For a very long time, anybody who wanted a luxury 4×4 with acres of space had no option but to buy a Land Rover. It invented this type of vehicle with the Range Rover in 1970 and dominated the space for decades. Nowadays, however, the high-end SUV is as much a fixture of any premium manufacturer’s model range as the executive saloon. They’re all it. Even the likes of Bentley and Rolls Royce are involved these days, so popular have these vehicles become among the very wealthy.
Though BMW’s X7 is nothing like as costly as a Bentley Bentayga or Rolls Royce Cullinan, it does exist for broadly the same reasons: to be as luxurious as it is spacious, and to ooze prestige. At least, that’s the assumption. Spend a little time with the X7 and you realise it actually serves a slightly different purpose.
COMEDY OR TRAGEDY?
The point about prestige stands, though, which explains why the traditional BMW double kidney grille has swollen to the point of comedy. Or perhaps tragedy. It’s vast. It’s there to make you stop and stare on the one hand, and to catch the eye of the sort of person who adores the exhibitionist styling of a Bentayga or Cullinan on the other. Without it the X7 would almost be a handsome machine, because the squinting headlights and the surfacing along the flanks are very well judged. Viewed in profile the proportions do look a little odd, but that’s a consequence of the X7 being 17 feet long and having three rows of genuinely usable seats.
The base model, tested here, is the X7 30d. It starts at £72,195 (around £5,000 cheaper than a basic Range Rover), although if you want the M Sport package that was fitted to our test car you’ll pay £74,695. For that additional outlay you get sportier body styling, different wheels, an Alcantara headlining within the cabin and an M Sport steering wheel. Expect most X7 buyers to tick that box.
DIESEL POWER STILL RULES
For now, all European X7s are powered by 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engines. The 30d models are shunted along the road by 261bhp and 457lb ft of torque, while the 50d, whose engine is no bigger but is turbocharged four (yes four!) times, boasts 394bhp and a mighty 560lb ft.
The only petrol version available to us just now is the 40i with 335bhp and 332lb ft. It isn’t a necessary for a car like the X7 to rocket itself off the line like a drag racer, but nor do you want to feel as though you’re flogging the motor for all it’s worth just to get the car rolling. While the X7 30d is not overwhelmingly accelerative, it is plenty rapid enough.
What’s more impressive still is the six-cylinder diesel engine’s soundtrack, which is actually pretty good. Normally it’s so refined you don’t hear it, but on a wide-open throttle there’s a pleasing throatiness to the sound it makes. The engine certainly isn’t a clattery old lump like some you’ll come across, and it works beautifully with the eight-speed automatic gearbox as well. BMW says you’ll get around 33mpg, which isn’t at all bad for a car this size.
IS THE X7 AS GOOD AS A RANGE ROVER?
Being BMW’s flagship SUV you’d expect the X7 to present you with a show-stopping cabin. It looks very modern and the material and build quality are both very good, and the iDrive infotainment system is very easy to navigate and it’s loaded with gadgets, but somehow there isn’t the sense of opulence here that you’ll find in a Range Rover. Perhaps it’s because the cockpit feels like familiar BMW fare, rather than Munich really stretching itself.
In fact, what stands out most about the X7’s cabin is its seating capacity. Your taller adult friends won’t thank you particularly for making them sit in the rearmost row for very long journeys, but you could fit them in there for a dash to the pub. Children and shorter adults will find they have plenty of room to sit comfortably, which makes the X7 a true seven-seater. That’s a rare thing, even in this sector.
The middle row is very accommodating indeed and if you want to really pamper your passengers, BMW will fit your X7 with two individual chairs in place of the three-seat bench.
A bank of switches in the car’s boot allows you to electrically stow and unfold the seats almost any way you like, so you can have maximum seating capacity one moment, then maximum storage capacity the next. With all but the two chairs upfront folded flat, the X7 offers more than 2,000 litres of luggage space.
KEEP ON SPENDING
For £3,150 BMW will sell you the Technology package, which includes a full suite of driver assistance systems, as well as a head-up display and an uprated hifi. On top of that, you can add the Premium package for £2,750 and enjoy such luxuries as heated and chilled cup holders, ventilated seats that also massage as you drive and five-zone climate control.
How many X7s will ever go into the woods? Not very many, one suspects. BMW’s optional off-road package costs £2,595 and includes switchable driving modes specifically for the muddy stuff (and on top of the various on-road driving modes that are standard equipment) as well as a mechanical locking differential in the rear axle and an adjustable ride height. So equipped, an X7 will be as competent off-road as you could reasonably expect a road-biased luxury SUV to be, although certain rivals with more serious off-roading hardware will still go places it won’t.
BMW X7 RIDE AND HANDLING
While the X7 probably isn’t class-leading off-road or the most opulent SUV in which to sit, it does excel elsewhere. Refinement, for instance, is one of its strong suits. Wherever you drive it you appreciate its beautifully fluid ride quality on the standard-fit air suspension, as well as its clever way of suppressing wind and road noise. Those attributes make the X7 a relaxing car to drive for long distances. Its sheer length does demand your attention around town, but the optional rear-wheel steering system (it costs £1,195 and BMW calls it Integral Active Steering) does an excellent job of making the X7 more agile around city streets, which in turn helps to make it feel smaller, or at least shorter, than it is.
But the really smart bit is how well the car adapts to being driven spiritedly on twisty country roads. Ordinarily a vehicle so tall and heavy would be utterly hopeless on a flowing A- or B-road, but the X7 clings on to its composure remarkably well. The steering is precise with a natural rate of response, while body control and cornering grip are both very good.
Nonetheless, what makes the X7 stand out in a sector populated by very impressive machines is its roomy seven-seat configuration. Think of it as the most glamorous people carrier ever. It doesn’t have the grandeur of a Range Rover, nor its sheer desirability. But if you’re looking for an SUV that combines seating for seven with well-mannered driving dynamics and strong engines, the X7 now sets the benchmark.
Price: from £72,195. As tested £87,550
Power: 261bhp0-62mph: 7 seconds
Top speed: 141mph
Fuel economy: 32.8mpg (combined)
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