BMW’s dirty big se­cret re­vealed

CAR (UK) - - First Drives -

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

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