Your first thought upon viewing the BMW X7: The massive front grille turns this amazing full-size SUV in the direction of self-parody. But step into the cockpit, where you don’t see the schnozz, and you’ll find a wealth of performance, handling, and driver-assist features that make this the best big SUV you can buy, at least until the next-generation (2020) Mercedes-Benz GLS arrives in quantity. What makes the X7 worth the better part of $ 100,000 is the seamless Level 2 self-driving with automatic lane changes, the big cockpit displays, the camera systems, the fabulous seats, the ride and handling, and reasonable third-row room.
The biggest (non-grille) downside is cockpit switchgear that has become at once prettier, harder to use, and harder to read. Also, a car this big would be more socially conscious if a plug-in hybrid version was offered in the first wave of X7 shipments rather than waiting for 2020 or 2021. And: Before you commit to lease payments up to $ 1,600, make sure you really need the marginally bigger interior the X7 provides. The BMW X5 is nearly as big in most ways unless you must have that third seat. On price, the X7 is clearly bigger, as much as $ 122,000, and even something of a public service: BMW is doing more to claw back money from the rich than Bernie and AOC combined.
Fabulous on Highways and Back Roads
I test-drove the 2019 X7. The 2020 model is virtually the same, adding a higher-power M design version. The BMW X7 is in its element gliding along the highway on 400-mile treks, whether you drive it yourself or engage the Active Driving Assistant Pro self-driving feature and let radars, cameras, and microprocessors do the work. Perhaps surprisingly — if you don’t know BMW-Audi-Mercedes-Porsche SUV engineering — it’s also quite at home on country roads as long as you factor in the 5,500 pounds of weight.
There are a lot of cars that have Level 2 self-driving, meaning your car paces the car in front up to the speed you set using adaptive cruise control and keeps the car in the middle of the lane (lane centering assist), while you lightly keep hands on the steering wheel. BMW does it as well as anyone. I was impressed by the auto-lane-change feature. Tap the turn signal, the car checks to the rear and side, and if the coast is clear, shifts lanes left or right. Not once was there an issue with the car trying to shift lanes at the same time a car behind was coming up quickly. Although it doesn’t hurt to look in the side mirror just to be sure, as some Tesla drivers have learned.
An X7 slides through the primordial soup. Actually, an off-road course at the BMW Performance Center outside Palm Springs, California. The X7 fords up 20 inches of water.
Long-haul driving is helped by the quality of BMW’s seats, the optional seat massagers, the side window shades in row two, heated and vented seats, and even the pillows attached to the headrests. At night, the mood lighting makes the car feel like a private jet. The console cupholders warm or cool drinks. USB jacks are abundant. Onboard Wi-Fi is available. Many of these features are optional (and desirable, and not cheap), and BMW’s close competitors offer many of the same features and options.
The mondo front grille is mostly trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) that makes you suspect the X7 is bigger in every way than BMW’s other SUVs. It took me a day of driving to realize that the X7 is fine on twisty back roads because it’s no wider, just a bit longer, and about 500 pounds heavier than the X5, a happy back-road-warrior.
Among European automakers, there’s an arms race to have the family SUV be an off-roader and river-crosser. BMW has a package that lets you climb rocks and then cross a stream 20 inches deep. It’s an option. If you want to tow a trailer, you can, and with the trailer package, you can tow 7,700 pounds.
BMW’s self-driving suite, the Driving Assistance Professional Package, is slick; it even changes lanes by tapping the turn signal. (Note that mail truck is being towed and not wrong-way driving.) And only Wikipedia presents more information than BMW’s head-up display.
BMW in the Lead on Tech
BMW in the US has been the ultimate driving machine for half a half-century. Now it dazzles you with technical brilliance as well. Example: If you get the surround camera package, when you park, you see the view ahead (if you’re pulling in going forward) on the big center stack display side-by-side with a stitched 360-degree overhead view; as you get closer to the car in front or to the garage wall, the view-ahead camera angle rises up to help gauge the final couple feet, all automagically. Or if you get the parking assistant option, you can let the car ease itself into parallel or perpendicular spaces. If you do it yourself, nearby vehicles, walls, raised curbs, or light stanchions shown onscreen radiate green-yellow-or-red force fields outward to indicate how close you are. When you’re away from the car, the cameras let you monitor its well-being from your phone. At a time when even some mainstream cars — Ford Explorer, say — have auto-parking, BMW marshals overwhelming-show-of-force technology to make the case for premium cars.
