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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".

TALLAHASSEE, Florida – We get behind the wheel of what’s now the crowning model in BMW’s X line-up. But will the BMW X7 prove as versatile as it is vast?

X marks a large spot

BMW’s latest addition to its extensive X range seeks to stake a claim in a premium SUV market, where the likes of Bentley’s Bentayga, Range Rover and the mould-breaking (for Rolls-Royce, at least) Cullinan hold sway, and it’s doing so in a large way. At 5 151 mm long, 2 218 mm wide and 1 805 mm tall, the X7 is spun off the firm’s versatile CLAR modular platform and is a hair larger than Mercedes’ GLS.

Despite sporting a wheelbase in excess of 3 metres, the X7 doesn’t look overly stretched or cumbersome; its simple, clean lines and sheet metal creases smooth themselves around that massive frame in a flattering manner. Things aren’t quite as harmonious up front, though, where you’ll find the biggest iteration of BMW’s signature kidney grille to date – and it’s a real opinion-divider…

Swiss Army cabin

The X7’s cabin can be kitted out with either a regular three-row seating arrangement (2+3+3), or a six-seater setup that nixes the second-row bench in favour of a access to the third row between a pair of supremely comfortable captains’ chair-type seats. Both arrangements are highly configurable via control panels for the electrically folding seatbacks in the driver’s-side B-pillar and luggage compartment. Depending on the seating permutations, the X7 can serve up a cavernous 2 120 litres of utility space. Most impressive is the 324 litres on offer with all three rows in place – something that usually renders seven-seater utility space to just a sliver of air.

A commanding driving position, considerable glasshouse and standard full-length panoramic glass roof lend the cabin an airy feel and everything feels beautifully crafted and solidly set. Barring the odd bit of tyre whine on rougher road surfaces, solid materials and acoustic glass do an impressive job of suppressing road and wind noise.

Diesel have to do

The local engine line-up will comprise the X7 xDrive30d, with its 3,0-litre inline-six turbodiesel (195 kW and 620 N.m) and the xDriveM50d, with a quad-turbo version of that engine producing 294 kW and a lusty 760 N.m. Despite its outputs comfortably eclipsing those of its stablemate, the M50d is only 0,6 litres thirstier per 100 km/h yet manages to breast the 100 km/h mark from standstill in a frankly eye-widening 5,4 seconds. This is especially impressive, given that it’s the heaviest car in BMW’s portfolio, with the both models tipping the scales at around 2,4 tonnes apiece. Our international launch fleet was a purely petrol-driven affair, so the xDrive40i, with its 3,0-litre inline-six turbopetrol worth (250 kW/450 N.m) would give the closest taste to entry-level diesel bound for our market. Although mechanically refined and smooth, the X7’s 2,4-tonne kerb weight blunts this unit’s low-end immediacy, although it’s fair to assume the 30d’s extra 170 N.m of torque should go some way to countering such shortcomings. 

Rock solid at sensible speeds

With all that weight under its belt, it’s fair to assume the X7 is never going to be any great shakes in the handling stakes; something that was especially hard to gauge on our predominantly arrow-straight motorway launch route. That said, with a couple of overtaking manoeuvres and the odd bit off weaving round the odd bit of debris left in the wake of a recent hurricane outside Tallahassee, its steering has a bit of life to it and the taut chassis helped it feel less ponderous than the similarly sized Mercedes GLS. The X7’s air suspension system isn’t afflicted by the occasional indecisiveness often encountered in large SUVs and the steering proved resistant to tramlining, despite our launch unit’s optional 22-inch rims and slim footwear.

Where does it sit?

It’s a little difficult to discern the X7’s exact purpose BMW’s already comprehensive SUV line-up. While it’s Range Rover-rivalling in size, the X7 is no dirt tracker, unless the optional off-roading package is specified, and it’s not the last word in dynamic handling, either. Perhaps the best summation would be to see it as a means for well-off family toting kids and associated trappings to side step the MPV option and go for something with a bit more street cred. 

FAST FACTS:
Model:
BMW X7 xDrive40i
Engine: 3,0-litre inline-six, turbopetrol
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 250 kW
Torque: 450 N.m
0-100 km/h: 6,1 seconds
Top speed: 245 km/h
CO2: 198 g/km
Fuel cons: 8,7 L/100 km

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