When BMW first introduced the X5 back in 1999, the SUV segment was still relatively new. In the short span of just a couple of years though, the X5 did more to progress that very same SUV market more than any other car before it. It sold like crazy, both in Europe and America. Following its success, BMW decided to launch the X3, a smaller proposition of the same great X5 formula which brought them a lot of new customers. Although the X3 never caught up to the X5 in terms of popularity, it at least made sure BMW occupied and held the entire SUV segment.
As the SUV segment evolved and more and more niches started popping up all over the place, people thought it was only a matter of time before someone dethroned BMW and the X5. Well, here we are, some 20 years after the first BMW X5 left the factory, and it’s still the benchmark luxury SUV to beat. It’s the one car all other manufacturers are comparing their propositions with. Realizing how rapidly people started ditching their sedans and limousines in favor of the SUV, BMW decided to launch a brand-new model called the X7. As its name would suggest, it slots in above the X5, making it their flagship SUV. To test it out we flew all the way to Savannah, Georgia. Here’s everything you need to know about what BMW like to call the luxury SAV, short for Sport Activity Vehicle.
SAV vs. SUV
Part of BMW’s target with the new X7 as well as the redesigned X5 is to create a brand-new segment. Before we move on, let’s just quickly explain what SAV means. Although it’s a word used to describe pretty much the same thing as SUV, BMW thinks SAV does a better job of explaining what their cars are capable of. Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) started off as body-on-truck vehicles and were good for off-roading, but not much else. As they got more and more refined, people started using them as daily drivers, but the SUV term stuck with them. With this new range, BMW wants to showcase that their vehicles are far more than just off-road capable. They want it to be immediately obvious that they posses work capabilities and other sporting attributes as well. Only time will tell if the abbreviation catches on.
Visually, the new X7 is instantly recognizable as a new model. Although it shares the same design language with the G05 generation X5, BMW put in effort to make it as distinct as possible. To that extent, they’ve definitely accomplished their job, since it isn’t just a bigger X5. If the X5 is a direct Mercedes GLE competitor, the X7 attacks Mercedes’ well-established GLS head on. For a first effort, they’ve done an outstanding job. The GLS isn’t a bad-looking thing, but the X7 takes styling to a whole new level.
Let’s start with the front. The kidney-grille is massive, much like the one found on the X5 or the 7-Series. It might look too big in pictures, but trust me on this, they look absolutely perfect in the flesh. Because the X7 is a lot taller than any other BMW before it, it looks more narrow than it is. The wide kidney grille helps counteract this. The kidney-grille isn’t flat either. Translating 3D space into a 2D picture is impossible, though I can tell you the grille is not flat, but rather folds at the top and stretches outward at the side. It looks good.
Moving on to the headlights, you might immediately notice how different they are to any other BMW units. Although they feature the same inner workings, i.e. the same LED layout as the ones found in the X5, they’re shaped quite a lot differently. They’re slimmer and they extend all the way into the grille frame.
The profile view makes the X7 appear more utilitarian than it does sporty. The beefy side skirts are fitted with steps which resemble those seen on larger trucks and pickups, but it’s not necessarily a bad look, merely an observation. The waistline is high however, and remains almost completely flat all the way to the rear of the car. The rear doors are longer than the front ones to make getting in and our easier for people in the second and third row.
The rear utilizes a ‘simple is better’ philosophy. It’s different to the X5’s rear section. You might expect a large luxury SUV/SAV to feature larger taillights at the back, but it’s actually the opposite in this case. Just like the headlights, the taillights have a slim design and don’t protrude into the fenders too much. BMW made sure to carefully break up the back with some well-chosen horizontal lines, especially the ones found between the taillights (a chrome trim piece), and the area between the bumper and the tailgate split.
It gets Adaptive Full LED headlights as standard and you can even tick an option which gives you 22-inch wheels. If you want the absolute best in lighting you’ll have to go for the Executive Package which brings with it those ultra-cool Laserlight lamps. It’s available in six color choices from launch.
Stepping into the X7 is almost identical to climbing aboard the X5. Normally, that would be a slight disadvantage for this class, but since the X5 got a major refresh in the form of a new generation just last year, it doesn’t really matter. More to the point, the X5 is already BMW’s flagship five-seater SUV. The main advantage the X7 holds is the third row and the added practicality. So, from that point of view, I can’t fault it. This is a cabin which wows you from the word go. You don’t need to spend time with it. You get inside and you’re instantly amazed.
I’ll begin by talking about the design and the layout since BMW traditionally struggled with interior design. They were never lacking in any area, but their approach was mostly conservative and rather dull. I certainly can’t say that about their new models. They’re on par with the best from Mercedes and Audi, which is really saying something. It still might not be as visually appealing as Mercedes’ answer, but there’s a hint of sportiness in the Beemers that’s lacking in the other two.
