Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 3, 2019
A large void has consistently plagued the BMW lineup. Those who wanted seven-passenger seating were left with the X5 and its awfully cramped third row, forcing more serious buyers to look elsewhere. That took them to the Mercedes camp where the GLS has sold more than half a million units since 2006. But that’s about to change with the new U.S.-built 2019 BMW X7, a luxurious three-row SUV with some serious catching up to do. With Mercedes touting their GLS to be the S-Class of SUVs, then the X7 should be appropriately coined the 7 Series of SUVs. Silky smooth turbocharged engines, all-wheel drive with off-road modes, and a clever suspension should give the X7 sporting potential, and if those massive kidney grills are any indication of its focus on driving dynamics, then BMW’s most regal and substantial truck should take the cake against its rivals.
And quite a sizable SUV it is. Alongside the new 7 Series, those controversial kidney grills are the largest BMW has ever produced, and were enlarged due to popular customer demand in Asia. Sitting prominently on the front grill as a focus point, the X7 commands significant road presence, with the slim laser headlights (only LEDs on the GLS) only accentuating the grill even more. The rear end is similarly upright and boxy, extending its width down the back with rear doors that are longer than the front doors, and a two-section split tailgate. The X7 isn’t the sexiest SUV to grace the blue roundel badge but such are the constraints of large, square dimensions and modern safety standards. Just ask the Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini.
The X7 is a family SUV first and foremost, so let’s talk about cabin functionality. Three rows of seats come standard with the ability to swallow seven passengers. The second row is available in both a three-seat bench or two individual captain’s chairs, both of which are throne-worthy and more comfortable that your favourite toilet seat. Every row commands their own partitioned sunroof and the seats are all electrically adjustable with an overage of switches to control them in the trunk, door sill, and seat bottom. That said, the resulting seat movement is painfully slow, and will test the patience of those accustomed to the instant motion of manual latches.
The third row is surprisingly spacious, even for my six-foot figure. Ingress is painless with such large door portals and legroom is abundant, as is headroom. In fact, it’s just as roomy as the GLS, both of which come with individual heated seats, USB-C outlets, and climate controls. The back seats in the X7 lack the same kind of luxury amenities that make the GLS so impressive, like the second row massaging seats, and Samsung tablet embedded in the center console that can control nearly every aspect of the vehicle. The X7 on the other hand can only be equipped with dual rear entertainment screens that pretty much do the same job.
For driver convenience, BMW has installed a shortcut button on the door panel that moves the second row seats fore and aft - handy when you don’t want to get out of the car to help incoming passengers. Drivers can also control the front passenger side as well. With additional massage, heated, and ventilated functions, the X7 is turning drivers into couch potatoes. Good thing then, that the seats are mighty comfortable and worthy of your living room couch.
The X7 took everything that made the 7 Series such a remarkable sedan and expanded it with a massive cabin, heightened seating position, and an equally plush ride. The interior lacks the progressive and simplistic design of the GLS, but otherwise remains a functional and ergonomic first-class lounge that does not leave you guessing as to what button operates what function. Furthermore, BMW has kept the vaunted row of buttons that users can program for any shortcut action, whether its their favourite radio station or the sport displays that show live horsepower usage.
While the 12.3-inch media display is not as grand as Mercedes’ connected dual screens, it’s just as enjoyable but with a smaller learning curve and more methods of adjustability. The digital instrument cluster houses bright and high-definition graphics but the crowded visuals, non-linear speedo and fuel gauges, inconsistent image fading, and different sized fonts make it an eyesore and difficult to locate the required information. On the bright side, the head-up display will render most of the cluster useless, and is reflected onto one of the largest front windshields I’ve ever seen. Thin A-pillars and tall side windows further enhance driver visibility.
A few other points about the interior: the optional Harman Kardon speakers are excellent and should be enough for casual listeners, but it’s not nearly as crisp as the top-end Bang and Olufsen system so if you are a bit of an audiophile, the $4,900 premium might be worth considering. The massaging seats are clearly not as potent as the ones in the Mercedes or even Audis, and feel more like a slight tickle from the inflating bolsters than anything else. Half the time you forget it’s even there. You will also find the full gamut of BMW’s latest tech features like Gesture Control (hand-motion activated inputs), Extended Traffic Jam Assist (hands-free driving for long intervals on the highway), and Automatic Lane Change, at your disposal. Gimmicky or not, the X7 leaves no rock unturned, and gives drivers everything from their toy shelves.
For 2019, the BMW X7 is offered in two flavours: xDrive40i ($92,500) with a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six delivering 335 hp and 330 lb-ft, dashing from 0-100 km/h in 6.1 seconds, and the xDrive50i ($110,100) with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 pushing out 456 hp and 479 lb-ft, sprinting from 0-100 km/h in 5.4 seconds. We tested the 40i variant only and were impressed by the engine’s willingness to rev, meaty torque range, and ability to get this mammoth X7 going without any fuss. Maximum torque comes as early as 1,500 rpm and doesn’t let up until 5,200 rpm and much like the GLS 450, power is immediate but it won’t shove you into your seat. Save that for the V8.
That said, there’s more than enough overtaking ability for casual drivers, and though the hungrier V8 offers effortless acceleration and relentless bouts of power, the 40i is clearly the more sensible and efficient choice for buyers. In addition, both engines are mated to a smooth shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that glides around without any shudders or imperfect rev matches. All in all, the 40i is one sweet powertrain. There should be a more performance-oriented X7 M50i coming soon, which sort of defeats the purpose of a comfortable family hauler but seeing how well AMG variants of the GLS 63 have sold, it’s clear there is a target market for these thirsty gas guzzlers with extra sizzle.
Keeping with the signature BMW driving experience, the X7 rides well, turns with relative ease, and the optional M Sport Exhaust is audibly satisfying. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear it for yourself. Perhaps that’s what took BMW twelve years to build a GLS-competitor: they were busy finding the right tune to make such a large SUV dance the BMW samba. Measured steering mixed with a sharp front nose helps the X7 disguise its mass, and there’s less of that top-heavy lean and reluctance to turn. But even with a two-axle air suspension, the X7 squats a bit more than the GLS under hard braking and acceleration, mostly due to the E-Active Body Control that makes the Mercedes so adept at minimizing undulations and chassis bouncing. The X7 isn’t as well damped and a bit harsher when it comes to absorbing impacts, more so with the 22-inch wheels than the standard 21s. This could also be due to the fact that our X7 did not come equipped with the Dynamic Handling Package, which adds rear-wheel steering, active anti-roll bars, larger brakes, and camera sensors that preview the road ahead to proactively make suspension adjustments. We tested the GLS on the press launch without E-Active Body Control, and it rode similarly enough to call it a virtual tie.
If you are cross shopping between the X7 and GLS, it’s safe to say that you will be happy with either choice. Both are excellent family haulers loaded up with every feature in the book to keep occupants warm, comfortable, and connected. The X7 is slightly more fun to drive and eager around corners, bolstering the “7 Series of SUVs” claim, but that’s really just splitting hairs and missing the point of these three-row goliaths. Equally as impressive in their own regard, the X7 and GLS are monumental achievements in modern engineering but more importantly, BMW has finally plugged the gap in their lineup with one of the most well-built, luxurious, and functional SUVs to ever grace the blue roundel. About time.
Model: 2019 BMW X7 xDrive40i
Paint Type: Carbon Black Metallic
Base Price: $92,500
Price as Tested: $111,950
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,151 / 2,000 / 1,805
Curb weight (kg): 2,436
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 335 hp @ 5,500 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 330 lb-ft @ 1,500 - 5,200 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.9