The dual 12-inch displays (instrument panel and center stack) allow multiple panes of information. If you want, the center display can be dialed back to, say, just the moving map. The iDrive controller works well and you have multiple ways to interact: the control wheel, a finger-writing pad on top of the wheel, adjacent buttons to summon common features, voice input, and gesture controls including a Tinder-like swipe to answer the phone. Okay, gesture control may seem like a stupid pet trick, but BMW’s point is: We give you every way possible to interact with the car. The modes you don’t like? Don’t use them.
The head-up display is big with lots of information that you can choose to show or hide. When the HUD maps out the lanes you need to be in for the exit, it’s pretty hard to mess up. BMW monitors the driver for inattention via an instrument panel camera, which is faster and more accurate in determining if your attention has drifted. You won’t like being ratted out, but you’ll live longer. Most of BMW’s USB jacks are Type C, which is the way the industry is heading. You may need to buy a $ 5 adapter now, but your next phone will probably be Type C at both ends, and you’re ready.
And this is tech of a sort: the Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof creates six LED light patterns in the roof — white, blue, orange, bronze, lilac, and green — for more enjoyable nighttime driving.
BMW X7 center console: The function selectors forward of the iDrive controller are blocked by the optional crystal shifter, and the button cluster lost its find-by-shape pronounced vee-design.
Cockpit Controls Won’t Please Everyone
When a car costs this much, the owner has high expectations. Repeat buyers may be disappointed with the direction taken by the interface to the iDrive controls and control surfaces. Function buttons to control entertainment, phone, map, and navigation were arrayed in side-by-side vee shapes with the home button in between. You could tell without looking if you were touching the front or rear button by the way it sloped, and the left or right button set by where the flat home button was in relation. The buttons now are hard to access because the driver’s hand has to reach around the gearshift selector.
On the steering wheel, buttons are now finished in brushed satin chrome with black lettering that glows a weakish red at night. Drivers over 40 with imperfect eyesight may find them a challenge, especially those who don’t use their reading half-glasses while driving.
The X7 includes no adaptive cruise control in the base version, reserving it for the $ 1,700 self-drive package called the Driving Assistance Professional Package. BMW should include adaptive cruise control in the base price as Honda and Toyota do so the basics are all there: ACC as well as the provided lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, forward collision warning, and auto-emergency braking.
BMW does give you 10 free years of telematics service (not 10 years of free data) so emergency calling and crash notification are always there, BMW can download software updates, and you can reach out to the dealer to set up service. But there is no Android Auto, and access to Apple CarPlay costs $ 80 a year (after a free first year).
Cockpit fit and finish are fabulous on the X7.
BMW X7 Trim Walk
A basic X7 is $ 75K. But move up the ladder to the V8 and the M version, and/or add in as much as $ 20K in options, and you can easily surpass $ 110,000. The X7 SAV, or sports activity vehicle, as BMW calls it, comes in three variants with an eight-speed automatic transmission and air suspension. Plus lots of options packages and standalone options. All models are all-wheel drive with three rows of seating along with with Active Driving Assistant (daytime pedestrian protection, frontal collision warning with city collision mitigation, lane departure warning, active blind-spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert), adaptive LED headlamps with auto high beams, panoramic moonroof, ambient cockpit lighting with 12 lighting themes, telematics with a Wi-Fi hotspot, and 21-inch alloy wheels.
BMW X7 xDrive 40i ($ 74,895 including $ 995 freight). The 3.0-liter 335 hp turbo inline-six-cylinder engine is rated at 5.8 seconds 0-60 mph with an EPA rating of 20 mpg city / 25 mpg highway / 22 mpg combined on premium fuel. The base audio system has 10 speakers, a 205-watt amplifier, satellite, and HD radio.
BMW X7 xDrive 50i ($ 93,95). The 4.4-liter turbo V8 reaches 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and is EPA-rated at 15 / 21 / 17 mpg. Audio is branded Harman Kardon with 16 speakers (464 watts).
BMW X7 M50i ($ 100,595). The V8 hits 523 hp and goes 0-60 in 4.5 seconds (EPA rating pending). Standard alloy wheels are 22 inches. There even-nicer upholstery and trim choices. Note to enthusiasts: While there’s an M in the name, this is not the same as an M in front of the series number (M3 versus X7 M50i). But it will still outperform every most other big SUV currently on the road.
