Monday 15th October 2018
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First drive: BMW X7 pre-production prototype. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW X7 pre-production prototype
BMW targets the Range Rover and Mercedes GLS with its elegant X7.

 



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BMW X7 pre-production prototype

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BMW evolves its SUV formula to a new, exalted level, resulting in the seven-seat, luxury-oriented X7. We've had a drive in early pre-production prototypes of this potential Range Rover-slayer and already the signs are there that the BMW flagship SUV will be a class leader. It's a good piece of kit.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW X7 xDrive50i pre-production prototype
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Transmission: xDrive all-wheel drive, Steptronic eight-speed manual
Body style: five-door, seven-seat SUV
Power: c.462hp
Torque: c.650Nm

What's this?

The BMW X7, which we've known about since Frankfurt 2017. You might be thinking that six SUV lines would be more than enough for any brand, but that's simply not the case any longer. And the X7 might not even be the culmination of the X-breed of BMWs. Come on, think about it; all of the odd-numbered SUVs in the German company's range have an even-numbered companion - X1 and X2, X3 and X4, X5 and X6. And BMW also likes to have an X 'equivalent' to each of its regular ranges and we've already got 1 Series, 2 Series, 3 Series and so on... right the way up to 8 Series. So, it doesn't take a deductive genius of the ilk of a pipe-smoking, be-hatted, Baker Street violinist to see the X8-shaped hole that remains in the BMW product portfolio jigsaw.

However, this is all conjecture, mere speculation. So let's get back to the X7. Lots of numbers are yet to be confirmed - exact power outputs, eco-stats, precise model names and so on. BMW is also pretty hazy on exactly which engines will sit under the bonnet, but gave us enough of a steer to say they're from the existing line-up, with possible tweaks to horsepower and torque. In essence, there are four launch models, two powered by petrol and two diesels: a c.340hp/500Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six petrol will power the xDrive40i, while a biturbo 4.4-litre V8 with c.462hp/650Nm will be fitted to the xDrive50i; and then there's a single-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six diesel with c.265hp/620Nm for the xDrive30d, bound to be the biggest seller here.

That leaves one more model. And it's the M Performance version. Fitted with the monster quad-turbo iteration of the 3.0-litre six-pot diesel, it'll be badged M50d and it will likely have at least 400hp and 760Nm. Kaboom! In your face, diesel haters! Want the bad news? It's not confirmed that this will come to the UK as yet...

All of these models sit on an evolved version of the 'cluster architecture' platform that underpins BMW's bigger models, so it's an electric-ready chassis and thus a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model with some form of 'iPerformance 40e' badging cannot be beyond the realms of possibility - it is likely to be the only four-cylinder X7 if so, but again, this is not confirmed either way. More concrete are details such as all models get a ZF-sourced eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox and xDrive all-wheel drive, retuned for cornering agility (it splits torque front-to-rear even quicker than before, to prevent excessive under- or oversteer). All X7s will also get twin-axle air suspension as standard, with options to include active anti-roll bars, Integral Active Steering (IAS, which is BMW-speak for four-wheel steering) and an Off-Road Package that adds underbody guards and a limited-slip diff on the rear axle. There's also going to be a Sport exhaust, which we sampled on an xDrive30i, having also driven an X7 3.0-litre petrol without it - the difference in sound, allow us to tell you, was extremely marked.

Moving inside, seven full-sized seats (adults of average height can sit in the back comfortably for extended periods of time) are the norm, but a six-seat option brings a couple of 'captain's chairs' in the centre row. These are actually the front seats from an 8 Series, with a little modulation of the base, which is interesting. Space is excellent within, as people in row two have acres of legroom to go at and we've already said the third row are proper pews, rather than the X7 being a '5+2' masquerading as a 4x4 MPV. So no one's going to lament the X7's practicality, although it should be borne in mind that the boot behind the rear-most two seats is not exactly cavernous. So you'll still need the X7 in five-seat configuration if you want to take huge loads in the cargo bay.

Anyway, back to the interior. Up top are two panoramic glass sunroofs, a giant item covering the front four/five occupants and then a smaller aperture above the rear-row passengers, to ensure the entire cabin is bathed in light. Technologically, the X7 is also one of the pioneers of iDrive 7 and a new digital instrument cluster with angular, rather than round, dials. Both of these are presented on 12.3-inch TFT screens, the centre console item being larger than the current 10.25-inch display, which is BMW's largest. However, the X7 won't be the first to market with the 12.3-inch and iDrive 7... although we can't say yet which two vehicles will precede it, for reasons of strict embargo. Gesture Control will be standard on the X7 too, with increased functionality from its current applications in the 7 Series (where it's standard) and the 5 Series (where it's an option).

The exact UK line-up, specifications and pricing are still a long way from being confirmed, as the X7 won't arrive until early 2019. That means the cars we drove, with disguised cabins and swaddled in grid-like camouflage, were only '80 per cent' ready.

How does it drive?

