The thing about owning a really, really big car is that you really need to know how to drive it. Little room exists for second-guessing, self-doubt or even cautious trepidation.
You could say it requires a personality as big as the footprint it occupies.
The seven-seater 2021 BMW X7 xDrive30d is one such car. During my week-long test drive of BMW’s largest model, its sheer mass dwarfed both my physical frame and my own sense of self-esteem.
But there’s little time for insecurity when piloting such a behemoth around town – and thankfully, BMW’s ever-impressive suite of driver assistance and safety tech is on hand to fill in the gaps in your expertise.
The car on test starts at $135,900 before on-road costs, but my loan car was enhanced with an M Sport package for an extra $16,000, bringing the grand total to $151,900 before on-road costs.
The pricey optional package adds things like a surround-sound system, metallic paint, dark chrome exterior elements, and a series of ‘M’-themed aesthetic additions, like M Sport pedals, door sills with the ‘M’ designation, M Sport brakes and a leather ‘M’ steering wheel.
Given this is not an inherently sporty car by nature, this package is a good – yet pricey – option for jazzing it up, if you’re into that kind of thing.
The xDrive30d is one of only two specification grades offered on the X7. Both are all-wheel drive, but the xDrive30d boasts a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbo diesel engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission, while its sibling, the X7 M50i, is petrol-powered with a 4.4-litre, eight-cylinder turbo engine.
The latter is even more expensive, clocking in at $181,900 before on-road costs. Mind you, 'expensive' isn’t a dirty word when you’re shopping in the large Euro SUV segment, where big cabins come with even bigger price tags.
The X7’s main rivals are the Mercedes-Benz GLS, the Lexus LX570, the Audi Q7 and the Land Rover Discovery – and you’re not driving away in any of those for less than $100,000 (although the base diesel Discovery starts at $99,900 before on-road costs).
Similarly, there are certain things that tend to come with the territory in this class – including shorter warranty periods. Like many of its premium peers, BMW only offers up to three years of coverage, with no limit on the number of kilometres travelled.
While Land Rover and Audi are much the same, aside from special offers, Mercedes has edged ahead by introducing a five-year term, while Lexus offers four years and Volvo – which makes the slightly more affordable XC90 seven-seater – has also gone up to five years.
That’s starting to make BMW’s offering look a little paltry by comparison. Scheduled servicing for the X7 isn’t cheap, but isn’t unreasonable either at $2200 for ‘Basic’ cover or $6071 for ‘Plus’ cover over a five-year/80,000km term. The former includes oil checks, brake fluid renewal, and spark plug replacement, while the latter adds things like front brake pad and disc renewal or renewal of wiper blade rubbers.
Still, if you can afford the ownership costs, the X7 xDrive30d is a remarkably refined diesel car behind the wheel. In fact, you could be forgiven for guessing that it’s a petrol-powered car – the engine is that quiet, without any of the telltale rumbling that often exposes other diesels.
While it’s slower than the petrol version to the 100km/h mark by 2.3 seconds, it’s by no means sluggish, outputting 195kW of peak power and 620Nm of peak torque, both ample enough to haul around a full cabin on a freeway.
|2021 BMW X7 xDrive30d|
|Engine configuration||3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||195kW @ 4000rpm, 620Nm @ 2000–2500rpm|
|Drive type||Four-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||11.0L/100km|
|Boot volume (min/max)||326L/2120L|
|Servicing costs||$2200 for Basic cover, or $6071 for Plus cover over five years or 80,000km|
|Main competitors||Audi Q7, Land Rover Discovery, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Lexus LX570, Volvo XC90|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||3 years/unlimited km|
|Towing capacity||2200kg braked, 750kg unbraked|
|Price as tested||$151,900 before on-road costs|
The steering feel is somewhat incongruous to the mass of the car, with a light, pliable feel that’s definitely welcome in urban environments, but can feel out of sync with the body of the X7 and transmitting input with a slight delay. To me, it occasionally felt like I was driving a cruise ship using the steering wheel on a go-kart.
The engine sends power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is slick and surprisingly quick to get going from a standing start. At higher speeds, the transmission is smooth, but not particularly punchy – don’t let those shiny ‘M’ designations fool you, a sporty car this is not.
I quickly did away with the idle-stop system, as it was less discreet in turning the engine on and off, and muddled with the otherwise peaceful cabin feel.
While it’s perfect for country road trips, around town the X7's size makes everything a little bit more challenging – despite a suite of driver-assistance tech working to counteract its dimensions.
I quickly got fed up with feeling so conspicuous, and I spent a substantial amount of time cruising the streets around my house each day looking for a parallel park big enough to accommodate the car. Personally, I also found it challenging to gauge the width of the car (it’s exactly 2.0m across) when parking, so I appreciated the fact the side mirrors dipped automatically when reversing to show me the kerb.
Even more seasoned parkers might find themselves struggling on smaller streets, despite plenty of visibility, surround-view cameras and sensors.
The X7 receives a parking assistant as standard, which can be a saving grace provided it actually works. However, on one occasion when I was particularly frazzled, it incorrectly identified a reverse parallel park as a perpendicular park, and publicly humiliated me as I reversed into the spot seemingly at a right angle. When I tried to go again, it refused to identify a single parallel park I drove past.
It did work beautifully on later occasions, however, impressing my friends and slotting me into parallel parks on busy main streets by steering, changing from reverse to drive, accelerating and braking as required.
