Coast-to-coast in the biggest BMW ever—that's the hook that pulled me into sampling the 2019 X7. Starting at the three-row hauler's birth place in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and ending up on the far coast of California, I'd be hitching a ride for the leg stretching between Florida and Louisiana, bayou-bound in the fullest-size SUV to date from the German automaker.
To be sure the roads between Tallahassee and Baton Rouge are some of the flattest, straightest, and least-trafficked in the nation. That being said, the relative lack of action also provided me with the perfect opportunity to ponder the X7's place on the BMW landscape, one whose horizons have grown significantly since its first 'sports-activity vehicle' joined showrooms in 1999.
That forbearer—the X5—continues to have an outsize impact on roundel-wearing people movers to this day. In fact, in many ways the model for the new X7 is simply a longer X5. The two vehicles share the same platform, much of their interior fixin's and, of course, their power plants (although in varying states of tune).
Indeed, it's tempting to look at the X7 as the seven-passenger X5, if only there wasn't already an extra row available to be bolted in to the cargo compartment of the mid-size offering. No, the X7 philosophy stretches beyond crew complement in an attempt to snag customers who feel that they've outgrown the more modest X, or perhaps wouldn't have thought to consider it in the first place.
Dollars and (Pre)sence
The 2019 BMW X7's pricing is prescriptive. The entry-level xDrive40i model starts at just over $70,000, and with a fully equipped xDrive50i it's possible to crack the century mark on the order sheet. Right away, this level of spend gives the X7 a certain credibility with the set looking to park something a little more practical beside their Bentley.
It's the kind of six-figure luster that the BMW 7 Series once had and has now lost, through no fault of its own, to the inexorable shift away from sedans towards SUVs. Whereas rivals like Mercedes-Benz were quicker to catch the trend and meet it with the GLS-Class (and would-be competitor Cadillac has been siphoning off big dollars for decades with its immensely profitable Escalade), it took BMW a little longer than most to field an alternative flagship.
Like the 7 Series, the X7 leverages the best parts of its chassis-mate and in the process manages to add the details necessary to justify the boost in price. Of note, unlike the difficult-to-spec and even harder-to-fit-into X5's final set of accommodations, the X7's third row is large and easy to access, with zero complaints to be had from even larger adults relegated to riding out back.
Road presence, too, is updated to include a gaping assembly of forward air scoops combined with a predatory grille that might not win any beauty pageants but will certainly get the vehicle noticed at the country club valet station (and further set it apart from the more subdued X5). You can double-down on the road-warrior look via the M Sport package, which adds more honeycombs than an apiary to the X7's first impression by way of an aero package.
In addition to the extra space one will find inside the X7, there's no question that optically and tactilely BMW has brought its best effort into production. Again, as in the X5, the cockpit layout is simple, elegant, and eye-catching, and with only a few high-tech duds (ahem, gesture control) to be found. Contrasting colors on the seats and door panels are elegant and classy, and second row sitters will enjoy a level of control over their own comfort and entertainment not available to X5 riders.
All of the above is significant for BMW as it explores an entirely new slice of the market and goes head-to-head with brands like Mercedes-Benz et al that have had a reasonable head-start on the Bavarian interloper. How the X7 drives, of course, is also important, and it's here that its X5 roots once again make their mark.
Whether piloting the X7 down cypress-lined two-lane highway or sprawling gulf-side I-10, the BMW felt like nothing more than a somewhat heavier iteration of its progenitor. This is excellent news, for while the 7 might not be as light on its feet as the 5 (something I wasn't entirely able to test due to the subdued nature of the coastal topography), it's still quite pleasant when changing direction, surging forward to take advantage of a gap in traffic, or trundling down the beach in one of its several, seldom-to-be-used off-road driving modes.
This remains true whether you spec the 340 horsepower, 3.0-liter turbo six or the 462 horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8. Each of these engines comes with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, as well as all-wheel drive, and while the latter is certainly quicker, only those seeking to bump up the transaction price will feel the need to insist on the eight (which swallows 60-mph from a standing start in a spicy 5.4 seconds).
In the space of 20 years, BMW has gone from purveyor of sporting sedans and coupes to a line-up where utility vehicles have balanced out the opposite end of both the dealer lot and the profit/loss sheet. Seen from that perspective, the path to the 2019 X7 seems more certain than the same journey viewed from its Spartanburg starting point when the X5 was first born into the world at the end of the 1990s. Sometimes, history makes a lot more sense backwards than forwards. One thing is certain: the X7 has its sights set firmly on the future, and is packing the tools necessary to carve out a following of its own along the way.