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BMW’s all-new 2019 BMW X7 xDrive should worry Mercedes and Range Rover


Fashionably late to the party

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The X7 is the largest vehicle BMW has built in its 102-year history. It is also the most spacious, most imposing and most bedazzled.

Sitting inside is like being in a jewelry store. Everything twinkles, from the knurled metal finish that gives the dials a pleasing tactility to the huge hunk of crystal-like glass on the gear lever. The latter is part of the $14,500 Premium Excellence package, which, yes, is really called that.

The real wonder here is why it took BMW so long to join the super-luxury SUV binge?

“If you remember in 2007 and 2008, there was a big increase in the price of fuel and a lot of companies were going for smaller cars,” said Jörg Wunder, project leader for the X7. “We discussed (a bigger SUV like the X7) around that time.” But, back then, the decision to shelve the bigger SUV project was an easy one, he explained. BMW focused instead on developing smaller cars, like the European-market 2 Series Active Tourer.

Then, in 2011 or 2012, discussion of a big SUV came up again as the market picked up. “We saw the success of competitors,” Wunder said. “The strategy of the company also changed, because we wanted to go more into the luxury segment.” For decades, BMW sold the mid-size 5 Series sedan and full-size 7 Series, but on the SUV side, the lineup topped out with the mid-size X6. “If a customer wanted an SUV on the level of a 7 Series, we had nothing to offer.” Increasingly, customers did want that, and they were looking to the Mercedes GLS or Range Rover. BMW was losing some of its wealthiest customers to the competition.

The X7 took a long time to come to market. “There was a discussion in the beginning,” said Wunder, “should we make just a bigger, long-wheelbase X5 or should we make a new vehicle?” BMW eventually took the latter, costlier approach, he said. “In my opinion it was necessary in order to play a role in that (full-size luxury SUV) segment, to have a unique model with no compromises in terms of electronics and acoustics,” he said. Given how luxurious the new X5 is, the X7 doesn’t appear all that different; but BMW’s flagship is, undeniably, much larger: 130 millimetres of extra wheelbase, 52 mm taller, and 229 mm longer.

With two versions of the X7, the six-cylinder 40i and eight-cylinder 50i, priced from $92,500 and $110,100 respectively, it isn’t even in the uppermost echelons of the SUV world. The Bentley, Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce SUVs cost double or triple what the BMW does. However, after just a few miles in the BMW it’s clear the law of diminishing returns is in effect and it’s kicking in hard. The interior of the X7 is not quite as silent as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, nor is the BMW as cloud-like while floating over imperfect roads — but the difference isn’t as large as the price gap would suggest. They won’t steal any customers from Rolls, but it’s impressive.

The X7 is one of those rare vehicles that is perfectly suited to its main audience. In this case, that means North American SUV buyers for whom gas is cheap and being pampered is the norm. The cupholders are heated and cooled, as are the seats. Even the armrests are heated. Once you experience these you will never go back to normal, frigid armrests. There are USB-C ports everywhere. The front chairs offer as many types of massage as your favourite spa. The “full body activation” massage provides a powerful jostling, like being trampled by a cat. Our test cars were loaded with more than $11,000 in options, including the sumptuous two-tone white and navy-blue leather that covers the entire dashboard. It’s a $5,100 option on the 40i.

The enormous, gaping BMW kidney grille up front means you can’t miss the X7 on the road. This is in-your-face luxury, which is also new for BMW. It’s not a handsome design like the aging Range Rover. However, given the existence of the Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the X7 won’t be the most ostentatious-looking thing on the road either. Parked next to a Ford F-150 or Cadillac Escalade, the BMW doesn’t even look especially massive.

The one big feature missing from this new SUV is a plug-in hybrid powertrain option. It’s 2019 and automakers are still launching mega-SUVs with thirsty V-8 engines. The instant-torque and silent electric-only driving range of a PHEV makes a lot of sense in heavy luxury vehicles like this, more so than a twin-turbo V-8 anyway.

The X7 is not what the world needs, but it’s what the market demands. We’ll need to test-drive it on more varied terrain to be sure, but if you’re in the market — and amenable to the X7’s design — early impressions indicate this is a potential class-leader.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 BMW BMW X7 xDrive 40i
  • Base price: $92,500 (40i); $110,100 (50i)
  • Engine: 3.0-litre turbo I-6; 4.4-litre twin-turbo V-8
  • Transmissions: 8-speed automatic
  • Fuel economy (l/100 km): 12.0 city, 9.4 highway (40i); 50i data not available
  • Drive: All-wheel drive
  • Alternatives: Mercedes-Benz GLS, Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX, Infiniti QX80

Ratings

Looks:

That big grille makes a statement, which fits with BMW’s desire to push up-market, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Interior:

It’s not just all the bedazzled details that make the X7 so fit for purpose; the fundamentals are right. The cabin is extremely spacious, commanding and airy, even for third-row passengers who get their own little sunroof.

Performance:

The straight-six makes 335 hp which is enough for any driver. You don’t need the 456 hp twin-turbo V-8, although it does sound better. Why no plug-in hybrid at launch? BMW decided to focus on the volume sellers — read: gas engines — but it seems like a missed opportunity.

Technology:

The infotainment system is better than what you’ll find inside a Range Rover or Mercedes GLS. Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) work well. The X7’s camera-based driver-monitoring system is a crucial safety feature. The lane-departure assist was overly intrusive though, jerking the wheel even when lane changes were signalled.

Cargo:

Six- or seven-passenger seating is available. A control panel in the trunk allows you to raise and lower the seats electronically. The cargo cavern holds up to 2,120-litres, which is 250 more than the X5.

Score:

8.0 /10: The X7 will tempt buyers who defected to Range Rover and Mercedes.

You’ll like this car if...

you’ve always wanted a go-anywhere 7 Series limo

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