Drive along most highways in the US and you soon realise how many gigantic pick-up trucks and huge SUVs dominate the landscape. So it seems the obvious location for BMW to launch the new X7—its biggest SUV, or Sports Activity Vehicle as the premium German brand likes to call them.
It is not only bigger than the X5 but ups the stakes for BMW in terms of luxury and comfort, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s GLS and the Range Rover. Incidentally, the X7 owes much to the latter car. When BMW owned Land Rover in the early 1990s, it tapped the British carmaker’s know-how in making SUVs to produce the first-generation X5.
But there’s another reason too for the US launch. The X7 is built here, at its factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And so I found myself in the Deep South, test driving this elegant beast before it officially goes on sale in Singapore a few months from now (ed: it's on sale right now, priced from SGD471,888).
I picked the X7 up in Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida, and readied myself for an epic 700-and-a- bit kilometre trip west to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The beauty of such a long road trip is that it gives you a chance to get to know a car inside and out. You also get to see some great scenery along the way, particularly the coastal roads which hug the Gulf of Mexico along the southern edge of Florida.
For one thing, you get to really open a car up like the X7 and push its three-litre, turbocharged engine, although you have to keep a very close eye out for traffic cops with speed guns lurking in the bushes and on grass verges. I got to drive two variants during the road trip: the X7 xDrive40i Luxury edition and the more powerful xDrive50i M Sport with its 4.4-litre, V8 engine.
The bigger power plant won’t be available in Singapore, but perhaps that’s no bad thing given our speed limits and heavier traffic. And to be honest, the xDrive40i was more than enough power, even on America’s winding country roads and mega-freeways.
The terrain started out a little bumpy leaving Tallahassee, which was perfect to test out the road-handling and sturdiness of a large SUV like the X7. Helped by chunky 20-inch wheels (you can super-size them to 22-inch ones) and BMW’s air suspension you are more than adequately cushioned from any harsh road conditions.
You can also adjust the body’s ground clearance, very handy when going off-road, by pushing a button in the cockpit to raise it to a maximum 40mm above the standard setting. Another button in the boot activates a loading mode that lowers the car by 40mm.
Over more than 644km of driving, I got to test the X7 in many different conditions: in driving rain through Florida’s forests and scorching sun along its beautiful coastline. This four-wheeled leviathan comfortably handled all conditions presented to it, proving itself as a long-distance cruiser.
This epic road trip also allowed me to test some of the driving aids like cruise control, lane departure warning and steering assistance on the empty country roads. At times I forgot I was driving a huge seven-seater SUV as it responded so well to all the twists and turns that came its way. Four-wheel steering plays a big part in this road-hugging sensation, as does it all-wheel-drive system.
Although it’s the biggest SUV in the range, BMW has worked hard to make sure there’s no compromise when it comes to performance. For example, the X7 gets you from 0 to 100km/hr in slightly over six seconds, which is pretty impressive for a car of this size and weight. Whatever driving mode you choose, power is readily on tap to overtake slow-moving trucks and campers with ease.
But the real attraction for me was inside the cabin, given the high standards of luxury, comfort and technology onboard. BMW has really gone to town with the X7. Everywhere you look there is a healthy dash of luxury leathers and expensive trimmings.
The dashboard is dominated by a 12.3- inch digital instrument display and an infotainment screen of the same size, making it feel very futuristic inside. It doesn’t just look good, it’s also very easy to navigate. And if modern is your thing, there is a very smart piece of technology onboard called the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant.
This digital app debuted in the new 3 Series and is an exciting part of the brand’s latest infotainment technology. You start by saying “Hey BMW” and then state your command. For example, if you say “I’m cold” the car will raise the temperature by one degree. But the really smart thing is it learns your routines and habits, and can apply them at the appropriate time.
It will change the seat heating to your preferences and suggest your most frequent destinations when you use the sat-nav. The seat massage functions are probably the best I’ve experienced in any car, and very welcome after I hit the 322km mark.
This is part of the X7’s ‘caring car’ programme that can be set to your specific needs, changing the air conditioning, seat massaging, fragrancing and music to relax the driver while at the wheel. If you want to heat up or cool down the seats, the temperature of the built-in arm rests and centre console will also change.
And if you opt for the premium package you get heated and cooled cupholders, soft-close doors and head-up display among the extra features. The X7 boasts seven seats, although it can be reconfigured as a six-seater. Unusual but very welcome, the second row of seats have exactly the same controls as the driver and front passenger, allowing you to adjust your seat and make it more comfortable.
They also get 10.2-inch touchscreens fixed onto the back of the front seats, which combined with a Blu-ray DVD player, are perfect for those long car journeys with kids. For most SUVs, the passengers in the third row of seats are forgotten about and their comfort is an after-thought.
But the X7 has plenty of legroom for third-row passengers, who also enjoy their own sunroof and air-conditioning zone. The driver can electronically move the second row seats forward at the touch of a button to allow third-row passengers easy exit from the car. The rear doors are longer than the front doors, also making it easier to get in and out.
The giant three-part panoramic glass roof floods the interior with light, but it also has a hidden secret—wait until it’s dark and the built-in LED lights spread evenly across the roof illuminating more than 15,000 graphic patterns, reminiscent of a starlit sky (a la the Starlight Headliner seen on Rolls- Royces).
Adding to the array of gadgets, an electrically assisted, split-folding tailgate also comes in handy, while all the seats have power folding / unfolding functionality. One button quickly puts them all down or up again in around eight seconds. With all the seats up you get 326l of boot space, or a cavernous 2,120l with all seats folded flat.
The funny thing is the X7 doesn’t look that big in the US, given it competes on the roads with over-sized pick-up trucks and huge American-brand SUVs (Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford etc), especially in the Deep South. But in the Singapore context it will definitely stand out from the crowd given its size.
The X7 has the largest kidney grille seen on a BMW, massive bumpers and side steps similar to those you get on trucks. Add some roof rails and chunky 22-inch rims and the X7 will give you plenty of road presence. While the US market is a major target for the X7, BMW obviously hopes it will do well across the globe, including Singapore where we also have a love affair for luxury cars and SUVs.
BMW 7 Series models are already strong sellers in Singapore and the X7 now fits in nicely as the SUV within that range. The world of luxury SUVs is proving to be a competitive place with the likes of Porsche, Rolls-Royce and Bentley all fighting for a slice of the pie.
Coincidentally, BMW owns Rolls-Royce, which recently made its foray into luxury SUVs with Cullinan. We have been waiting a long time for the X7, having first been conceived in 2014. But BMW clearly wanted to take its time to make sure it got things right.
And it looks like its patience has paid off as there’s very little to fault about this car. It sets new standards in terms of luxury and technology, is very spacious inside and is much more agile than it should be given its size.
ENGINE 2,998cc, 24-valves, inline-six, turbocharged
POWER 340hp at 5,500-6,500rpm
TORQUE 450Nm at 1,500-5,200rpm
0-100KM/HR 6.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 245km/hr
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic
FUEL CONSUMPTION 9L/100km
VES BAND C2 (SGD20,000 surcharge)
PRICE from SGD471,888 (including COE, excluding options)