First drive: The world is enough for the BMW X7

As BMW goes upmarket with its biggest SUV yet, we try to see where it fits in the motoring landscape
by Dinzo Tabamo | Jun 11, 2019

‘Driving requires minimal mental strain because of all the X7’s tech and power’

Does the world need another BMW X-Series model? This is running through my head as I stare at the beautiful, massive BMWs lined up in front of the Raffles hotel in Warsaw, Poland. There are over a dozen all-new X7s and refreshed 7-Series sedans just waiting for—ahem—lucky drivers.

I just arrived from a 16-hour flight the day before, but no amount of jet lag can dampen my spirit. And these BMW European drives are chill affairs—fly in, sleep, drive, repeat in reverse order.

When you see it in the metal for the first time, the X7 is impressive and imposing. The grille is as big as the initial photos suggest, but I can see how it has to be this size to match the rest of the body. BMW doesn’t try—although I’m not sure that it can—to hide the bulk. Instead, the Germans embrace the girth by giving it a sleek and taut form—think of a 6’4” athlete dressed in Armani. Narrow headlights squint at you, and an ornate bumper underneath them house foglights and sensors.

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Yes, this X7—an M50d—is packing serious tech.

PHOTO: BMW

I stare at the X7 some more and notice the little details that make it special. The headlights have blue elements inside the housing that you behold like works of art. The double kidney grille is color-matched to the body, and it closes when the SUV senses it has adequate ventilation. And because this full-size SUV wears an ‘M’ badge (but not the M badge, get it?), you get beautiful V-spoke wheels. The rims are enormous 22-inchers, but with the X7’s size, you’d believe it if someone said they’re ‘only’ 20s.

It gets better on the inside. The seats, all six of them, are wrapped in white perforated leather, contrasting with soft black materials on the dashboard. The leather-covered steering wheel is thick and reassuring, and there are two massive digital screens for the gauges and iDrive—what is that?

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And a BMW product specialist appears. He explains the object I’m pointing at where the shift knob should be is a shift knob made of Swarovski crystal. There are also crystal inlays on the iDrive knob, the engine start/stop button, and the A/C controls. I’m unsure how to process that. Are we there now? That world of lascivious excess where Mansory and Dartz reside?

PHOTO: BMW

My initial reaction of fear subsides as the X7’s Teutonic charm calms me. Overall, the interior is still a pleasing perch of BMW’s trademark luxury and comfort—there’s just a little more bling.

The brief tour of the X7’s highlights continue: To my left is what the product specialist calls a Gentleman Function—buttons that allow the driver to control all the seats in the first and second rows. This is to help those riding with the gentleman find the perfect seating position. I suppose it also eliminates the guesswork for passengers who are not familiar with the seat controls. And if I look above the digital gauges, I am told I will see a camera that will detect if I am nodding off and in need of an espresso. And there is indeed something above the gauges, but it appears more subtle than a camera.

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Then the most important function is explained, at least for this trip anyway—navigation. As with typical BMW driving events, the destinations are keyed in, and all you have to do is follow them. And if you get lost following the waypoints, just press one of two buttons on the dash—one for the hotel and another for the lunch venue—and the map will guide the driver to the preprogrammed location immediately. Easy.

PHOTO: BMW

With everything set, I adjust my leather steering wheel, check my side and rearview mirrors, and take a sip of the bottled water—blech. Darn this sparkling European water. I grip the crystal shift knob (that’s the first time I’ve used that term in my decade and a half as a motoring journalist) and slot the transmission into Drive. In the car with me is Dax Lucas from the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s business section, to be my navigator for this leg and make sure we don’t get lost on the way to lunch.

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I ease the large vehicle out of the parking lot, and right away, there’s the reassuring Bimmer feel. We follow the navigation and everything is fine for the first 15 minutes. I see several Bowers & Wilkins logos around the plush cabin, and my inner audiophile wants to plug in my smartphone and try out the audio system. But I’m in a car I’ve never driven (a model with no predecessor, I might add), in a country I’ve never been to, driving on roads I’m unfamiliar with, so we move in silence and I focus on driving. Then we reach a dead end.

The programmed route seems to lead us to a closed construction site, so I try to move away from the blocked street and make the navigation recalculate. Before long, the streets are becoming narrower, culminating in an alley with parked cars on one side and a construction crane on another side. No way the X7 is fitting there...right? The space ahead looks just enough for an X1, but I see an MPV go through.

