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Setting new standards

Justin Harper
Justin Harper • 10 min read
Setting new standards
The US was the first market to launch the X7, BMW’s largest SUV ever.  Options had the opportunity to take a spin in it…
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The US was the first market to launch the X7, BMW’s largest SUV ever. Options had the opportunity to take a spin in it…

SINGAPORE (Apr 1): BMW’s new luxury sport-utility vehicle is big and bold. So what better country to launch it in than the US, a country well known for doing things on a grand scale. The BMW X7 is the latest addition to BMW’s X range of SUVs, or sports activity vehicles as the premium German brand likes to call them. It is bigger than the X5 while upping the stakes for the brand in terms of luxury and comfort, and rubs shoulders with the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s GLS and Land Rover’s Range Rover.

Apart from being the perfect market to launch the X7, the US is also where the SUV is produced — in Spartanburg, South Carolina. So it seemed the obvious place to test drive the car before it officially goes on sale. I was one of a handful of motoring writers invited to test drive the vehicle on one of 11 legs split up between Spartanburg, South Carolina and Palm Springs, California. My journey (leg 4) began in Tallahassee, Florida and ended up 440 miles later in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The beauty of such a long road trip is that it gives you a chance to get to know a car inside and out, while seeing some great scenery along the way, particularly the coastal roads that hug the Gulf of Mexico along the southern edge of Florida. For one thing, you get to really open up a car like the X7 and push its three-litre, turbocharged engine, although you have to keep a very close eye out for traffic cops with speed guns lurking in the bushes and on grass verges.

Perfect long-distance cruiser

I actually got to drive two variants during the road trip — the X7 xDrive40i Luxury edition and the more powerful xDrive50i M Sport with its 4.4-litre, V8 engine. The latter will not be available in Singapore, but perhaps that is not a bad thing given our speed limits and heavier traffic. And to be honest, the xDrive40i has more than enough power on winding country roads and mega-lane freeways. The BMW X7’s all-wheel drive system is partly to thank for this, directing power quickly and efficiently to all wheels.

The terrain started out a little bumpy leaving Tallahassee, which was perfect to test out the road-handling and sturdiness of a large SUV like the X7. Helped by chunky 20in tyres (you can upsize to 22in ones) and with BMW’s air suspension, you are more than adequately cushioned from any harsh road conditions. You can also adjust the body’s ground clearance, very handy when going off-road, by pushing a button in the cockpit to raise it to a maximum 40mm above the standard setting. Another button in the boot activates a loading mode that lowers the car by 40mm.

Over more than 400 miles of driving, I got to test the X7 in many different situations, even across some sand-strewn roads that bordered the beach. This elegant leviathan comfortably handled all conditions along the way, proving to be the perfect long-distance cruiser. This epic road trip also allowed me to test out some of the driving aids such as cruise control, lane departure warning and steering assistance on the empty country roads. At times, I forgot I was driving a huge six-seater SUV as it responded so well to all the twists and turns that came its way. Four-wheel steering plays a big part in this road-hugging sensation.

Although it is the biggest SUV in the range, BMW has worked hard to make sure there is no compromise when it comes to performance. For example, the X7 gets you from 0 to 100kph in slightly over six seconds, which is pretty impressive for a car of this size and weight. Whatever driving mode you choose, power is readily on tap to overtake slow-moving trucks and camper vans with ease. But the real attraction for me was inside the cabin, given the high standards of luxury, comfort and technology onboard. BMW has really gone to town with the level of luxury in the X7. There is a healthy dash of luxury leathers and expensive trimmings everywhere you look. The dashboard is dominated by a 12.3in digital instrument display and an infotainment screen of the same size, making it feel very futuristic inside.

The caring car

And if modern is your thing, there is a very smart piece of technology on board called the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant. This digital app was first introduced in the new 3 Series and is an exciting part of the brand’s latest infotainment technology. You start by saying “Hey BMW” and then just state your command. For example, if you say “I’m cold” the car will raise the temperature by one degree. But the really smart thing is it learns your routines and habits, and can apply them at the appropriate time. It will change the seat heating to your preferences and suggest your most frequent destinations when you use the satnav. It really is your own personal assistant.

The seat massage functions are probably the best I have experienced in any car, and very welcome after I hit the 200-mile mark. This is part of the X7’s “caring car” programme that can be set to your specific needs, such as changing the level of the air conditioning, seat massaging and even scenting the car to relax the driver while he is at the wheel. If you want to heat up or cool down the seats, the temperature of the built-in arm rests and centre console also changes. And if you opt for the premium package, you get heated and cooled cupholders, soft-close doors and heads-up display, among other features.

