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BMW X7: Unmistakeably upper class

By Deon Schoeman 29 May 2019

It’s by far BMW’s biggest SUV ever: a 5.15m monster that tips the scales at 2.4 tons, offers plush seating for up to seven and is decked out in more leather per square metre than a cigar lounge. It also bristles with the latest tech. But can this BMW still deliver on the brand’s driving pleasure promise?

It’s the grille that grabs you first – almost literally. That’s how big it is. The huge BMW kidneys, accentuated in fat, shiny chrome, are more than a mere expression of identity.

They also confirm the story that the sheet metal behind is already relating in no uncertain terms: this is a massive machine. It’s BMW’s biggest ever SUV, and it dwarfs everything in the Bavarian auto maker’s current product stable, including the regal 7-Series.

The grille – also the biggest in BMW’s history – lends attitude and aggression to the X7’s visage, together with a certain air of superiority that some might consider snobbish. But then, there is nothing at all subtle about the X7: it’s a vehicle meant to be noticed in.

The front, to be honest, is somewhat overbearing. The bloated kidneys make the slimline LED headlights look disproportionately small, while the recessed air intakes on either side, the chrome detailing and the obligatory scuff plate create a fussy visage.

By comparison, the rest of the X7’s aesthetics are assertive, but nicely weighted. A tall roofline and generous glass area make for a tall silhouette, which goes some way towards balancing the BMW’s extended length.

The angular treatment adds further visual purpose, while the 21-inch wheels on both examples I drove (20-inch is standard) look just about right. Anything smaller might get lost in those cavernous wheel arches.

The freshest, cleanest angle of the X7 is from the rear, where the horizontal tail light assemblies are linked by a strip of brightwork, while the rear scuff plate and rectangular exhausts repeat the horizontal theme.

Step inside, and the emphasis moves from pugnacious to plush. The cabin is almost ostentatiously lavish, but exquisitely detailed to standards that would make a bizjet’s interior seem austere.

Fine wood, brushed aluminium, part-quilted hide and a tactile sense of quality create a sophisticated, cosseting environment. And with a wheelbase of more than 3m, there’s abundant space for three seating rows.

You get to choose between the traditional seven-seater layout (two front seats, a three-seater bench, and two third-row seats) or a six-seater arrangement, which replaces the bench with two individual seats.

The latter arrangement is as comfortable as it is inviting. All six occupants get ample leg and headroom, and there’s a clubby cosiness that puts this cabin layout in the first class lounge league.

Admittedly, the seven-seater configuration is the more versatile and functional one, especially if the X7 will need to fulfil mom’s taxi duties. But heck, the six-seat set-up elevates the cabin to something really special.

Up front, the cockpit execution is reminiscent of the latest X5, but also features the very latest BMW digital instrumentation (first introduced in this year’s all-new 3-Series) and a tidily integrated centre-stack display, which works with BMW’s further evolved iDrive user interface.

The tech is advanced but never geeky, and most of what’s on offer is easy to find, and easy to use, including Siri-style, “Hey, BMW” voice control. The iDrive system is arguably the most intuitive in the business, helped by the high-def screens and a logical graphical user interface.

You’d think something as big and heavy as the X7 would struggle to live up the dynamic expectations so inherent to the brand – and it is a valid concern. The X7’s kerb mass is around 2.4tons, depending on model and extras.

For now, prospective buyers get to choose between two drivetrains, both turbodiesel-based. There’s the xDrive 30d, which is also the most affordable X7, and the more powerful M50d. An M50i turbo petrol will join the X7 turbodiesel duo in October.

I started my X7 test day with the straight-six, 3.0-litre xDrive 30d, and expected the beast to feel oversized and out of sorts around town. But truth be told, the behind-the-wheel experience was never compromised by the Beemer’s corpulent dimensions.

Instead, a succession of traffic circles, some treacly traffic, and a fair amount of stop/start driving focussed my attention on this X7’s eager responses, its lithe handling, and the almost total absence of body roll, even when pressing on through those roundabouts.

The turbodiesel’s195kW of muscle and stonking 620Nm of torque haul the big BMW around with gusto: it’s swift off the mark and incisive in the midrange, making short work of overtaking.

Give it some welly outside the city boundaries, and those impressions are underpinned by the X7 xDrive 30d’s resolute composure. Ride quality is a highlight, despite the ultra-low profile tyres, thanks to the adaptive air suspension’s ability to iron out the bumps and dips, while retaining reassuring firmness.

Those road manners and confident handling traits are shared by the M50d, which benefits from no less than four turbos bolted to the 3.0-litre mill, resulting in 294kW of urge and 760Nm of twist.

Not surprisingly, the result is an almost indecent turn of speed: the M50d hustles from rest to 100km/h in 5.4sec – that’s a full 1.6sec quicker than the xDrive 30d. It’s also more overtly athletic, allowing it to slice through traffic with even greater intent.

Both cars are utterly effortless open-road cruisers, delivering a level of comfort and refinement that is more limo than SUV, with the added attraction of an ability to traverse a wider spectrum of conditions and surfaces than, for instance, a 7-Series.

BMW’s usual array of drive modes are included here, too: opting for Sport makes for crisper responses, while Eco softens throttle responses and encourages thrifty driving. However, for once, sticking to the default Comfort setting delivers the best balance of urge, refinement and composure in both models.

For those with an appetite for heading off the beaten track, BMW offers an off-road package that includes extended underbody protection, recalibrated air suspension, a limited slip diff specifically suited to tougher terrain, and an extended set of driving modes.

I’ve experienced the effect of those changes on an X5, and they’re significant, although I’d imagine that more utilitarian wheels with aggressively treaded all-terrain rubber would need to be added to the mix.

That said, I can’t see too many X7 buyers interested in extended all-terrain talents. The standard model is perfectly capable of tackling reasonable gravel, with the only caveat being the danger of puncturing the fragile sidewalls of those low-profile tyres.

In pure dynamic terms, the BMW X7 is a tour de force, proving that a 5m, 2.4ton behemoth can still feel agile, confident and ultimately engaging. At the same time, it delivers exceptional levels of refinement and comfort.

BMW SA doesn’t believe that it will lose 7-Series customers to the X7, but I beg to differ. The X7 offers almost everything the Seven sedan does, and adds two or three extra seats plus a healthy dose of versatility to the equation.

Admittedly, we’re not talking huge sales volumes at this end of a depressed premium market, but it gives the Bavarian marque a contender in a segment it hasn’t contested before, and it’s also hoping to attract buyers from other brands – all of which will bolster demand.

Either way, that gaping, larger-than-life grille is as much a predatory symbol of conquest marketing as it is an affirmation that the X7 remains a blue-blooded BMW.

One could argue that the world doesn’t need another uber-SUV behemoth. But if you want the space and have the dosh, the X7 presents a compelling purchasing proposition. DM

PRICING

BMW X7 xDrive 30d R1,562,849

BMW X7 M50d R1,862,308

BMW X7 M50i R1,871,540

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