The ergonomics are for once utterly brilliant, which is good news since this thing is loaded with technology. A central panel organizes and houses all of the controls, including the iDrive Controller, the freshly-designed gear selector, the start/stop button, the electronic brake, air-suspension control, and Driving Experience Control switches. I know it sounds like a lot when you read them listed like this, but they make complete sense once you’re in the car.
The quality of the materials is second to none. You won’t find a single element made out of cheap plastic here. Trust me, I checked even under the dashboard. The base xDrive40i model comes as standard with black SensaTec but you can opt for one of nine Vernasca and Extended Merino Leather options if you don’t mind spending the extra cash. The bigger xDrive50i comes with Vernasca as standard, with alternative options including Extended Merino Leather finished in black, Ivory White, Coffee or Tartufo.
My favorite feature would definitely have to be the Panoramic Sky Lounge LED roof. It works just like Rolls-Royce’s panoramic roof (the one in the Phantom), which is either a massive compliment for BMW or criticism for the Roller. Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW, so it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me if the Germans decided to borrow some British technology for their latest X7. The BMW LED roof lights illuminate when it gets dark outside and the entire system has over 15,000 graphic patterns.
The optional Cold Weather Package includes five-zone automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, heated front armrests, and a heated steering wheel. I doubt you’ll need it in the UAE.
What I can recommend is the Premium package, which features soft-close automatic doors, heated/cooled cup holders, a heads-up display, and gesture control. All models get a 12.3-inch infotainment display system as well as a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Wireless charging and WiFi hotspot come standard with every X7 too.
Naturally, there’s an abundance of space in all three rows to seat seven adults extremely comfortably. If you want more space but are willing to trade off one less seating space you can opt for the optional second-row captain’s chairs. If you to keep your passengers entertained at all times, I strongly suggest you tick all of the rear-seat entertainment options. These options include but are not limited to a pair of 10.2-inch full-HD touchscreen displays, a Blu-ray DVD player, an HDMI socket, and two headphone jacks.
Engine and Performance
The base xDrive40i hides a 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six under the hood. It produces an effective 335 horsepower and 447 Nm of torque from just above idle. Don’t let those figures fool you because even in its most ‘lowly’ form, the X7 is brisk. The sprint to 100 km/h takes just 5.8 seconds and flat out it will nudge just over 250 km/h. I never once found it lacking power nor did I wish for more torque. It was more than adequate. Straight-six engines are inherently smooth, so it fits in with the car’s personality too.
If, however, you find yourself on the other end of the spectrum, wishing more power, go for the xDrive50i. I did suggest that the xDrive40i is more than capable, but you can never have enough power can you? The 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 in the xDrive50i makes 456 horsepower and 618 Nm of torque. It can accelerate to 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds and will bury its head in the 255 km/h limiter easily. To start with, it doesn’t seem that fast since it’s just 0.6 seconds faster to 100 km/h over the xDrive40i. The true merit of the V8 lies in how usable and effortless it pulls. Any gear, any revs. If you so much as hint at pressing the accelerator it takes off with practically no turbo lag. In gear acceleration above 140 km/h or so is what impressed me. The xDrive40i starts slowing down once past 100 km/h, but the V8 has no trouble hauling the pretty big X7 chassis all the way to 200 km/h with next to no effort.
Power in both variants is sent to all four wheels via ZF’s tried-and-tested eight-speed automatic gearbox (which BMW calls Steptronic). The gearbox works in conjunction with the navigation system to adapt its shift strategy based on the route and the specific driving situation. From my experience, it does this remarkably well. It always appeared to be in the right gear, though even if it wasn’t I suspect that behemoth of a V8 would cover it up nicely with a large chunk of torque. The xDrive can now send 100% of all available power to the rear wheels when traction isn’t an issue.
So, for the most part, the X7 feels rear-wheel driven, just like all other BMWs. Now, at this point, you’re surely thinking a vehicle of this size has no business being sporty. And while you’d be right, here’s where things get interesting. The X7 can be fitted with an optional electronically-controlled M Sport rear diff (only available in the xDrive50i), as well as four-wheel steering. That’s right, this giant hunk of metal comes with four-wheel steering, much like the Porsche 911. When you combine all of that together, you have a car which equals to more than just a sum of its parts.
I was genuinely astonished by how maneuverable and agile it felt. The rear-wheel steering gives it massive stability at high speeds but aids low-speed agility by effectively shortening the wheelbase. It’s no M3, don’t get me wrong, but for something of its stature, it’s nothing short of genius.
They came, they saw, they conquered. BMW’s first entry into the world of luxury seven-seaters is perfect. Well done BMW, you’ve gone out and done it again.