2019 BMW X7 review

International first drive

Following the success of the Audi Q7, it's reasonable to assume that the BMW X7 will make some headway in the Australian luxury SUV market. Here, we look at the two petrol variants at the global launch.

You could be forgiven for wondering why it has taken BMW so long to bring the 2019 BMW X7 to the European SUV party. Specifically, the high-end, luxury SUV party. It’s more like a free-for-all these days in the fiercely competitive new-car market.

In a market like Australia, the notion of a free-for-all is even more apparent with large, luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7 selling like hotcakes, not to mention making significant inroads into the hire-car market at the same time.

Ask BMW and representatives would tell you they wanted to get the X7 ‘right’, not simply rush in all guns blazing. Engineers and experts also tried to tell CarAdvice that the Q7 wasn’t a direct competitor for the X7, though, so I’d advise taking both those claims with a grain of salt. In Australia, for sure and certain, this X7 will be a direct competitor to the already established Q7.

On the other hand, all new vehicle (and indeed platform) development takes time – that’s a cold hard fact – and it has taken time for BMW to ready the X7 for the global market.

Whatever the minutiae, the X7 is finally here, and now we get to test full production models over a proper American road trip – from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Houston, Texas via 500km of back roads. We won’t get to drive the two diesel engines that will kick things off in Australia, though – somewhat frustrating given the sharp entry pricing for the oilers locally.

At launch in the States, we will be driving the X7 40i and the X7 M50i – both petrol engines displacing six and eight cylinders respectively. Read our pricing and specification guide and you’ll see that the two launch engines for us in Australia are both diesel – X7 30d and X7 M50d – but an assessment of the platform, the cabin, the refinement and technology is still a large part of the equation.

Aside from the sharp pricing – sub-$120,000 for the 30d in Australia – the first X7 kicker that gets your attention is the grille. Yes, that kidney grille. In pre-release literature, BMW loudly (and perhaps proudly) proclaimed it was the largest kidney grille ever fitted to a BMW, which seemed somewhat strange given size isn’t always everything. That’s what you keep reading in the advice sections anyway…

Despite some polarising comments responding to that claim, in the flesh it looks very much in proportion with the rest of the X7. It’s a big, bold SUV, and the grille certainly doesn’t stand out as being overly large.

While styling is subjective, I think the X7 actually errs on the side of conservative to be completely honest. And is all the better for it too. BMW could have gone a lot more brash with the angles, lines, swages and scallops, but instead has opted for a tastefully executed, size masking, clean look that serves the X7 well. Among a sea of boxy SUVs in the American South, it certainly stood out on the street, that’s for sure.

Available with up to 22-inch wheels, I’d be recommending that buyers opt for the smaller, standard rims, which is common advice here at CarAdvice, but rarely commonly adhered to. Buyers in Australia seem more than willing to accept a firmer ride to access the biggest wheel/tyre combo possible, but the X7 definitely rides firmly on the 22s – more on that later. The big rims and tyres do look tough, though, fattening the stance a little, which is why they appeal to so many buyers.

As you’d expect, and as we’ve covered in news stories before, the X7 will become something of a technology showpiece for the brand, much like the 7 Series sedan has always been. Buyers at this end of the SUV scale will expect the very best the brand has to offer, and as such there’s a raft of standard tech inclusions.

The interactive driver’s display is excellent, especially when it offers up satellite-navigation commands zoomed in to make them easier and faster to discern. The gauge layout within the display is also classy, and retains a classical look rather than the too-modern digital display you might expect. The central screen, which displays a zoomed-out navigation overview, is also crystal clear. Again, you can customise what you’re looking at, and we found moving between media files, radio, satellite navigation and vehicle controls to be easy and intuitive.

The inductive phone-charging system worked faultlessly, as did Apple CarPlay, during our brief test on launch, although plugging it in kills the pre-determined route on the proprietary navigation system – not ideal when you’re supposed to be following it to the letter. That aside, if you prefer a smartphone link, it works nicely (and responsively) via the touchscreen.

Failing that, go with Bluetooth and you get the best of both worlds in a navigation sense. You’d have to think there’s a software patch coming that will allow the choice even when your smartphone is plugged in, but that’s something you can’t do yet.

I thought the seating position and visibility up front were excellent. Sure, it’s a large SUV, but they don’t always get the visibility thing spot on regardless. Fat pillars and sloping roof lines can often impact forward and rearward visibility, but the X7 delivers very well on this front. In fact, it’s an SUV that does feel like it gets smaller the more time you spend behind the wheel.

The X7 is well executed in regard to clever use of cabin packaging and space too. There’s plenty of seat adjustment, which brings me to the next point – the second row. On test, we were able to sample the six-seat layout; a platform that isn’t guaranteed for Australia, and is currently ‘under consideration’.

What we need is BMW Australia to demand the six-seat variant, because if you don’t need the full seven-seat layout, the two captain’s chairs in the middle row look luxurious and are particularly functional into the bargain. The electric mechanisms that move the seats around and flip them forward to allow access to the third row are quick, and the system ensures the seatbacks of the second row won’t drop into (and potentially damage) the backrest-mounted screens affixed to the front seats. Clever.

We spent a solid block of time behind the wheel in both engine variants, and while the M40i is – as you’d expect – the punchier of the two, you lose nothing by moving down to the smaller engine either. With neither of these two coming to Australia yet, I paid more attention to the refinement, noise insulation, and cabin ambience.

It’s a supremely quiet and calm SUV, the X7. You hardly hear any road or tyre noise, even on 22s, and there’s next to no wind noise entering the cabin either. Everything about the experience from behind the wheel seems serene, quiet and calm. Barreling along a US back road at the signposted speed somewhere between 90–110km/h, you’ll rarely ever experience anything that upsets the sense of quiet in the cabin.

That works across all three rows also, and while you wouldn’t want to cross a continent if you’re a tall adult wedged into the third row, it is useful for short trips. The second row is business-class-like in terms of air travel, such is the space and comfort. The three-seat second row isn’t quite as comfortable as the two-seat version, but it’s still excellent.

The ride errs on the side of firm, especially with the 22s underneath the X7, and that’s the only time it feels less luxurious and more sporty in its purpose. We barely had a curve to contend with while taking rolling highways for most of the drive, but the ride, even on smooth US roads, was firm enough to notice. You feel ruts and bumps in the road, and while they don’t unsettle the X7, you can feel them through the chassis and into the cabin.

I’m not sure the X7 will ultimately be as sporty as the Audi Q7, but it makes for a mouthwatering comparison when the big Beemer is launched locally. It’s a beautifully executed, competent, high quality, luxury SUV that BMW fans and newcomers alike will be attracted to.

I’ll be most interested to assess the ride on lesser-sized rolling stock, and taking a close look at how the X7 contends with our sub-par road network. Yes, it’s taken BMW a while to enter this segment, but as with most things BMW does, it has done so with aplomb.

MORE: X7 pricing and specs
MORE: X7 news, reviews, comparisons and videos

MORE: Everything BMW