There are a half-dozen options packages for the X7 from $ 800 to $ 4,100. The Premium Package ($ 2,800) has the HUD, rear side shades, soft close doors, 12-speaker Harman audio, soft-close doors, and gesture control. The Executive Package ($ 4,100 on the six-cylinder) incorporates the Premium Package plus the Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof, heated and cooled cupholders, and “hand-made, diamond-cut glass trim elements” for the shifter, audio volume control, start button, and iDrive wheel.
The Driver Assistance Package ($ 1,700) is a must-have twice over: once because BMW omits adaptive cruise control from the base price and secondly because BMW rolls in a raft of other truly useful assists including Level 2 self-driving. The Cold Weather Package ($ 1,200) has heated front seat armrests and steering, and five-zone climate control. A Luxury Seating Package is $ 1,600.
You can order one or the other of these two: an Off-Road Package ($ 1,650) has specific modes for sand, rock, gravel, and snow); or the Parking Assistance Package ($ 800) with automated parallel parking, surround-view of the car while driving or while parked and way from the car, plus a video drive recorder.
Standalone options included Night Vision ($ 2,300), a trailer hitch that boosts towing capacity to 7,500 pounds ($ 550), a leather dashboard ($ 850), scented cockpit aromas (350), second-row captain’s chairs ($ 850), Alcantara (synthetic suede headliner, $ 1,000), “Shadowline” trim ($ 350), rear entertainment ($ 2,200), M Sport brakes ($ 650), and integral active steering ($ 1,150). All these have some degree of utility and can also drive the six-cylinder version to $ 87,000. More if you add premium paint (up to $ 1,950), pothole-finder 22-inch wheels ($ 1,300), specialty seat leathers ($ 3,700), or an M Sport design package ($ 4,350) that is about show more than go (it does include an aero kit to glue the car to the road at near-Autobahn speeds). The most costly X7 I managed to price reached $ 121,845, about $ 1,600 a month on a lease.
BMW X7 is 203 inches to the X5’s 194 inches. Width and height are essentially the same.
The Big SUV: What Took BMW So Long?
The Berlin Wall had barely come down when BMW first pondered an SUV, the X5. It arrived in 1999 and was a more immediate hit than the first Mercedes-Benz ML (now GLE) that rode like a truck (because it was built on a truck frame), or the first Lexus RX, 1998. BMW added the compact X3 as a 2004 model, the subcompact X1 in 2008, and fastback SUVs (X6, X4) along the way. The X7 was almost a decade in gestation if you count the years of internal deliberations and the five years from public announcement to first shipments this year. In the meantime, Mercedes-Benz ruled with the full-size GL (now GLS) that dates to the 2007 model year. The first X7 barely beat the third-generation GLS to market.
Why did BMW wait? For certain, BMW wanted to be sure the big honker would handle decently. Perhaps it had doubts about the propriety of building such a big vehicle at a time when many parts of the world have concerns about the car’s impact on the planet. You might approach 30 mpg in very cautious highway driving with the six-cylinder if you stick to the speed limit), and with a 21.9-gallon tank, cruise 550 miles or more between refills. Actually, if you gauge your speed by the amount of road and wind noise, you’ll think you’re doing 55, look at the speedometer, and realize you’re rolling at 85.
When you parallel park the X7, you’ll know it’s bigger: 203 versus 194 inches long. The 122-inch wheelbase, 5 inches more than the X5, smooths out the highway ride. Interior head, leg and shoulder room are no more than an inch better for the X7. Rear legroom, often the measurement that most determines rear-seat comfort, rounds to 38 inches for both, fair-to-good for a full-size SUV, but almost 7 inches less than the decade-only Ford Flex. Put all but the front seats down and the X7 trumps the X5 on cargo space, 90 to 72 cubic feet. But with all the seats up, there is a puny 13 feet behind the X7’s third-row versus 33.9 for the X5.
Be sure to try the third row for comfort. I’d describe it this way: good headroom, decent legroom, seat too low to the floor (but that allows for decent headroom). If you want a comfortable third row, either go to something like a Ford Expedition that is 2 feet longer, or get a — gasp — minivan. In other words, the third row is okay but you might have expected a little more room. The third row does get its own sunroof.
BMW offers two V8 engines with 523 or 465 hp (X7 M50i, X7 xDrive50i) or or an inline six 335 hp (X7 xDrive 40i). Choose your 0-60 time: 4.5, 5.2, or 5.8 seconds 0-60 mph.
