New 2019 BMW X7 G07: the 300-mile test big SUV battles bigger desert. Goliath versus Goliath dwarfing the X5 and moving into range rover territory, has the biggest Bmw yet sold its soul for Us sales? we cross vast california in search of answers. Words Mike James Taylor. Photography James Lipman.
The 300-mile test new car meets real world
There’s just so much of it. It seems to stretch on forever. To take it all in you have to recalibrate your peripheral vision, reset your sense of scale. Yep, the desertscape in rural California is vast beyond comprehension, and so is the X7’s grille.
BMW’s new flagship SUV wears the largest version of the company’s trademark kidney grille ever applied to a production car. There have been semi-sporty BMW SUVs (X5 G05), there have been coupes (X4/X6), there have been dull-but-worthy ones (X3) – now there’s a Range Rover-esque luxury one, and it’s certainly keen to let you know it’s here.
Available with the choice of six or seven seats, the 5.1m-long X7 starts from around £72k in the UK, but North America will be its biggest market. That’s also where it’s built – at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina. This journey begins on the opposite coast in Palm Springs, east of LA, and will involve heading into the desert.
When you first see the X7 in the metal its sheer heft and comprehensive chroming gel more fluidly than in photos. The interior is as agreeable as the exterior is polarising; it’s all about soft leather, crisp fit and finish, glossy trim and a full toy box. Wireless phone charging is standard, as is onboard Wi-Fi (with an excellent connection even in the back of beyond), heated and cooled cupholders are an option, there are five climate control zones, and just about everything that moves is motorised. No wonder it weighs more than 2300kg, when you have electric motors for six or seven seats, and for a split tailgate, and for a massive three-part sunroof.
Whether you have two or three seats in the middle row, they can’t be folded manually, and nor can the two in the back. Instead they fold via switches at their side and in the boot. It’s a fiddly process that has us pining for a manual lever or two as we load our X7 up. But when the rearmost pair have dropped into the boot floor there’s a giant luggage area.
Palm Springs is a genteel kind of place, where the pace of life is slow and the golf courses plentiful. The X7 feels at home here. The archetypal Palm Springs car is the classic Cadillac sedan; there are plenty of them tucked away among the manicured sprinkler-tended lawns and Art Deco houses. Grandiose and unashamedly built for comfort, the X7 feels like a spiritual successor to the Cadillacs that, prior to the SUV’s rise to power, used to symbolise US automotive luxury. Air springs on both axles are standard on the BMW, and it’s a cushy way to travel – mostly. This car rides on optional 22-inch wheels (20 and 21s are also available), and although large bumps are absorbed, there’s an annoying low-level patter on smaller bumps and surface joins. Gigantic blindspot aside (the standard-fit warning monitor lamps in the mirrors really earn their keep), it’s incredibly easy to manoeuvre for a car of this size, and to park, thanks to the superb 360º camera system. But then this is America, where the streets are wide, the lanes are many and tight parking spaces are the exception rather than the rule.
We strike out of the Palm Springs oasis towards the desert wilderness. This X7 is the 40i, the mainstream petrol option starting at £74,155. A turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six with 335bhp and 332lb ft, it’s a stalwart BMW motor, as found in the 330i/340i and the Z4 M40i G29 (and its Toyota Supra sister car). The difference is that in the 2320kg X7 the straight-six doesn’t feel like it’s overflowing with power; no 155mph limiter required here. The performance is quick enough without being outright fast, providing ample shove when you need it, smoothly balanced cruising when you don’t. There’s a pleasant mellow growl under acceleration, but it’s church-mouse-quiet otherwise. This is one very well-insulated car.
For now, the other two engine options in the UK are both six-cylinder 3.0-litre diesels: the £72,155 30d with 264bhp and the £87,240, 394bhp 50d. A V8 50i with more than 500bhp will join the range in a few months, but it’s not yet officially confirmed for the UK.
Onwards through Yucca Valley on Highway 247, the landscape grows more arid and dusty and the palm trees are replaced by Joshua trees and cacti, the golf courses by coarse liquor shacks. This part of California is a giant playground, the light aircraft above gazing down upon hard-charging dirt bikes and Baja Bugs trailing dust like tiny comets.
Time for a little off-road driving of our own. The trails criss-crossing this corner of the Mojave are marked on the iDrive’s sat-nav but there’s no tarmac, just wicked whoops and ruts. We pump the air suspension’s variable ride height to the uppermost of its five levels, fire up the off-road camera displays, which swoop around a graphic of the car to help pick out hidden obstacles, and crack on.
