BMW X7: does it measure up to what you'd expect from a luxury 7-seater?
First Drive in Savannah, Georgia: BMW X7 SAV
I've driven many a new car on many a road abroad but this one takes the biscuit.
Over circuitous routes from Greenville, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia, the three of us sat in the X7, BMW's new three-row seven-seater SAV (four-wheel drive Sports Activity Vehicle).
Yet, not once did any two of us sit in the same row. There was always a driver on his 'own', someone in the middle row and someone in the third row (two seats).
It wasn't that we didn't like each other or hadn't washed. It was more a case of really testing BMW's claim that this is a proper seven-seater (you can configure for six as well) and that adult-sized passengers could access and occupy the back row in comfort over a long journey.
It meant, for the purposes of our zig-zag day-long drive between the two southern US towns, that we got to sample the drive and handling, and interact with the equipment and tecchie stuff - but above all test for room and comfort.
The X7 is the new BMW flagship and gets here mid-May. Its mission is to provide exactly what we tested; a full-seating drive. Yes the smaller X5 still comes as a 5/7-seater (90pc the latter as it costs just €800 extra) but the X7 is a far larger proposition. It needs to be because the opposition (Range Rover for example), and starting price, loom large too. There is a difference, roughly, of €25,000 between the X5 7-seat MSport and X7 M Sport 3d so it's quite a step up (see prices panel).
For all that, this is a seriously commanding motor. It's 5.15m long, quite tall (the first time they've made a car so big). And they have absolutely 'gone' for it with the grille.
It is striking and brave. If you don't know that's an X7 in your rear-view mirror you should not be at the wheel of a car.
With all that talk about size you'd expect the inside to feel like a barn. It wasn't. It's narrower than you think (though still XL) while clever use of leather and plush materials on dash, doors and seating contrived to yield a cosy feel (certainly in the downpours we encountered).
We drove the 40i petrol (diesel in America? You must be joking) which, with the 8spd auto, was bright, powerful and quiet.
Of course the X7 6cyl 30d will be the major seller in Ireland so we must await a test in that.
We drove in different modes: mostly Comfort and Sport. There was less bodyroll with the latter; something to watch out for in such a tall vehicle.
From a driver's point of view, I have to say it had the best driving position I have to come across bar none. Yes, it was that good.
Not alone could I command a brilliant view of the road ahead and I could 'see through' my rear-seat occupant to the road behind. If there was a criticism it would be around the rear pillars which were no more than adequate for vision.
But it was a fine drive (the first of a special series across the US) thanks partly to the air suspension and the slickest of auto transmissions. I loved the dash and the interactive screen. They've got a lot of things right up front, that's for sure. Is it better than the Range Rover? Is it worth €25,000 more than the X5 seven-seater?
Answering those questions puts the focus on how I got on in the third row too (after hogging the driving for hours). Getting in was ok, much as you would expect as each row is stepped higher than the one before it; so it was easy enough. And getting settled - two USB charging points - was facilitated with ease. But there wasn't mega room. No harm to mention I am 6ft 1ins or so.
Therefore to get the old legs properly accommodated I had to slide the middle-row seat a fair bit forward, which would have cramped an occupying passenger if we had one.
But once ensconced I was grand, comfortable and stayed there for a few hours. I won't say it was palatial but I could not have managed in the two crimpy rear seats on the X5 - that's for sure. The Range Rover? Unfair in a way because of its go-anywhere capability but yes, it would be a tough call.
There is no denying the X7 shows BMW learned from, and added to, what was already on the market.
Its size is both a plus, for the room, and a minus (urban traffic).
Would I buy it? No, for the price. Yes for the space, drive, comfort - and that wonderful grille.
Facts & figures
There are three 6cyl engines: xDrive30d (265bhp) ,
xDrive40i petrol (340bhp) and the 400bhp M50d.
Prices start at €113,000 for the 30d. The 40i petrol costs €121,000. M Sport costs €4,000 more; M50d from €156,000.
Emissions (g/km) are 171, 198 and 185 respectively.
There are 6-seat and 7-seat configurations.
Spec includes digital live cockpit ,panorama sunroof, merino leather, 21ins alloys, Sport automatic transmission, height adjustable two-axle air suspension with various driving modes, heated seats front/rear; leather dashboard, 4-zone air con, adaptive LED/high beam assist, LED fog lights, parking assistant Plus, wireless charging/WiFi.
M SPORT has 21ins double spoke alloys, M Sport steering wheel, braking system, aerodynamics pack, anthracite headliner.
M PERFORMANCE has 22ins alloys, M Sport differential - harman/kardon system.