BMW X7 vs. Mercedes GLS and the Field
Among full-size luxury/sport SUVs, they all do a good job wrapping you in leather seating surfaces and making the straight-line driving experience joyful. Take a look at the direct and wannabe competitors:
The US-flagged brands, for the most part, do not pretend to be SUV versions of the brands’ sport sedans. Most come in big and bigger editions, including the Cadillac Escalade (204 and 224 inches long) and Lincoln Navigator (210 and 222 inches long), with the ability to tow at least 7,900 pounds. They weigh 5,500-6,200 pounds and use body-on-frame rather than a weight-saving unibody construction. The Navigator is new for 2019 and gets high marks for luxury appointments (even in this class), straight-line acceleration, second- and third-row room, and highway ride thanks to wheelbases of 123 and 132 inches. (The new Lincoln Aviator is more X5-sized.)
The Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition, and GMC Yukon (especially Denali trim line) can be considered luxury vehicles: You can easily get the price over $ 70K, twice the average of a new car. The unibody Buick Enclave (204 inches long) and new Cadillac XT6 (199 inches) are less bulky than the Escalade-Yukon. Some reviewers found the XT6 didn’t match the luxe feel of the equally new, and larger, Navigator.
The Audi Q7 at 199.6 inches is borderline full-size with a tasteful cockpit and excellent technology; it is more of an X5 competitor. The Audi Q8 is a fastback Q7 that is shorter despite the higher numbering, and more of a BMW X6 competitor. The Porsche Cayenne is a midsize model with only two rows, but it is a Porsche, which means handling and cachet (also a pricey options sheet).
There are also off-road-centric big SUVs such as the aging Toyota Land Cruiser living off the same design since the 2008 model year and the sibling Lexus LX, with V8 engines and snug third rows. The Land Cruiser has reliability and exclusivity on its side: US sales average just 3,000 a year (although global sales dating to 1951 just passed 10 million). These vehicles are not remotely BMW X7 / Mercedes GLS competitors except that if you buy one, it will probably be the only such vehicle in the prep school pickup lane, and exclusivity has value. Just remember: 15 mpg on a good day.
Acura’s biggest SUV, the MDX, is more of a midsize three-row SUV at 196 inches, it’s aging (the third generation dates to MY 2014) and the next-gen MDX arrives within the year, but it’s a solid value. The well-regarded Lexus RX 350 L is an even smaller, still midsize, three-row. From Korea, the new Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride are also midsize three-row SUVs and exceptionally well outfitted for the price, offer Level 2 self-driving, for less than $ 50K; they define “class above” SUVs. That reduces to one the significant Asian competitors: Infiniti, with the 210-inch QX80 featuring a roomy interior, good cargo capacity, and outstanding fit and finish; handling will not be as inspired as the X7’s.
The Land Rover Range Rover has evolved to a beautiful car inside with plenty of room (especially the $ 110K long-wheelbase model), and superb off-road and wading capabilities.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is the closest competitor to the X7.
That leaves the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS, now arriving at dealers. It offers six- or eight-cylinder engines and dual 12-inch dashboard displays (same as BMW), excellent handling and safety, and a starting price, like BMW, in the low- to mid-$ 70s, in part because so many desirable features are extra, such as the E-Active Body Control that scans the road ahead for bumps and continuously adjusts the adaptive suspension. A loaded V8 GLS 550 reaches $ 120,000 and the AMG version starts at $ 125K. Specs suggest the GLS will be more comfortable for passengers aft of the first row compared with the X7, and a look at the front end shows one of the few big SUVs that haven’t succumbed to the big-grille fetish.
What to choose? Right now, the 2019/2020 BMW X7 is the best premium big SUV you can buy. Most likely the X7 and GLS will separate themselves from the field for those whose criteria include great handling, a tasteful interior, good passenger room in all three rows, state-of-the-art driver-assist features including Level 2 autonomy, and comprehensive safety features to avoid, deal with, and reach out after accidents. Look at the Lincoln Navigator long-wheelbase if you need to carry three rows of people most of the time and you’re less concerned about spirited driving on country roads. Or about getting it in the garage at night.
Before you commit, take one last look at the X5. Unless you must have three seating rows or need 7,500 not 6,600 pounds of towing capacity, the X5 is a match for the X7 in interior spaciousness (first two rows), technology features, and engines. Either one, X7 or X5, is fine with the six-cylinder engine. Where the BMW X5 and X3 are the top SUVs in their categories, the X7 may wind up sharing the crown.
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