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Earnest X7 hikes BMW into SUV excess and largesse

BMW-X7-1
BMW-X7

Had it not been for BMW’s temporary ownership of post-crash MG-Rover, recalls Iain Robertson, its line-up of intuitive SUVs and crossovers might not have occurred for the picking but, having nicked Mini at one end of the scale and Range Rover at the other, it now has a bedrock of models with which it has expanded its world market.

If there was one certainty about BMW, it was its signature styling cues. When I first visited the Greenville plant in  South Carolina, where both Z4 sports and X5 SUV would be produced, I can recall the static X5 parked in the event hotel foyer that presented the first opportunity for journalists to touch, see and experience the Bavarian 4×4. The big estate car would have clear appeal to a changing US market but was no less shocking for its evolutionary stance. Yet, hardly a single technological element of its make up would have been feasible without having been able to dismantle a Range Rover to reveal how it worked.

Rest assured, BMW knows its onions and recognises that its first models of any range are both educational, as much to itself, as well as its customers, and also the primary means to obtain consumer feedback. It seldom gets it 100% right first time and its customers seem to recognise the fact, with the German equivalent of our VOSA, ADAC, often tearing into the company for high levels of early run breakdowns, factory recalls and unreliability issues. However, its agility in getting the improved ‘Mark Two’ version to market is also renowned and BMW is usually forgiven its sins off the back of developmental progress.

BMW-X7-2
BMW-X7

Taking a can opener to X5 proved revealing for its remarkable proximity to the Range Rover of the day, which had its own cross of unreliability to carry. Face it, BMW would never have tolerated it. With Land Rover having been sold to Ford for a brief term, followed by the Indian Tata consortium, its future was all over the place but its engineering brilliance was never in doubt and the ubiquitous Rangie had worked hard to climb a status ladder that it was not going to relinquish in any hurry. BMW learned everything it could from the experience but was destined to put it to better use. The X5 became an indomitable SUV of a few past generations, all of its growing business spread being initially of a conquest nature, before repeat dialled in…but, then, X7 beckoned.

Only a few days ago, we revealed the latest and potentially greatest generation of the new Range Rover. An inevitable evolution, now finally adopting aspects of electrification, it looks stunning subjectively and has learned clearly from both Evoque and Velar model pretensions in the new car scene. A new long wheelbase addition justifies BMW’s grander X7, yet, it is BMW that has the uphill course to contend with. The growth of the large SUV sector has been almost as eye-opening as that for the smaller models, even contending with its lower associated volumes. However, is any manufacturer on ‘safe’ ground in today’s pressure cooker environment? While gas-guzzling is a worry, even at this end of the market, the plans need to be in place to satisfy the electrification brigade.

Powered by either petrol (380bhp; £81,600) or diesel (340bhp; £80,980) versions of the firm’s efficient 3.0-litre straight-six engine, cracking on-road performance is in zero doubt, not least because BMW’s engineers can squeeze a consistent 25mpg out of the petrol variant and almost 38mpg from the diesel but, if the extra grunt of a 4.4-litre petrol V8 is desired (£103,600), 530bhp is on tap along with sportscar verve but still around 21mpg. Of course, pricing verges on Rangie territory, or would do, had the Indo-British product not hopped onto the ‘up’ escalator for its SV models starting at around £170k. In several respects, the X7 possesses the upper hand but it might also and ironically be too much of a bargain! Do not ask me to explain consumer buying patterns, because I would have the BMW in the bat of an eyelid.

BMW-X7-3
BMW-X7

Although the Bavarian giant is gaining accord for the ‘new look’ of its ‘Double Kidney’ radiator grille, which might posit that familiarity is not so contemptible to some observers, I remain in the hate camp. Gerry McGovern and his styling crew in the UK have carried out such a svelte redevelopment of the big Rangie, which possesses not a single jagged edge, that it makes the Beemer look like Auntie-grade competition. Yet, traditional, or not, sensible money suggests that the German buggy is the one in which to invest. It virtually matches the Range Rover internally, with space-saving skinny touchscreens, although switchgear minimalism is still not a BMW remit. However, in residual value terms, while both models will take an initial heavy hit, it is the BMW that suffers least.

As far as the rest of the cabin is concerned, the Rangie takes it in upfront Connollised hide and even ceramic detail forms, while BMW’s clinical stitchwork and wood trim is sure to last for the life of the car and you just know it. As with Rangie, the X7 is a seven-seater, with a six-place comfort option and electric operational overload at every juncture. This pair of 5.0m-plus leviathans will enter a ding-dong battle-ground, even if it is not abundantly clear which of them will win the lion’s share of the status market. It all lies with personal preference, as cheque-book heft is almost irrelevant in this headier atmosphere, where corporate lease rates are king and, while the EU, less the UK, is going to rely on BMW for its ministerial fleet, there are some members that will prefer the Range Rover. It’s a funny old world.

Conclusion:       Six figure price-tagging seems to have minimal effect on moving metal in the upper reaches of either Land Rover’s, or BMW’s large SUV scene. Those with more approachable budgets will opt for Sport or X5 options respectively, probably showing more concern about discounting and perceived value for money. While Land Rover has confirmed that an all-electric Range Rover will debut in 2024, in plenty of time for the 2030 ‘switch on’ day, BMW is holding its cards closer to its chest about a future i7 model but you can rest assured it will exist in the mix before too long.

BMW-X7-4
BMW-X7