Before we get onto the dynamics, a word on the aesthetics. Yes, we know we've just said the prototype X7s were all heavily disguised inside and out, but we can still pick up a few details. Such as the fact that - despite its 5.1-metre length, its ability to seat seven and its kerb weight of 'around 2.3 tonnes' - the X7 is not as visually intimidating as you might expect. It doesn't tower over you when you're standing next to it, it doesn't look huge and ungainly when you're following it on the roads and it doesn't feel gigantic and cumbersome to drive.

This last observation is a crucial point, because it remains true no matter what the X7 is doing, no matter what engine is installed beneath its bonnet and no matter whether it is on asphalt or riding through the rough stuff. Managing to shrink such an undeniably big vehicle, both visually and in terms of the dynamic sensations it feeds back to its driver, is the key to the X7's success. Its major forte, and the one BMW targeted as the high-riding analogue of a 7 Series, is its stunning composure. The ride quality is magnificent from yard one, which again is testament to BMW's chassis engineers as the X7 can ride on wheels as colossal as 22 inches in diameter - we tried a car with these fitted and it hardly ever thumped, crashed or banged its way through minor imperfections (crater-like potholes were another matter, but no car deals with those particularly well). BMW backs up the smooth-riding characteristics with enough sound-deadening to sink a dreadnought, plus acoustic panes for the front and sides of the glasshouse.

The outcome of all these measures is rolling refinement that is second to none in the SUV world. The only noise in the cabin - if you keep the engine below 3,000rpm - is some very discreet wind ruffling from the B pillars and even that, assured the BMW expert who accompanied us, was down to the exterior camouflage, rather than any aerodynamic shortcomings of the big SUV. So, if you want peerless luxury from your leviathan 4x4, look no further than the X7.

A 30d model (weirdly, it wasn't fitted with the Off-Road Pack) also performed well on a reasonably challenging rough-terrain route. Now, to qualify that statement: it was conducted on bone-dry, compacted dusty tracks with sort of middling wheel articulation required. We were shown the usual SUV tools to keep the machine going, like Hill Descent Control, and we can't really complain about how the X7 tackled the course. However: a) we don't doubt a Range Rover would still be the BMW's master in trickier conditions; b) precisely which owners of BMW X7s are going to demand it can tripod its way through a series of mild hummocks and muddy potholes is anybody's guess; and c) the X7's preferred environment, for all this admirable 4x4 larking about, is on tarmac.

So, back on the road, our most pleasing discovery of this early test drive was that the handling of the X7 isn't blunted by its weight. In the same way a 7 Series isn't quite as dynamically pin-sharp as a 5 Series, but the bigger limousine still remains impressive, so it is with the X7. It's no overblown X3 or X5 in the corners, granted, but it'll cling on far longer than you might expect, it has rather lovely steering (light, but accurate and even communicative) and the body control is incredible - even the non-active anti-roll models minimise lean and weight transfer, to enough of a standard that throwing the X7 around actually becomes a pleasurable experience. It'll take long, fast-radius corners at speeds that are faintly ridiculous given its mass and the mustered forces of physics at work, while even sharp little high-speed kinks don't faze it. Yep, it's a cruiser first and foremost, but it hasn't lost the BMW-ness of its road-holding entirely as a result.

And engine choice? Tricky, as they're all excellent. The 3.0-litre straight-six petrol unit doesn't struggle with the bulk of the X7 at all, so you'd be fine opting for an xDrive40i. The M50d is impossible not to fall for immediately, given the utterly bonkers midrange it has courtesy of four (FOUR!) turbos ramming air down its gob, but it's not a given it will come to the UK (the 750d with the same engine doesn't, for example) and it does use sound augmentation for its exhaust in Sport mode that's weirdly fake and booming. More calibration needed here, we fancy.

The 30d's monster 620Nm will do the trick of moving the X7 about fine, so it's the pragmatic choice, but we'll go with our hearts and plump for the V8 petrol as our pick of the launch models. It has a wonderful, guttural burble to it without the Sport exhaust, so it would probably sound epic with it fitted, and it bestows a thunderous turn of pace on the X7 without need for histrionics. It remains smooth all around the rev counter and admirably muted when you need it to be... oh, and it does what every self-respecting V8 ought to: have the X7 in Park and blip the throttle a few times, and the 4.4 gently rocks the entire frame of the car laterally. Torque-tastic.

Verdict

It's always tricky to judge an impending new car on the strength of a prototype drive, as many facets of the vehicle are still to be set in stone. That's the case with the X7, which still has the best part of another six months to be refined and fettled ahead of its market launch. Yet it's abundantly clear to see that BMW is onto a winner here. Cultured, whisper-quiet, replete with technological goodies and a load of cabin space, blessed with some belting engines and a chassis that doesn't completely lose the plot once it is shown a corner, the BMW X7 is the luxury SUV rendered in the best possible fashion. The Mercedes-Benz GLS doesn't stand a chance. And Range Rover buyers, what the dickens are you going to do now...?

Exterior Design

Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 9 May 2018









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2018 BMW X7. Image by BMW.2018 BMW X7. Image by BMW.2018 BMW X7. Image by BMW.2018 BMW X7. Image by BMW.2018 BMW X7. Image by BMW.








 

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