This particular X7 is fitted with the optional Off-Road package, with an underguard at the front, diff-lock at the rear and a suite of xOffroad modes for the gearbox, traction control and pedal response curve settings, for sand, gravel, rock and snow. Okay, it’s not the kind of terrain that would worry a Land Rover Discovery, but the X7 acquits itself well. What’s immediately clear is that its structure is inherently stiff. The X7 is built using the same aluminium and steel platform as the 7-series (albeit without its composite Carbon Core elements) and there’s not a hint of flex while tackling awkward troughs.
There are some worryingly pointy rocks about but thankfully the standard road-spec Pirellis deal with them just fine. Getting stuck out here is inadvisable; rattlesnakes are common. No rock in these parts is as big as, or less pointy than, the gigantic boulder that appears ahead of us. Standing seven storeys high, Giant Rock seems wholly incongruous, like some kind of art installation, while clearly being entirely natural. It’s been regarded as spiritually significant by Native Americans for thousands of years, and has a bizarre recent history. In the ’30s, eccentric miner Frank Critzer used dynamite as he dug a 400 square-foot home for himself under the rock. Critzer was a German immigrant and a radio enthusiast, both of which made local authorities suspicious during the Second World War, and he was killed by some of his dynamite in an incident in 1942 while under investigation by the police. The rock was unscathed in that fracas, but in the year 2000 part of it split off, revealing a white granite interior.
Critzer’s friend George Van Tassel, a UFO enthusiast, built an airfield nearby, and a building called the Integratron designed to facilitate time travel. Once used by luminaries including Integratron supporter Howard Hughes, the airfield fell into disuse decades ago and has since been chewed up by the 4x4s, buggies and dirt bikes that flock to the area.
Back onto terra firma and into the Lucerne Valley. Rolling along at 55mph it feels as if you could get out and jog alongside, partly because of the X7’s capsule-like refinement, partly the sheer scale of this place. The valley floor stretches, spirit-level flat and without interruption to the distant horizon, pointy and snow-capped. California’s good at horizons. I’m struck by how politely traffic springs out of the way to let us through, and then remember the gigantic chrome grille up front and imagine how imposing we must look to cars ahead. You send out a message when you drive this car, whether you wish to or not.
Engage the optional Active Cruise Control and the distance to the traffic ahead can be self-regulated by the front camera and sensors. More than that, the X7 can also steer itself within a lane, and bring itself to a halt and pull away in traffic. Covering endless, numbing miles it’s easy to begin to rely on the system to reduce fatigue, and so adeptly does the X7 look after its own progress it’s hard not to become distracted and reliant upon it. But you can’t, because the system can easily become flummoxed when road markings get inconsistent.
As we climb out of the valley, we chance upon a rarity in these parts: some real corners. It’s a chance for the X7’s chassis to show off. Suspension is by air springs on double wishbones at the front and multi-link rear, with adaptive dampers and electric anti-roll control, plus fluid-filled bushings (and M50d models can also feature all-wheel steering). The result is a car that’s spookily flat through corners and looks after itself remarkably well for a big, 2.3-tonne car.
But it can only go so far in disguising its mass, and there’s a slight disconnect in immediacy between the steering and the body’s movements, especially in the suspension’s softest Comfort setting. While the X7 handles very adeptly for its size, and certainly compares favourably to, for example, a Range Rover or a Volvo XC90, I still find myself yearning for something lower and lighter as the road twists and turns.
Off the tarmac once more and onto what feels like the surface of another planet. We’re at our final stop on the desert weirdness tour, Trona Pinnacles, a few miles from Death Valley. It’s an ethereal place. Once underwater, the dry Searles Lake bed has left behind hundreds of pillars of calcium carbonate, a few thousand years in the making. Parts of Planet of the Apes and Star Trek V were filmed here; were it not for a beautifully turned-out Airstream trailer parked on a plateau, we could be on the other side of the universe.
The X7’s bodywork is streaked with dust, the windscreen splattered with bugs, but it’s handled everything we’ve thrown at it, some of it while driving itself. In Palm Springs it blended in like a native. In the wilds of the desert it scrambled over gnarly ruts and climbs like a lizard. And on the freeway it covered miles like an all-wheel-drive airliner – after the 300 miles of this story, the BMW and I go on to cover another 700 or so, effortlessly. Big car, big comfort, big appetite for miles.
THE 300-MILE VERDICT
‘It’s tall and heavy. But the X7 more than lives up to the standards implicit in its badge’
The X7’s epically comfortable seats and impressive refinement made 300 miles feel like 30, and – fiddly folding seat interface apart – its interior environment is as well laid-out as it is luxurious. The iDrive multimedia system remains one of the most intuitive, and although its gesture control element feels like a gimmick (you’re more likely to change radio station in error while waving your hands chatting to a passenger than on purpose), its clickwheel and touchscreen menu interface are superbly realised.
