BMW’s flagship SUV sports an enormous footprint and makes an even bigger statement...
Ever since the nameplate wafted onto the scene in E23 guise back in 1977, the 7 Series has been the default choice for well-heeled buyers seeking a BMW delivering the ultimate combination of luxury, comfort and technical innovation. But is Munich’s full-size limousine still the most obvious option for the BMW customers with the deepest pockets?
Well, the Bavarian firm’s line-up now includes the burgeoning 8 Series family which, although numerically superior in nomenclature terms, is an entirely different animal conceived to be driven rather than be driven in.
What about the box-fresh X7? With the crossover craze sweeping through segment after segment, it was only a matter of time before BMW expanded its SUV range upwards and developed a rival to Mercedes-Benz’s since-renewed GLS (itself described as the “S-Class of SUVs”). Thing is, the German automaker’s flagship X-badged offering comes awfully close to treading on the toes of the aforementioned 7 Series.
In literal terms, the X7 is prone to damaging the digits of anyone in close proximity, so considerable is its footprint. Measuring 5 151 mm nose to tail, it’s almost as lengthy as a long-wheelbase Range Rover, while the 3 105 mm between its axles likewise comes close to matching the wheelbase of the Whitley-based brand’s (significantly more expensive) range-topper. Interestingly, though, the BMW is no wider than the X5 with which it shares its CLAR platform, making it a mite easier to thread through narrow streets.
In the metal, the hefty SUV assumes an imposing stance, particularly when viewed from the front. That’s in part thanks to the Spartanburg-built newcomer’s colossal kidney grille (squeezed between the comparatively slim headlamps, here in R21 900 Laserlight form), which is the largest example fitted to a BMW, eclipsing even that of the facelifted 7 Series. The famous blue-and-white roundel, meanwhile, has been upsized to prevent it looking out of place above said signature grille.
Round back, a chrome-effect strip links the LED taillamps in a design cue borrowed from the 7 Series, while simple lines, swathes of glass and suitably sizeable alloy wheels (in optional 22-inch dual-tone guise, tacking an additional R29 700 onto the price) define the profile.
The upshot of all that body length, of course, is a cavernous cabin capable of accommodating seven people across three rows. For an extra R9 600, though, BMW will supplant the second-row bench with a pair of individual perches (reducing the tally to six), complete with integrated armrests, additional cushions for the headrests and the same level of electric adjustment offered by the pews up front.
While these captain’s chairs are wonderfully comfortable, we expected a touch more legroom in the second row, particularly since these are the quarters most likely to be occupied by individuals being chauffeured to some or other swanky event (did someone say “cabinet minister”?). The 10,2-inch tilting entertainment screens – affixed to the rear of the front seats and standard on this M50d variant – are a welcome addition but do further nibble into second-row space.
And the final bank of perches? Well, although passengers positioned back there enjoy the least amount of space, they won’t feel as though they’re in the cheap seats, as is the case with most three-row SUVs. There’s sufficient knee- and headroom (space for feet is a little limited, though), while generous glass panes and the final section of a three-part panoramic sunroof further bolster the feeling of spaciousness. Dedicated controls for the fifth sector of the multi-zone air-conditioning system, meanwhile, are a neat inclusion.
Clambering into this third row is tricky – admittedly an accusation that can be levelled at most seven-seater SUVs – although specifying six seats mitigates this somewhat, with the gap between the individual second-row perches offering a more convenient access path. With all seats in place, we measured 152 litres of luggage space, while folding the third bank flat (adjustment of all seats is done electrically, albeit on the slow side) yields a substantial 760 litres.
Two-axle air suspension ships standard across the three-strong X7 range, offering easy adjustment of ground clearance and high levels of on-road comfort (despite the presence of low-profile 275/40 tyres fore and 315/35 rubber aft on this test unit). Although this example was fitted with BMW’s R61 300 Executive Drive Pro suspension-control system (which comprises electro-mechanical body-roll stabilisation designed to tighten body control, and includes rear-wheel steering), some testers noticed the plush ride was accompanied by pitching in comfort mode, leaving those of weaker intestinal fortitude on the verge of motion sickness. Not something you’d experience in a 7 Series...
That said, the X7 proved barely noisier than its saloon sibling at a cruise, offering limousine-like levels of refinement. The quad-turbocharged 3,0-litre inline-six diesel engine doing duty in this M50d derivative remains cultured even under fairly enthusiastic throttle applications, with the M Sport exhaust system offering little more than a muted growl in the angriest of drive modes. The ZF-sourced torque-converter automatic transmission, meanwhile, deftly flits through its eight forward ratios when rapid progress is not required.
Of course, we’ve already experienced this 294 kW/760 N.m sledgehammer in the X5 M50d (April 2019), where we found it offered astounding mid-range grunt as well as relative frugality. And it’s the same case in the X7, despite the newer model tipping our scales at 2 588 kg, which is enough to earn it the ignominious title of the heaviest BMW we’ve ever tested (and make it some 211 kg portlier than the abovementioned X5).
While that extra mass blunts the X7 M50d’s performance a little, it still managed to slingshot from standstill to 100 km/h in a mere 5,52 seconds, making it one of the quickest-accelerating oil-burning vehicles to streak down our test strip. And, with an average stopping time from three figures of just 2,73 seconds (interestingly, even more impressive than the X5’s effort), it’s certainly no slouch in the braking department, either.
BMW should be commended for offering more standard features in the X7 M50d than we’ve come to expect from the German brands. The interior, too, feels especially solidly built, with only the slightest of creaks detected on the controls sited in the centre console.
While the X7 is obviously to BMW’s SUV range what the 7 Series is to its sedan line-up, the Bavarians have made a clear point of positioning their limousine at the very apex of their product line in terms of pricing (the X7 30d is, for example, some R110 000 less expensive than the 730Ld). It’s interesting to note local buyers registered twice as many X7s in the newcomer’s first four months on the market.
Still, while the X7 isn’t quite as satisfying to drive as its saloon sibling, it stands toe to toe with the G12-generation 7 Series in terms of interior quality, standard specification and available technology, while also offering more seats, added ground clearance and more on-road presence.
It’s that last point that proves the X7’s defining characteristic. While Munich’s flagship saloon has long been considered a little too inconspicuous when parked alongside an S-Class (a notion that likely prompted the adoption of that massive grille at the last facelift), the X7 is anything but discreet. Designed to be noticed and wafting along with an unapologetic air, BMW’s range-topping SUV joins the stable as a raised-ride-height threat to the firm’s full-size luxury sedan.
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