At the wheel of BMW's extra-large X7
The new X7’s grille is so large, one is tempted to slap a big Texan steak on to it.
Even on a vehicle as huge and imposing as BMW’s new seven-seater SUV, the grille between those slim LED headlamps looks almost cartoonishly oversized. A similarly mammoth grille is found on the newly facelifted 7 Series and the Bavarian carmaker is clearly committed to this new styling theme.
But the world was also unnerved by Audi’s single-frame whale-shark-mouth when it was introduced a few years back, until it became the new normal. BMW’s mega grille will probably lose its shock value eventually and become part of the accepted styling zeitgeist.
And while it may not necessarily be pretty, the X7 certainly has presence.
The vehicle is BMW’s answer to the Mercedes GLS and Lexus LX in the supersized SUV segment, aimed at well-heeled folk whose family circumstances may have swelled beyond the archetypal 2.4 children. The middle row is a three-seat bench as standard in the X7, but it can be specified with two individual comfort seats as an option.
There’s little likelihood of experiencing cabin fever in this Beemer’s extra-large passenger quarters, and at 5,151mm in length, the X7 gains a full 230mm over the five-seater X5. The family-sized space is impressive; even the third row of seats isn’t just for children, but will accept a pair of adults reasonably comfortably.
Access to that third row is quite easily gained by pressing a button that electrically glides the middle seats forward. To accommodate bicycles or extra-large shopping expeditions, the third-row seats can be electrically folded down at the push of convenient boot-located buttons.
Boot capacity can be expanded from 326 litres to a maximum 2,120 litres, and the tailgate opens and closes electrically.
These are part of a very well-stocked luxuries' list across the X7 range, unlike in some of BMW’s smaller models, where much of the high-end stuff costs extra.
Both the X7 xDrive30d and X7 xDrive50d — the only two variants available in SA for now — come packed to the rafters with features like height-adjustable air suspension, a head-up display, four-zone climate control, infotainment with premium sound systems, ambient lighting, a digital instrument cluster, panoramic sunroof and electrically adjustable seats, to name a few.
Standard too are semi-autonomous driver aids like active cruise control, steering and lane-control assist, and cross-traffic warning.
To help park the big beast is a rear-view camera and a reversing assistant; the latter a very clever feature that reverses the vehicle over exactly the same route on which it has last been driven forward, up to a 50m distance. Great for reversing out of tight and tricky parking spots.
Less impressive was the “Hey BMW” system, which, in theory, allows you to intuitively voice-control many of the car’s features. In practice, it could hardly understand anything my co-driver and I said.
In a vehicle that’s all about living large, luxury is laid on with suitably lavish enthusiasm. The cabin finishes are top-class and there’s some interesting open-pore wood surfacing. To cater to varying tastes the X7 is available in Design Pure Excellence, MSport and Individual packages.
The starting point in the range is the X7 xDrive30d priced at R1,562,849 and powered by BMW’s trusted 3.0l straight-six twin-turbo diesel engine with outputs of 195kW and 620Nm. The claimed 0-100km/h sprint in 7.0 seconds and a 227km/h top speed should cater to most drivers’ needs, although I found the overtaking acceleration a little on the lazy side due to the vehicle weighing a hefty 2.4 tons. That’s more than 200kg more than the X5.
The X7 xDrive50d felt much punchier with its 294kW and 760Nm. It’s also a 3.0l straight-six, but gets an extra pair of turbos (four in total) for performance figures of 0-100km/h in just 5.4 seconds and a 250km/h top speed. It has a hearty roar too, and if you can afford the R1,862,308 price tag, this is definitely the variant to go for.
In October BMW will add the petrol-powered X7 M50i to the range, offering 340kW and 650Nm from its 4.4l V8, and identical acceleration and top speed figures as the 50d.
All-wheel drive and the air suspension’s ability to raise the ground clearance an extra 40mm give the X7 some terrain-tackling credentials, and there’s also an optional off-road package which offers the selection of xSand, xGravel, xRocks and xSnow driving modes at the touch of a button.
The X7’s media launch in the Hartebeesport area last week took in both tar and gravel roads. The vehicles I drove were fitted with optional low-profile 22-inch tyres which delivered a fairly plush ride, but weren’t necessarily suited to small rocky outcrops on the gravel route. The standard 21-inch rubber will make the X7 a better all-surface performer.
Nimble isn’t a word that could be applied to such a hefty lump (not with a straight face), but the X7 makes a valiant effort at masking its mass.
In Comfort mode I felt some boat-like, side-to-side pitching, but with Sport mode selected it firmed up the suspension and quickened the throttle and gearshifts, making this supersized SUV ride around without feeling wallowy.
For extra money, rear-wheel steering and active roll stabilisation are available as optional agility-enhancing options.