The pair of seats in the third row are the most luxurious of their type on the market, with roof-mounted climate control, three levels of heating and even their own sunroof. You might hesitate to load the X7 to the brim with heavy objects for fear of tarnishing its trim, though. As with most six- or seven-seaters, legroom is tight in the final row but there are epic amounts of it in row two. Go on, just bask in that comfort.
These comfort and convenience features are all hugely important in the world of big, premium SUVs. But what’s more important to us is how the X7 drives.
It’s tall and very heavy, guaranteeing that the X7 is never going to be a driver’s car, but it looks after itself well enough dynamically to live up to the BMW badge, its anti-roll system and four-wheel-drive torque distribution helping it corner remarkably tidily for such a bulky car.
There’s real depth of ability here. It handled everything we’ve put it through, from scrambling over off-road wilderness to being hurled along twisting driving roads. UFO sightings and giant rocks called Giant Rock may be rarer sights in Peterborough than in Palm Springs, but well-sorted suspension and highly evolved engines know no boundaries.
The wide-open spaces, high mileages and extreme temperatures of the western USA highlight all that’s best about the X7: roomy, quiet, comfortable and composed, it feels like a car designed as much for its passengers as its driver. Roomier than the (slightly smaller) Audi Q7, dynamically superior to the GLS Mercedes and slicker inside than the Range Rover, BMW’s BFG is a very capable super-SUV.
It’s spookily flat through corners and looks after itself remarkably well for a 2.3-tonne car
This part of California is a giant playground, the light aircraft up above gazing down upon hardcharging dirt bikes and Baja Bugs
The landscape becomes more arid and dusty, palm trees replaced by cacti, golf courses by coarse liquor shacks
Passengers have more fun than the driver on some roads Off-Road package brings extra modes: xSand, xSnow, xGravel and xRocks. Really. With a blunt drag coefficient of 0.34, the butterfly didn’t stand a chance. Cabin space almost as vast as BMW’s SUV ambitions. Optional 22s look the real deal but upset ride quality on some surfaces.
A BMW to drive – just
The X7 handles better than such an obese vehicle has a right to, acquitting itself on a tricky road better than a Range Rover – and far better than a Mercedes GLS. Audi’s sportier (and admittedly less comfort-oriented) SQ7 is a far more rewarding steer however, feeling like a hot hatch in an SUV body. Adept though the X7 is, it’s not a driving experience that stays with you.
A First Class cabin
In terms of fit, finish and quality, the X7 is a step ahead of Range Rover, and its design is more considered and less chintzy than the equivalent Mercedes GLS (quite the opposite of the X7’s exterior, in fact). While gesture control remains a gimmick and voice control fallible, iDrive infotainment is the most intuitive on the market.
Ace but archaic powertrains
The electric version of the X7? No such thing. The plug-in hybrid? Um, no sign of that. A self-charging little electric booster? Not just yet. Your engine lineup is a couple of diesel sixes and a petrol six. And the cavalry on the horizon? A petrol V8. We’re not complaining – these are all excellent engines – but it’s a long way from the industry’s powertrain cutting-edge.
2019 BMW X7 xDrive40i Design Pure Excellence G07
Price 2019 in UK £74,155 (£92,055 as tested)
Max Power 335bhp @ 5500rpm,
Max Torque 332lb ft @ 1500rpm,
Acceleration 0-62mph 6.1sec
Max Speed 152mph
Powertrain 2998cc 24v turbocharged straight-six, eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Efficiency 31.4-32.5mpg, / 198-205g/km CO2
On Sale Now
PICK-UP: 0 MILES
The X7’s key is as lavish as the car, capable of raising and lowering the suspension remotely and checking how much fuel is left in the tank. It charges wirelessly.
Chunky A-pillars limit visibility, but the blindspots over your shoulders are so meaty you can lose an SUV in them, let alone a golf cart crewed by tanned retirees.
Plant the throttle and you’ll hit 124mph in 7.9sec – and be in jail shortly after.
Let’s off-road! iDrive has off-road-specific graphics, showing data including the car’s current lean angle. There are cameras at each corner.
Pitstop at a crossroads cafe in the vast Lucerne Valley. The T-shirt’s not joking about the location. NASCAR on the TV, rare meat on the barbecue.
As we head further east from Palm Springs we can see the sense in the long-travel suspension and knobbly tyres found on just about every vehicle we encounter. X7 copes well, though.
40i turbocharged six is usually a recipe for scorching performance but the X7’s sheer mass blunts its edge. Engine shortly due to see service in Morgan’s new Plus Six – there’s versatile for you.
I take a turn in roomy row two. Vast legroom, plus entertainment and controls for sat-nav, climate control and multimedia.
An accident on the freeway means we’re briefly rerouted onto the historic Route 66. Few kicks to be had on this bleak stretch, though.
Journey’s end at the Trona Pinnacles: as rugged and epic as the X7 but considerably less rectangular. Still, give it another 10,000 years…