IAIN ROBERTSON 

While sales in the new car scene have been parlous of late, reports Iain Robertson, nothing seems to have affected the super-luxury sector, especially of full-size and sporty SUVs, which BMW takes as a positive sign to near complete its X model range.

Mass bombardment of one particular sector of the motor industry might lead to fatigue, perhaps even yawning boredom. Yet, it appears that UK firms have not tired of the archetypal ‘sport-ute’, as an element of their car fleets, despite the fact that every carmaker (and its dog) has marked-out its territory and saturated it with an ever-increasing and confusing array of models.

Okay. I get it. I admitted as much not so long ago, despite having been overwhelmed by ‘go-anywhere-(almost)’ vehicles since the launch of the Vauxhall Frontera around thirty years ago. To give them their due, as a tall person of age and girth-increasing stature, I really appreciate the relative ease of access and egress with many of them, although some SUVs can be very poorly designed, exhibiting bad interior proportions, despite laying large footprints.

 

Packaging is an essential requirement

Force majeure might be described as ‘bullying’ in some sectors of society but, to be fair to the German motor manufacturers, which may be more conscious of larger peoples’ needs than some oriental carmakers, they do make a decent fist of their vehicles’ innards. Fortunately, they also ensure that the ranges of available adjustments meet the needs of the less stout too.

If there is one aspect of packaging that seems to have afflicted the majority of them, it lies in providing room for up-to-seven adults, in an era of diminished MPV responsibility. While the X7 denomination of the latest BMW multi-surface vehicle may point conveniently at human accommodation, fitting two ‘man-size’ seats in the rearmost third row (a three-person bench is standard) suggests that the Bavarian giant has optimised its space availability. Naturally, the boot takes the whack, as it will struggle to carry just one briefcase apiece for the full complement of X7’s occupants but, as long they travel ‘lite’, they should arrive at their destination in decent comfort.

At 5.151m in length, 2m width and 1.805m height, the X7’s up-sized body sits on a wheelbase of 3.105m; dimensionally it appears to be right for the job. In terms of styling, it is evolutionary BMW, in that removal of the badges loses none of its brand identity (try that with some SUVs and you might struggle to name them). However, the ever-malleable ‘Double-Kidney’ radiator grille that has been squashed, slimmed and widened in other applications, is now full-on BMW, in all of its impressive glory. Thought of as the SUV alternative to a 7-Series, its expressive use of chrome and strong horizontal lines underscores the car’s on and off road-bruising intentions.

Technical sophistication

Its smallest alloy wheels are of 21.0-inch diameter, with 22.0-inch options. Everything about X7 borders on excessive. Yet, the car’s interior is expansive but fluent, in that admirable BMW way. A pair of 12.3-inch flatter and reprogrammable digital screens carry out all instrumentation functions ahead of the driver and at the top of the centre stack. Lower down, a new central control surface contains transmission shift-lever, the start/stop button, chassis set-up controls, electronic parking brake and air suspension settings. The cupholders can be heated, or chilled, and a space is provided for wireless charging of mobile devices. It is a typical, thoughtful BMW layout, as ergonomically perfect as ever.

Thanks to longer rear doors than the fronts, access to the cabin is a lot easier, however convenience switches allow the rearmost seats to be folded flat and re-erected simply by depressing a button, either in the boot, or on the inside flanks of the car. The boot is said to offer 326-litres that can be extended to 2,120-litres for bulkier loads. The bootlid is a split affair, with a small lower section at bumper level and a larger hatchback revealing easy access, made even easier by lowering the rear suspension (by 40mm), which can also extend 40mm upwards, when tackling your favourite off-road route. Both ‘doors’ are electrically operated for added convenience.

Naturally, connectivity is top-of-the-tree stuff, with USB ports dotted conveniently around the X7’s interior and, if specified, video screens and an up-to-1,500W fancy stereo system. The customary cluster of driver safety and electronic aids is fitted as standard but you will have to peruse the accessories catalogue to make the car even more bespoke, at a price, naturally. The speech control is fascinating, as it involves some AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology that learns the driver’s use of language for aspects of its operation and it can be surprisingly ‘chummy’.

A choice of 265, or 400bhp 3.0-litre turbo-diesels is supplemented by a 3.0-litre petrol unit that develops 340bhp; all are in-line sixes. Needless to say, the quickest of them is the bi-turbo 400bhp/560lbs ft model designated M50d. It blitzes from 0-60mph in a breath-taking 5.1s, with a limited top speed of 155mph, although it emits 185g/km CO2 and is said to return 40.4mpg on the Official Combined cycle. It is also the most expensive model, priced at £87,240. The entry level version is £72,155, while the petrol variant starts at £74,155. In all cases, these prices are before factoring-in the usual plethora of BMW optional extras and any slim discounts that can be arranged with your supplying dealer.

The four-wheel-drivetrain features variable torque split, to improve the big car’s handling to hatchback rivalling levels of agility. Double-wishbone front and five-link rear independent suspension allow this tall, wide and long estate car to meet BMW’s ‘driver’s car’ remit. The self-levelling capabilities of the air suspension also feature anti-dive characteristics for even more impressive ride comfort and control, especially under hard braking. Not that it should need extra assistance, four-wheel-steer is also available optionally.

To be fair to BMW, it has priced its Range Rover rival most competitively and, while it will be consummately easy to up-spec it to well over £100k, it is not venturing into the levels of corporate unobtainability. Of course, it is expensive but BMW’s ‘efficient dynamics’ ensures that life with an X7 need not break the bank (or the corporate fund). Highly recognisable. Market acceptable. Conveniently comfortable. Eminently practical. Perfectly business-like. The long list of BMW benefits will ensure that, while an X7 will not reside in every company car park around the country, it will be a popular high-end choice.

Conclusion:    The only BMW that might top the all-new X7, might be a coupe variant and a possible X8 designation. In the meantime, BMW is riding on pretty safe ground with its X7 and you can rest assured that it will make its mark.