In the cabin, the X7 is wonderfully peaceful, which bodes well for sleeping children in the second and third rows.
Although the adaptive air suspension is pillowy soft, in comfort mode it can feel a bit wobbly going over more pronounced bumps, and I regularly felt top-heavy going around corners.
If you have to slam the brakes on quickly, the body of the car takes a second to catch up and can feel like it's vaulting forward – something to keep in mind at higher speeds or in stop-start traffic.
While the X7 is certainly a comfortable ride, I've briefly driven the Mercedes GLS with its (admittedly expensive, optional) E-Active Body Control system, and found this did a far better job of balancing cushiony goodness and the ability to totally cancel out speed bumps without becoming unsettled in the cabin or feeling wafty.
Although BMW quotes 7.3L/100km of fuel consumption on a combined cycle, I exclusively drove around town and recorded 11.0L/100km overall, which was still far higher than the promised urban figure of 7.6L/100km.
As mentioned, I didn’t take advantage of the idle-stop system and there was no long-haul freeway driving in the mix, but the fuel economy was still not as good as one might hope for in a diesel.
Given the size of the car, I would have been stunned to record 7.3L/100km, but 11.0L/100km does seem like quite the deviation. My colleague Kez, for comparison, took the X7 xDrive30d for a mix of urban driving and weekend touring and recorded 8.6L/100km. Either way, you’re unlikely to be hitting that quoted figure.
Obviously, one of the X7’s major calling cards is its cabin space, and it must be said, few cars do family hauling as conveniently or elegantly as this car.
The cabin finishes range from high-gloss, fine-wood dashboard trim, to practical black leather and sumptuous Alcantara headliner. It all equates to an interior that is both practical but a little bit special.
In the front, seats are heated, and there are two cupholders, with a wireless phone-charging tray, big deep door bins and a large centre console. A huge panoramic sunroof extends across the first two rows, then a secondary sunroof ensures third-row occupants don’t miss out either.
The second row is positively luxurious – there are air vents and individual climate controls, as well as two USB-C ports and even a bit of storage at the back of the centre console.
The headrests fold almost the entire way down in order to maximise driver visibility and there’s electric adjustment on the seats, sliding them forward and then tipping them to allow even my six-foot-three husband to get into the third row easily.
Back in the third row, there are cupholders, the same wood trim from the front, two phone-charging ports and ISOFIX points for two child seats (the X7 can fit five ISOFIX child seats in total).
It doesn’t feel cramped at all, and you can actually get a fair amount of leg room if you do some logistical trial-and-error with the middle row. For example, I slid the middle row forward until I had about 5cm of knee room, which allowed my husband to fit easily in the third row with his knees up against the seat but no discomfort.
Head room is a little more limited, but even taller occupants won’t find they have to duck their head in the third row, and the sunroof prevents it from feeling claustrophobic or dark.
It’s rare that every row in a seven-seater is a pleasant place to be, but BMW has managed to make it the case in the X7. There’s no cutting corners in terms of space or finishes – something that won’t go unnoticed by even the pickiest of passengers.
The boot is split into two panels, both of which can be automatically raised or lowered with the press of a button, which can mean a bit more fiddling when loading bulky items. But once you’re in, there’s an impressive use of space, even with the third row in play.
The minimum cargo capacity is 326L, enough to stow a small supermarket shop, or up to 2120L with the second and third rows flat. Even with only the second row in place, it’s a seriously spacious car. It’s almost tempting to buy the X7 and use it exclusively as a five-seater just to take full advantage of all that leg room and load space.
Helpfully, there’s a half-cargo blind you can use in the boot when all rows are in play, as well as a full retractable cargo blind for when the third row is folded away, which conveniently stows under the boot floor when not in use. They’ve really thought of everything.
Also under the floor is a full-size spare wheel and a tyre-change kit.
As for the technology and infotainment side of things – the X7’s futuristic offerings sound good on paper, but can be a little temperamental in reality.
The prime example of this is the wireless Apple CarPlay system, which has a tendency to drop out every 10 minutes or so (there's no option for wired CarPlay, nor for any kind of Android Auto). It’s incredibly frustrating when you’re taking phone calls or listening to music, with the patchy connection eventually re-pairing, but after several seconds of radio silence.
I also found the BMW Intelligent Assistant wasn’t that, ahem, intelligent – often struggling to register my very basic voice commands to the point where I’d be screaming “NEVER MIND” and pull over to manually input the address myself.
Otherwise, the two expansive digital displays – a central 12.3-inch touchscreen and a secondary 12.3-inch driver display – look fantastic and provide a wide scope of key stats without being difficult to digest. Plus, there’s a handy head-up display with a nice summary of key info.
Out on the freeway, you’ve got the option of assisted driving mode, which is essentially an advanced form of cruise control that steers, brakes and accelerates for you. I found it was effective and accurate, almost to a fault. When I encountered a lane that split into two and I began indicating to take the left-hand lane, it aggressively tugged me right.
Otherwise, there’s very little lacking in terms of safety and driver assistance.
While it undoubtedly has its quirks, overall the BMW X7 xDrive30d is an impressive feat of diesel refinement, cabin serenity and sheer space – with every consideration made to make its occupants’ lives easier and more comfortable.
If you’re shopping for a large luxury SUV, few execute a third row with more space and opulence than the X7. Just make sure you have the confidence to commandeer it in CBD streets.