The X7 boasts seven seats, although my test-drive model had been reconfigured as a six-seater. Unusual but very welcome, the second row of seats have the same controls as the driver and front passenger, allowing you to adjust your seat. There are also 10.2in touchscreens fixed onto the back of the front seats, which combined with a Blu-ray DVD player are perfect for long car journeys with kids.

In most SUVs, the passengers in the third row are forgotten about and their comfort is an afterthought. But the X7 has plenty of legroom for third-row passengers, who also have their own sunroof and air-conditioning zone. The driver can electronically move the second-row seats forward at the touch of a button to allow third-row passengers easy exit from the car. The rear doors are longer than the front doors, making it easier to get in and out.

A giant three-part panoramic glass roof floods the interior with light stretching all the way back to the third row of seats. The glass roof also has a hidden secret; when it is dark, the built-in LED lights spread evenly across the roof illuminating more than 15,000 graphic patterns, reminiscent of a starlit sky. I’m pretty sure this was inspired by the Rolls-Royce Phantom’s starlight skyroof. An electronically assisted split-folding electric tailgate also comes in handy, while all seats can be folded/unfolded electronically. One button quickly puts them all down, or up again. You get 326-litres of boot space with all the seats up, or a cavernous 2,120-litres with all seats folded flat.

The funny thing is the X7 does not look that big on US roads, given it competes with gargantuan pickup trucks and huge American-brand SUVs (Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and so on), especially in the Deep South. But in the Singapore context, it will definitely stand out from the crowd. But that is not to say it looks big and awkward — quite the opposite in fact. When viewed from the side, the large windows and long, flowing roofline of the X7 hide its size and give it a degree of elegance. Striking arctic-grey metallic paintwork also plays a part. The X7 has the largest ever kidney grille seen on a BMW, massive bumpers and side steps similar to those you get on trucks. Add on some roof rails and chunky 22in rims and the X7 lives up to its name as a sports activity vehicle.

While the US market is a major target for the X7, BMW obviously hopes it will do well across the globe, including Singapore, where we also have a love affair with luxury cars and SUVs. BMW 7 Series models are already strong sellers in Singapore, and the X7 now fits in nicely as the SUV within that range. The world of luxury SUVs is proving to be a competitive place with the likes of Porsche, Rolls-Royce and Bentley all offering their own models. BMW owns Rolls-Royce, which recently made its foray into SUVs with the Cullinan.

We have been waiting a long time for the X7, which was conceived in 2014. But the Germans clearly wanted to take their time to make sure they got things right the first time. And it looks like their patience has paid off as there is very little to fault about this car. It sets new standards in terms of luxury and technology, is very spacious inside and is much more agile than it should be, given its size. BMW’s biggest and most luxurious ever SUV will be welcomed when it arrives in Singapore in the coming months.


Price: Around $450,000 including COE

Engine: 2,998cc, six-cylinder, in-line petrol engine

Power/torque: 340bhp/450Nm

Fuel consumption: 8.7L-9L/100km

0 to 100kph: 6.1 seconds

Top speed: 245kph

Coasting it

The test drive of the X7 took me along the southern coast of the US, starting from Tallahassee in Florida across to Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Tally, as it is affectionately known to locals, is actually the capital city of Florida, which means lots of government buildings and not a lot else. The highlight was the Tallahassee Automobile Museum, which has some classic cars, Batmobiles and Abraham Lincoln’s hearse.

When heading west out of Florida, there is a surprising amount of forest in this part of the state, although large portions of it are routinely destroyed during the annual hurricane season. This woodland eventually opens up to reveal Florida’s stunning coastline, which you can drive very close to at certain areas. Most of my test drive was spent on Interstate 10, the southernmost cross-country highway in the US, which stretches 2,460 miles.

The final destination was Baton Rouge, French for red stick, which is the state capital of Louisiana. However, the city is overshadowed by the more famous New Orleans, 85 miles away. New Orleans is the party capital of the deep South and home to Bourbon, jazz and the annual Mardi Gras celebrations. During the test drive, I went back in time, literally, as I drove through Eastern time into Central time (one of the six time zones that span North America).

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast

This story appears in Issue 875 (April 1) of The Edge Singapore.

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