Test Drives

BMW X7 review: Grilled to perfection



BMW X7

BMW’s X7 is a car about excess — bigger than you need and more capable than you’d believe. And that’s entirely the point

LAS VEGAS, USA — It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what a BMW X7 is: the “X” denotes the brand’s Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), and the “7” tells you it’s bigger than all the others in the range.

But with an anticipated price tag of S$440,000 (including Certificate Of Entitlement) and up for the X7, it might take some convincing for people to hop aboard the giant luxury SUV train, as interpreted by BMW.

Here’s what you need to know.

Who is this car for?
Wealthy folk, obviously. Beyond that, Nina McFadden, the X7’s project manager, told us she doesn’t want people to upgrade from an X5 or even a 7 Series. She’d rather grab buyers from elsewhere, so if you replace your Mercedes S-Class with an X7, you’ll be making her very happy.

By the same token it’s meant to make sure that you have something in the BMW range to consider if you’ve been eyeing a Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz GLS.

What’s the pitch?
It’s big, like two metres wide and 5,151mm long. Singapore gets the xDrive40i version, which has that silky 3.0-litre turbo straight six we know and love, belting out 340 horsepower. That’s plenty, but bear in mind the X7 weighs more than 2.4 tonnes.

Standard will be the X7 xDrive40i Pure Excellence model, with a guesstimated price of S$440 to S$450 grand. That gets here in May, alongside two “Launch Edition” cars at S$470 to S$475 big ones, available in chrome/polished wood Pure Excellence trim or the sportier M Sport pack.

The Launch Edition comes with a twist.

What’s that?
The standard X7 gets seven seats, while the Launch Edition models come with six! Betcha didn’t see that coming.

In the six-seat version, the middle row is made up of captain’s chairs, complete with arm rests, plus some cupholders down near the floor.

Why six seats?
Apparently it’s an important feature in the US, where all X7s are built and half are expected to stay. “It’s the classical use case of a soccer mom, which means many kids are just jumping in and they just go through the second seat row into the third seating row,” Ms McFadden told us. “From a practical point of view, we see the competition here in the US, for example the Cadillac Escalade, is offering something like that. So it was a clear request from our customers in the US.”

On the other hand, there was a bit of Business Class thinking behind the six-seater, too. “As an adult you don’t have the feeling like in a bench, that you’re just sitting arm-to-arm next to your neighbour, but you have your own space and your own private feeling, including an armrest, and this is what luxury is actually about,” Ms McFadden told us. “Luxury is always connected with space and roominess.”

Which should I get?
Having spent time in both versions, we reckon there’s little to choose between them. If you have spry young kids who can scoot between the individual chairs into the very back, fair enough. But if you fill the seven-seat version with only six people anyway, the people in Row 2 have just as much space as they would have in the captain’s chairs.

In the seven-seat version, you can get a flat cargo floor if you fold all the seats down, too. So it’s just that bit more versatile, and is the one we’d get if it were our money.

So, no reason to get the Launch Edition?
Well, the extra money gets extra stuff. 22-inch wheels, for starters (versus the 21s on the seven-seater, which isn’t exactly humble). Also, the fancy “Sky Lounge” lighting for the panoramic glass roof (or roofs) comes with the Launch Edition.

And perhaps the most show-offy difference between the six and seven seaters is that the former versions come with the glass interior elements that give the cabin an extra splash of poshness.

How does it work as a people carrier?

The X7 isn’t meant to be a bus, of course, but it’s very roomy inside. The seats tilt and slide electrically, so you can manipulate them with buttons instead of muscle.

In either version getting into the third row doesn’t require much sweat or athleticism. I watched a 60 year-old man let himself out of the third row by himself, and didn’t hear anything creak or snap.

The chairs back there themselves are decently habitable, with a surprising amount of headroom. I’m 1.73m from sole to fontanelle and fit perfectly well.

Only foot room is a bit tight, and being in the third row tends to magnify the rocking and swaying that the car’s body undergoes when it’s moving.

Is it generally bumpy?
Actually, no. The X7 is a giant, heavy SUV but that doesn’t mean it rides on truck springs. Every version comes with air suspension as standard, and that makes all the difference according to Daniel Nowicki, a BMW chassis specialist.

