Road Tests

Drive Review: New BMW X7 (2019) is a Cullinan clone

What’s up with those

…Grilles. The internet has already thrown enough disparaging punches BMW’s way so rather than add salt to the wounds, we’ll attempt (in the spirit of fair journalism) to try and see past them and review the new BMW X7 for what it is: luxury on steroids, or to be more pragmatic an SUV that will really test the upper echelons of Range Rover. What I will confess after driving around Johannesburg is that the monument of metal looks better here than it does in images, and that it carries as much presence as a Mercedes G 63 AMG, minus the uncouth edges like side-exit exhausts

Does it cannibalise the 7 Series?

The two cars dovetail in many respects. They run the same engine line up, a similar truncated list of optional extras, both have air suspension and four-wheel steer as standard and those massive nostrils will polarise opinion, irrespective of what shape follows. But BMW’s SUV have habitually outsold their sedan counterparts and the extra height in the X7 does make it feel impervious to just about anything out there.

The big petrol V8 is still coming

That will be X7 M50i with 390kW but a car like the X7 luxuriates with torque and both diesels offer enough of that. First we drove the 30d with 195kW and 620Nm, then the M50d which takes that same 3.0-litre straight six architecture and ups the turbo count to four to produce 294kW and 760Nm, pulverising 0-100kph in 5.4 seconds . Back to the topic of torque, that’s 10Nm more than the V8 petrol, albeit the V8 does counter with 0-100kph in 4.7 seconds. Yep, BMW’s still woven sporty numbers into their largest luxury cruise ship.

We expected the X7’s weight to blunt the 30d’s character but that’s not the case and you can use the extra R300 000 for extras like the R65 000 Bowers and Wilkins systems as well as BMW’s laser lights.

It’ll rival a VW Caravelle for seating

The eponymous X7 seats as many, with the third row folding neatly away when the preference for boot space is there. Yet nearly all 7-seater SUVs are compromised jigsaw puzzles, which makes BMW’s ingenious 6-seater option all the more beguiling.  Two individual seats, with their own arm rests, in the second row give passengers the wanted personal space and a greater configurability (albeit they won’t swivel), and because they liberate more floorspace, one can merge passengers with luggage in a flexible way.

Does it feel humungous on South African roads?

360-deg cameras, a suite of autonomous functions and four-wheel steer mitigate much of the car’s 5-metre length and 2300kg mass and because of the electric power steering and all the anti-roll witchcraft, the reactions always feel precisely calculated, rather than engaging. It’s still quite the feat of engineering, almost like a budget Rolls-Royce Cullinan running the same version of software, and being less visually offensive. The BMW X7 is by far the most comfortable mainstream SUV on sale with deceptive poise and speed.

iDrive, and then some

We recently criticised the 8 Series’ interior for having copied much of the 4 Series’ but while the X7 is guilty of similar crimes, like digital dials (bad), personal assistant (erratic) and (good) myriad inputs from voice to gesture control , when parlayed to the X7 under the extra light and airiness they now all look and feel a bit smarter. Plus they all work with typical German faultlessness, which is one of the perks of buying a luxury vehicle from a brand that evolves with the times as quickly as BMW.

Verdict

If you can bury your thoughts about the looks to one side, the X7 is truly the vehicle it set out to be. Being unmistakeable and bold is easy, but the X7 leverages real substance too in the way the specification is handled, then executed. Mechanically it’s superb and low on quirks – better than many of its pricier rivals and believe us, the X7 is a lot prettier in the metal. Chief designer Adrian van Hooydonk was right when he said we’d come around to BMW’s way of thinking…’ Andrew Leopold

Pricing

X7 xDrive30d                                      R1 554 500

X7 M50d                                              R1 853 200

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