, despite it being equipped with 22-inch wheels. Even in its firmest setting, the ride felt composed, with only a few bumps transmitted through the comfortable seats.

The driving position is authoritative, and the large windows offer a clear view of the surroundings. Considering its measurements, I was surprised by how easy it was to place the 2,4-tonne SUV on the road. Engage sport+ mode and the X7 starts to feel more nimble, and (interestingly) smaller on the road. 

In its lowest setting, the M50d rides 221 mm from the ground. However, ground clearance can be upped by 80 mm. Although this resulted in increased body roll through corners, it smoothed out gravel roads nicely.

The cabin is well insulated, with a six-cylinder hum heard only when the throttle is applied with gusto. Thanks to the 760 N.m of torque (accessed from a low 2 000 r/min) on tap, overtaking a cinch. The multi-stage quad-turbo set-up, together with the ZF-sourced transmission, ensure an undisturbed ride. 

Verdict

Business class luxury on four wheels: that is what BMW aimed to achieve with its new, flagship SUV. The X7 boasts with a generous amount of standard specification, plenty of on-road presence and, when needed, some off-road capability.

And the X7 M50d in particular? Well, this derivative is a kilometre-munching six-seater. Thanks to its quad-turbo inline-six, the M50d will be comfortable transporting its owner's prized horses to the races or crossing the country, and then some. Wherever the destination may be, X7 owners can rest assured they will feel as though they have "arrived".



FAST FACTS

Model: BMW X7 M50d Steptronic
Price: R1 862 308
Engine: 3,0-litre, six-cyl, quad-turbo diesel
Power: 294 kW @ 4 400 r/min
Torque: 760 N.m @ 2 000 - 3 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 5,4 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 7,3 L/100 km
CO2: 192 g/km
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: five-year/100 000 km

See Full BMW X7 price and specs here