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PHOTO: BMW

I grip the tiller more tightly and inch forward, with my navigator giving me feedback on the allowance to the right (thank God this isn’t a right-hand-drive country). The X7 pulls through with inches to spare, and my sanity remains intact. That was almost fun.

We finally hit the expressway, and the small inner streets are replaced by Europe’s open freeways. The X7 M50d we have has a 3.0-liter quad-turbodiesel (you read that right) engine. It packs 400hp and 760Nm, channeled through an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. I change the driving mode to Sport, bite my lip, and mash the accelerator. Instead of a tsunami of torque I get...a gentle push.

What happened? Or, to put it properly, what didn’t happen? Was the factory too busy polishing the Swarovski bits instead of tuning the X7 properly? Then I notice that the scenery outside is moving quite fast. I glance down at the speedometer and realize we’re doing 150kph, with the legal speed limit (considerably lower than 150kph) glowing ominously beside it. I ease off the accelerator, and suddenly, I understand what the X7 can do: Deliver effortless velocity with the occupants hardly feeling a thing.

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PHOTO: BMW

I crack my window open and I hear the wind howl, the X7’s massive snout ramming the air in front, quad turbos shoving atmosphere away. I close my window and almost expect to hear a pin drop because of the silence within the cabin. Then, yellow and gray flecks begin spattering the windshield as bugs fail to get out of our way.

Our route covers hundreds of kilometers of Polish road, so there’s enough time to appreciate the serenity of the X7’s interior. Nothing perturbs it. Driving this luxurious SUV requires minimal mental strain because of all its tech and power.

Something does stress me about driving this vehicle, and that’s the lane-change alert. In other models, there’s a gentle nudge when the wheels go over broken road lines and you didn’t activate the turn signals. The X7 almost jerks the steering wheel if you change lanes without signaling, as if it’s appalled at your Third World tendencies. I’ve never considered myself a careless driver, but I have to be extra careful and leave my bad habits when I’m behind the wheel of Mr. X7.

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PHOTO: BMW

But the Bimmer also shows that it cares. The navigation system flashes a little coffee icon when a gas station/rest stop is approaching. Since Dax and I like to stretch our legs, we stop every so often. A few coffee drinks (and hotdog sandwiches and chocolate bars) later, we realize we’re behind schedule for lunch.

We exit the expressway, as per the navi’s instructions, and find ourselves in a very Philippine situation—a traffic jam. Surely the organizers knew we were tired of this, so upon messaging our hosts and confirming that we’re behind schedule, we punched the ‘emergency’ navigation button for lunch. The system reroutes us and we are moving serenely again.

Soon we see a small fleet of parked X7s, which means we’ve found lunch. Despite driving for almost four hours straight, I don’t feel tired. The X7’s computer certainly hasn’t given any notification about my weariness. After a meal of Polish dumplings, lamb, and fish, we’re on our way.

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PHOTO: BMW

As we head to our hotel for the night, a few twisty roads present themselves. No more freeways for this final leg. I try the X7’s handling on the turns, and while it can’t cheat physics and hide around 2,500kg of mass, it damn near succeeds. But even with 22-inch wheels and minimal body roll, I’m not emboldened to push my luck. Besides, I pity our luggage in the back, bashing each other and the X7’s cavernous cargo area (albeit the third row was folded).

I feel that attacking turns isn’t what this vehicle was designed for, and I am impressed that what it can do, it can do well.

We have one more pleasant surprise before we reach our evening accommodations. The navigation acts up again and reroutes us through a light off-road trail. I hesitate before proceeding, but like what Arnie Cunningham said to Christine, I tell the X7: “Show me.” And it does. I’m conscious of the fact that we’re on low-profile tires, but we handle the dirt trail easily. I probably wouldn’t do this in a 7-Series.

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PHOTO: BMW

We reach our hotel and unload, the X7’s dual power liftgates making access a breeze. Maybe it’s the adrenaline or the excitement, but covering 450km in such a comfortable SUV took minimal toll on my body.

Does the world need an X7? Certainly not everyone, and not at what this is expected to cost. But BMW has successfully built a grand-touring SUV that can seat six in comfort, luxury, and—if you like arriving with attention—style. The answer to the X7’s purpose lies in its silence and serenity. Inside this bank vault on wheels, the world almost pauses as you glide to your destination. This is peace and quiet on an all-wheel-drive platform (all-new platform, according to BMW), propelled by a powerplant that almost defies physics.

For its intended market, it’s not about whether they can afford to have the X7 in their garage. It’s whether they can afford not to.

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2019 BMW X7 drive in Poland and Czech Republic

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PHOTO: BMW
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