Using air suspension “opened up the playground” for spring settings, he told us. The springs are compliant when a wheel first hits a bump, and they stiffen up as wheel travel increases. That means they’re effectively hard or soft when they need to be, unlike steel springs which are generally fixed in rate.

Air suspension also works well for a car like this because it gives consistent behaviour whether there’s one person in the car or seven. If your X7 is fully loaded, the system pumps more air into the springs, and the extra stiffness is canceled out by the extra weight on board. “You always have the same ride feeling,” said Mr Nowicki.

Sure enough, ride quality is one of the X7’s great strengths. On most roads it tends to glide along, with barely a ripple making it through into the cabin.

How does it handle?
Except for wing mirrors that are too small, in the city the X7 is not intimidating to drive, although that might have to do with giant American roads. We’ll judge it again when we drive it in Singapore.

That said, the X7 comes with rear-axle steering, which helps greatly with its agility. Chassis guy Nowicki says it’s a “must-have”, and says it makes the X7 feel like it’s one metre shorter than it is.

Out on the open road, the X7 is surprisingly well-behaved, too. The cloud-like ride and double-glazed windows mean it masks speed sensationally well, and suddenly you find yourself barreling through a long sweeper at a three-figure speed.

That could be a bad thing, except the X7 copes with it with remarkable poise. Body roll is very well contained, and we put some big, big forces through the test car’s Pirelli P Zeroes but didn’t even get them to squeal.

The brakes are mighty strong, too, and while the engine’s muscle does have to flex hard when you launch the X7, once it’s rolling along it’s capable of serving up a nice turn of speed.

That said, this isn’t a car you’ll feel like taking to your favourite twisty road. It’s capable, but it doesn’t encourage it.

Can it go off-road?
Presumably, yes. We didn’t take it off the tarmac but it’s likely you’ll give up before the X7 does; Mr Nowicki says an earlier group of journalists drove X7s at a 4×4 park and were freaked out by the things BMW was asking them to do.

There are five ride height settings (including a kneeling one that drops the car for easy ingress but can’t be used on the move) and a number of off-roading settings such as “Sand” or “Gravel”, but we didn’t try them.

For what it’s worth, the X7 can wade through 500mm of water, good to know should ‘ponding’ ever return to Singapore.

But this is a car about excess: it carries more people than most, can go around corners faster than you want, and it’ll go further into the bush than anyone will ask it to.

So, should I trade my S-Class in for one?

Some cabin plastics actually feel quite low-rent — they’re hard and a bit shiny — but the X7 otherwise feels suitably plush. The switches and controls have a metallic, modern look and feel to them, and the latest operating system from BMW works smoothly, with sharp displays. They feel like a generation ahead of what’s in, say, the 5 Series.

That said, unless you really, really want more than five seats, you’d be better off in a long wheelbase 7 Series. It’s more entertaining if you drive, and actually feels more roomy in the back if you don’t.

Then why consider an X7?
There’s been a global shift away from sedans to SUVs anyway, and maybe you’re a part of it?

If you’re after a luxury car with seven (or six seats), you can’t buy a Range Rover, which is an ancient car anyway. As for Mercedes, the GLS interior feels much cheaper than the BMW’s, and the handling is nowhere as sharp.

But mostly, you might look at the BMW because it’s grand. The X7 cuts a striking figure on the road, and when you see one loom up on the driveway it’s hard not to be impressed.

That enormous front grille, the biggest in the current BMW line-up, doesn’t photograph all that well but it looks the business in real life. Drive an X7, and your pals will take notice, and one-upmanship is something that drives purchases even (or maybe especially) at this level. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, either.

BMW X7 xDrive40i (7 seat)

Engine 2,998cc, inline 6, twin-turbo
Power 340hp at 5500 to 6500rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1500 to 5200rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 6.1 seconds
Top Speed 245km/h
Fuel Efficiency 9.0L/100km (estimate)
VES/ CO2  TBA / 202g/km
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$440,000 to S$450,000 with COE (indicative)
Available May 2019

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.