Beyond being a full size larger than the X5 and limousine-like on the inside, the new X7 leaves a very strong first impression.
What is it?
BMW’s new flagship SUV, the X7 is headed to India soon. When it arrives, the BMW X7 will come with 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol and diesel engine options, which will be followed by the range-topping X7 M50d variant at a later date. The standard X7 models – the xDrive40i and xDrive30d – will be available in three trims each, including the top-spec M Sport package. The model tested here is the petrol-engined X7 xDrive40i M Sport.
One thing’s for sure, the X7 looks like no BMW before. The nose is huge and imposing, the slim headlamps look cool and then there’s the massive, massive BMW kidney grille – one of the SUV’s biggest talking points. Is it too big? Sure it is. Does it spoil the look of the car? Well, I sort of thought it did earlier, but after seeing BMW’s super-tanker in the flesh, I don't mind it so much anymore. I also like the stance of the X7 – I think BMW has done well to hide the bulk of the car – and then there's also the fact that the SUV will never be mistaken for anything else.
What’s it like inside?
Where the X7 will also blow people away is in the cabin area. Inside its double-glazed cocoon of leather, chrome and wood, the hush is truly palpable. And we are so insulated from the road, the BMW X7’s cabin reminds me of being in a BMW 7 Series or even a Merc S-class; it's that good. And it isn't just the damping of the body shell; there are double-glazed windows, ‘acoustic windscreens’ and even an extra layer of sound deadening on the roof. So, when it begins to pour, we barely hear the rain crashing down.
What I also appreciate are the big captain seats. Draped in high-quality leather, the seats support your shoulders, upper back, lower back, and thighs almost perfectly. They are very pleasing to touch and have the right amount of cushioning. What makes them better is that all four seats are powered allowing you to adjust them to your heart's content. The front ones are cooled, heated and can even give you a massage. You also get dual fan speeds for passengers seated on the left and right up front. In fact, there are five temperature zones for the X7's air-con (the fifth one for the third row), you get soft pillow-like headrests on the second row, and what makes the cabin feel even more luxurious is that it is festooned with buttons that allow you to adjust seats on other rows. The driver, for example, can move the second row forward and back, the passengers on the second row can push the third row back for maximum space (from either side of the cabin) and even the boot gets buttons to reconfigure the seats for maximum boot space or maximum legroom. And what's fascinating to watch is how the motorised seats fold, flip and make room for themselves in an intricate mechanical ballet. You can't adjust the front passenger seat from the second row though – like you can on many luxury cars in India – but that apart, overall packaging here is excellent here.
The X7 even scores well for seat comfort on the third row. Place the X7 'low', for easy entry, and getting into the third row isn't too bad. Yes, I still have to crouch and I need to get a grip before I can clamber in, but once I'm sat down, there's a decent amount of space for my feet. Of course, the seat is placed a bit low and legroom isn't great, but you can spend a lot of time back here. Even visibility out from the back is good, with the big side window panes and a moon roof making the cabin feel more airy. And just as every passenger has his own vent, you also get your own USB 'C' socket.
What makes the cabin also stand out is the lavish use of thick, high-quality leather. It's everywhere – on the dash, on the door pads, on the lower parts of the cabin. And then there's the high-gloss wood, the generous splash of chrome and even crystal and cut glass inserts, used to highlight parts like the gear selector, the iDrive control dial and the volume control knob. Looks pretty cool, I must say.
What’s it like to drive?
The ride of the BMW X7 is undoubtedly limo-like. Many of the state highways we are driving across aren't perfectly paved, and ever-so-often we come across sections that are warped by the heat and then cracked open. The X7, on its air suspension and its liquid-filled rubber bushings, however, glides over most bumps like they don't exist. What also helps make the suspension feel more supple is the active anti-roll bars that all but 'decouple' when the car is being driven in a straight line, preventing the lateral rocking motion all cars with stiff anti-roll bars exhibit. Yes, there's a bit of pitter patter that does filter into the cabin at low speeds, and there’s the odd thump as the massive 22-inch wheels 'thud' through big holes, but what’s impressive is that this doesn't affect comfort all that much. And because it is an SUV, I don't really slow down too much either – there's a fair amount of sidewall on the tyre and a good amount of rim protection.
Time to see if this 40i we are driving has enough grunt to move this 2.4-tonne beast. The gearbox sure is quick; every time I flatten my right foot, the 8- speed gearbox just skips a couple of gears and flicks the engine up into its powerband. And BMW’s 3.0-litre straight-six doesn’t disappoint either. Far from it, in fact; the flow of power is strong, there's plenty of torque and as the revs climb there’s even a sporty snarl all the way to the redline. Yes, 340hp isn’t all that much when you take the weight of the car into account, but keep your foot flat and the X7 can really sprint. This makes overtaking the big 18-wheeler trucks on single carriageways a breeze. And it feels quick, too, even in isolation, as 0-100kph takes a claimed 6.1sec.
On the long straights, the BMW is very stable; so stable that you don't have much sensation of speed. The two-metre-wide car just seems to naturally want to go straight. This, however, is an illusion says Dr Daniel Nowicki, the man in charge of how the X7 drives. “We knew it would be extremely difficult to get such a big car to feel agile, so instead of stability, we built in agility.” BMW actually used rear-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars to ‘calm it down’.
Now, frankly, this sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Introduce the X7 to a corner – even one that needs to be taken at a high speed – and the agility is plainly there. Turn-in is neat and tidy, the steering gives you plenty of confidence and there's so much grip, you can carry plenty of speed into corners. Even the steering is well weighted and the X7 doesn't roll excessively either when you switch to 'Sport'. Don't expect X3 levels of agility here however; there clearly is a lot of mass being flung around at the rear and all that weight does make its presence felt eventually.
Should I buy one?
Likely to hit showrooms in India somewhere around Diwali, the Mercedes GLS rivalling X7 is expected with a Rs 1.18 crore plus price tag, despite local assembly. It isn’t for everyone, but if you looking for a combination of comfort, luxury and the ability to seat six with ease, the BMW X7 could be your best bet yet.