BMW’s dirty big secret revealed
WHILE MERCEDES has been eyeing up the Defender market with the new G-Class, BMW has its sights trained on another JLR icon, the Range Rover. A year before it arrives in British showrooms, we’ve driven the new X7 in prototype form.
It’s bigger than the X5, with a strong family resemblance, but BMW’s engineers stress that the X7 isn’t simply a lengthened X5, but instead a luxurious über-SUV in its own right, with a greater emphasis on space, comfort and ride.
The lusty 4.4-litre V8 motor of our xDrive 50i prototype makes encouragingly warbly noises, and progress isn’t noticeably slower than an X5 with the same engine. With Sport mode selected for a more aggressive throttle response, and an eight-cog auto ’box making enthusiastic use of the V8, straight-line acceleration is anything but tardy. But that’s relatively easy: the big challenge for the engineers was in offering ride and handling worthy of the BMW badge.
Rear-wheel steering dials in a modicum of rear-wheel movement to improve turning in tighter spaces and stability at higher speeds. The steering doesn’t feel as meaty as a conventional set-up, but that’s a small price to pay for its superior nimbleness.
And Active Roll Stabilisation does a good job of keeping the X7 as vertical as possible. It won’t quite trouble the (smaller) Porsche Cayenne, but it could make a Mercedes GLS or full-fat Range Rover feel wallowy.
Venturing off-road would, you’d imagine, expose an inherent weakness in the X7’s abilities, but none of it. On a track with steeper inclines than a cross-country course in the daydreams of a sadistic PE teacher, those features which make the BMW so accomplished on tarmac lend it impressive agility on rougher ground.
It’s not yet been decided whether UK-market X7s will get six or seven seats, but it will definitely have three rows. Middle-row seats adjust electrically, while the two-person rearmost pew is spacious enough for adults. There’s a separate glazed roof panel and climate control function at the back. All the rear seat backs lower and rise at the touch of a button and the horizontally split tailgate’s lower portion can handle 150kg of picnic.
Like all the best big cars, the X7 feels as though it shrinks around you on the blacktop. That it pulls off the same trick off-road is even more remarkable. KEITH JONES
BMW X7 XDRIVE 50i
> Price Under £100,000 > Engine 4395cc 32v twin-turbo V8, tbc bhp, tbc lb ft
> Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive > Performance tbc > Weight Under 2000kg > On sale Spring 2019
Rating +++ ++
VERDICT Full of early promise
Disguise actually draws more attention to what could easily be mistaken for an X5