There is an even bigger SUV coming from BMW. One that will offer seven seats and bring the very best that the German company has to offer in SUV form. Basically, the BMW X7 is the 7 Series you actually want to buy.
It sounds like it might be a giant, and we are yet to get the final dimensions of the SUV, but out here in South Carolina, where Ford F-250 trucks are the norm, the X7 looks like a small SUV. Back home, where the X5 is considered large, the new X7 will go head to head with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLS and full-size Range Rover. So it’s as big as it comes.
Thankfully then, it doesn’t feel or drive like a big truck. Something that can’t be said about the current GLS or the far less known but same purpose-built Infiniti QX80.
We came to Greenville in South Carolina for a good reason – it is next door to Spartanburg, a small town in the Deep South of the US of A where BMW builds the majority of its X models, including the X3/4/5/6 and now the big X7. This is the plant that has supplied Australia with BMW SUVs since the first X5 was released in 1999. It’s only the X1 and X2 that come out of Germany.
It’s an amazing manufacturing facility and on the same level of those in the fatherland. It also makes sense to make the X7 here, because the US is driving the ever-increasing love of SUVs, and Australia is not that far behind. But do you really need a giant seven-seater SUV?
The answer to that, of course, depends on your requirements. If you have three kids, being able to have one of them in the third row provides a far better experience for all, plus peace and quiet that is ultimately spoilt by amplified sibling rivalry when positioned too closely.
If you have four kids, then it’s a godsend to avoid finding yourself in one of those unfashionable people movers that may as well come with a 'I have given up on life' sticker on the back.
The good news, though, is that the BMW X7 – at least in this prototype form – is pretty damn good. It drives, rides and handles rather well. It’s also jam-packed with the latest and greatest technology and active safety systems on offer.
There will be diesel and petrol options available. It is likely we will see the current powertrains of the 7 Series carried over, which will include a 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel and petrol, plus a 4.4-litre petrol V8. In some markets, a quad-turbo diesel engine will also be offered, but that will be an unlikely starter for right-hand-drive markets such as Australia.
All X7 models will launch with xDrive, meaning all-wheel drive, with no talk of a rear-wheel-drive only (sDrive) any time soon. Apart from standard air suspension, which can vary the height of the car around 80mm from top to bottom, you can also option up an off-road pack that allows for a rear-locking differential.
Although BMW was very eager for us not to think of the X7 as a bigger X5, rather a 7 Series in SUV form, it’s hard not to think of it as exactly that. Ultimately, this is a very well optioned and slightly larger version of the upcoming fourth-generation X5 with seven seats. It misses out on the carbon core of the 7 Series, and as such is still a rather heavy car, coming in at around 2.3 tonnes.
It’s basically a BMW limo in SUV form, in the sense that it’s unbelievably quiet (thanks to super-thick glass and noise-insulated interior), very comfortable, and yet it drives with the elegance and balance we’ve come to love from Bavaria. It’s not anything like the current X5, which suffers from some steering impurities and a rather compromised ride. The new X7’s air suspension on both axles makes a world of difference, even on the 22-inch wheels, and as such delivers a level of ride comfort that is on par with the offerings from Range Rover.
Steering is also vastly improved, with precision and a sense of confidence that has been lacking from BMW X vehicles for some time. This is mainly due to the new architecture that underpins the X7 (and upcoming X5), and the company’s insistence that it will put what is core to BMW – driving dynamics – at the very forefront of every car it will produce going forward.
Inside, there are two 12.0-inch super-high-resolution screens – similar in style to what Benz offers, but with better integration and clarity – that are also standard across the range. The infotainment system will run iDrive 7.0, which brings a host of new (and yet to be confirmed) features such as over-the-air updates.
We found the interior of the X7 (which we can’t show you!) to be top-notch, with BMW finally moving away from its ageing design currently seen in the likes of the 3 and 4 Series. The switchgear is more Audi-like with its brushed aluminium dials and the precision by which they turn. Even the air-con system now displays the temperature in a full-digital manner, and is no longer hindered by the orange-on-black LCDs we’ve come to love to hate.
A two+three+two seat configuration will be standard, however, you can – and should if you don’t need seven seats – option up a two+two+two system that brings the front seats of the upcoming BMW 8 Series to the middle row of the X7. That makes it look and feel like the proper limo that it is, and your kids will absolutely love having their own individual and highly advanced seats.
They will also love the endless number of USB ports in the X7, and not just traditional USB A/B, but now with USB C! The first car we’ve ever seen with the new-generation ports that offer much faster charging for modern smartphones and other gadgets. There is, of course, Apple CarPlay (wireless) and wireless phone charging (Qi standard that works with the latest iPhones and Android smartphones).
The third row is usable, as long as you don’t measure over 180cm. It is ideally for kids or teenagers, but adults can certainly fit in there for short trips. If you go for the six-seater configuration, you will get a lot more use out of it thanks to the free space between the two middle seats that can certainly help with leg room. Though, in both configurations when the third-row seats are in use, the boot becomes tiny enough to be considered almost useless. With the third row folded flat, the boot is humongous and can swallow anything from an XL pram to the best that IKEA has to offer.
There is a whole host of advanced driving-assistant systems for the X7, from an eye-monitoring camera that will warn you if you try to check Facebook while driving, to the ability to self-drive on the highway for about seven seconds (30 seconds at speeds below 30km/h, though it depends on whether that will be legal for our market when the car launches).
It will, of course, have all the usual autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and other already existing systems and whatever else you can currently get on the 7 Series, such as a smart key that can remotely drive your car in and out of a garage.
Overall, it’s hard to truly give a final score on the X7 not knowing the price, specifications or final details. What we can say is that compared to what is currently available from Mercedes, Audi and Range Rover, the new X7 will likely find itself as the most technologically advanced car in its class, with excellent ride, dynamics and amazing interior fit and finish. It will be an ideal car for large (and well-to-do) families that like to drive in comfort, or for small families that love to drive in comfort with a ton of room.
The BMW X7 will go into production very early in 2019, so it’s unlikely we will see the car in our market until around March or April 2019. But if you need a larger luxury seven-seater and can afford to wait, it might be worth it.
NOTE: BMW wouldn't provide any interior images, or allow any photos to be taken. You can, however, get a glimpse of the semi-exposed dash in our spy photographs article right here.
ONE MORE THING: As a near-production prototype, BMW went to lengths to explain the X7 we drove is not quite what buyers will experience next year. Our scoring is based only on what we've driven, of course, so our drive of the final production model may result in notably different scoring.