US-built uber-SUV arrives in the UK with its V8 sights trained on the Range Rover

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The latest vision of high-riding, big-car luxury to come out of Munich, Bavaria, is the focus of this road test: the near-5.2m-long, near-six-foot-tall, 2.48-tonne BMW X7.

Introduced in the UK in spring 2019, the BMW X7 has escaped the scrutiny of a full road test until now. However, this full-sized SUV’s first 18 months on sale here have been eventful. Certain engine derivatives within its showroom range have already been removed and replaced, more or less directly depending on which one in particular you’re looking at.

In no world can this M-badged X7 be classified as subtle but, in something of a role reversal, those who want even more visual clout – and power – should try Alpina’s XB7.

The car was introduced with three choices of motive power, two of which were diesel-fuelled but neither of which is available any longer. So instead of a range comprising 30d, 40i and M50d derivatives, as it was originally laid out by BMW UK, the firm now offers an X7 xDrive40i and a 40d, both of which develop 335bhp.

At what is for now the very top of the X7 range, meanwhile, where once there was the remarkable quad-turbo diesel M50d, there is now this – the X7 xDrive M50i – which becomes one of the most powerful seven-seat passenger cars money can buy, even though it burns petrol and not diesel like its immediate predecessor.

Even the M50i won’t be the upper limit for the X7. A full-fat X7 M, an M division version, is expected soon to battle more directly with the likes of the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. For now, though, we’ll have to make do with the lower-order M Performance version, with its 523bhp twin-turbocharged V8 and piffling 4.7sec 0-62mph acceleration claim.

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Could that ever be enough X7 for the modern, aspiring BMW family man or woman? Stand by to find out.

What engines does the BMW X7 have?

Petrol and diesel six-cylinders represent the entry-level engine offerings for the X7. The pricier M50d model, now in its last throes, uses the same basic powerplant as the xDrive40d but with four turbochargers instead of one. The V8-engined M50i crowns the range.

The trims are fairly simple, with all model variants treated to a rich level of standard specification. There’s the base X7, followed by M Sport variants and the two M50i and M50d M Performance models.

Price £92,975 Power 523bhp Torque 553lb ft 0-60mph 4.8sec 30-70mph in fourth 5.5sec Fuel economy 19.0mpg CO2 emissions 293g/km 70-0mph 45.2m


BMW X7 2020 road test review - hero side

The BMW X7 is the bigger sibling of the better-established BMW X5 SUV and is not only built alongside the X5 at BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but no doubt intended primarily for success in the North American market, too. How much bigger is it exactly? The better part of a foot longer than the X5 and roughly two inches taller at the kerb; and it weighs about 200kg more, model for model.

Built on the ‘Cluster architecture’ (CLAR) platform that underpins all of BMW’s longways-engined larger models, the X7 has a monocoque chassis made of a mix of aluminium and high-strength steel. But even with that construction mix, our test car weighed 2583kg, which is at the upper end of acceptability for a luxury SUV’s kerb weight. A 12-cylinder Bentley Bentayga is slightly lighter, depending on equipment level, although a Mercedes GLS 400d is heavier still.

I prefer the supremely well-rounded M Performance take on the fast SUV to that adopted by full-fat M division models. The X7 M might be different if BMW M sticks with air springs for it, but if it has this car’s breadth of dynamic ability, I will be surprised.

Like the Mercedes, but unlike the smaller X5, the X7 offers seven seats as standard. Furthermore, it is claimed that the rearmost two offer proper adult-sized accommodation levels, which we’ll investigate thoroughly in due course.

While self-levelling air suspension is available only as an option on the X5, it is standard on the X7. Among luxury cars, an air-suspended BMW remains a relative rarity, Munich preferring steel coil springs in many of the types of cars where rivals use pneumatic suspension. Ride height adjustability is a key motivator here. The X7 typically runs with a 221mm ground clearance, but it can drop its body by 40mm for easier passenger or loading access, or raise it by the same amount on rougher terrain.

The M50i M Performance version we elected to test has its own special suspension tuning, as well as an electronically controlled torque-vectoring rear differential for its four-wheel drive system as standard. BMW’s Integral Active Steering, which combines an intelligently controlled variable-ratio steering rack with actively controlled, speed-dependent four-wheel steering, is an option and our test car had it.

The car’s engine is BMW’s twin-turbocharged 4395cc ‘N63’ V8, which produces 523bhp as well as 553lb ft. That’s as much torque as the closely related ‘S63’ M division V8 makes in any current BMW M car. Although it’s close, it’s not quite the 561lb ft made by the old quad-turbo diesel 3.0-litre ‘B57’ diesel straight six of the X7 M50d, which wasn’t Euro 6d emissions compliant and is being phased out of production this month.

Fast diesel fans will be watching closely to see if anything like it will eventually reappear as part of BMW’s new 48V mild-hybrid, sequentially turbocharged generation of diesel straight sixes; but rumours from Munich suggest that the quad-turbo ‘B57D30S0’ proved complicated, expensive to make and more prone to mechanical failure than the firm would have liked. With the market for expensive diesels drying up, its replacement should not be taken for granted.


BMW X7 2020 road test review - cabin

The BMW X7’s fortress-like exterior is likely to attract as many would-be owners as it will repel, but the car’s cabin should find greater consensus.

Our example’s range-topping M50i specification and the fact that it benefits from BMW’s full Merino leather upholstery (a £4995 extra) ensure the place wants nothing for sumptuousness, and in terms of architecture you get essentially the same excellent layout as in the BMW X5, only scaled up to BMW 7 Series proportions and with even more head room.

The X7 has quite possibly the most usable third row of any SUV yet built. Adults can sit comfortably back here – even if access is a bit tricky.

Neither is the X7 short of an amenity or two. The biggest BMW money can buy is available with five-zone climate control, customisable ambient lighting, temperature-controlled cupholders, massaging front seats and glass running almost the entire length of the roof (albeit not, sadly, uninterrupted) that, at night, uses LEDs to generate an effect reminiscent of Rolls-Royce’s Starlight headliner. The infotainment suite is also unrivalled in terms of usability, even if the vast displays in the Mercedes GLS generate greater wow factor.

If there is one thing the X7 subtly lacks, it is sense of occasion. The way in which any full-sized Range Rover bottles ‘lounge’ feel is missing here, and the BMW is an altogether cooler place than the GLS, whose interior wraps itself more protectively around occupants. Perceived quality is high, though – higher perhaps than even the oddly soulless but recently revamped Audi Q7.

Where the X7 breaks new ground for BMW concerns the seating arrangement. Access to the third row of seats (also standard in the GLS and Q7) is more awkward than you might imagine because the gap created between the C-pillar and the electrically forward-folding second-row seats isn’t that generous.

However, once in those rearmost seats, passengers will be treated to comfort levels not far off those experienced in the front of the BMW 3 Series saloon. Our test car came with the optional six-seat layout, with two vast chairs in the second row instead of the typical three-seat bench. Again, the ambience isn’t quite so Business Class as in a Range Rover, but there is more space.

The X7 also gets a classic split folding tailgate that opens to reveal an almost perfectly flat boot floor. The 326 litres of capacity with all six seats in place is reasonably good and only marginally less than you’d get with a typical family hatchback.

BMW X7 infotainment and sat-nav

The X7 uses the latest version of BMW’s iDrive system, which reprises the much-liked rotary controller and pairs it with a new 12.3in display that is also touch-sensitive and can be controlled using voice commands and gestures.

The set-up is slick in operation, intuitive in its various layouts and very easy on the eye. It is also twinned with another 12.3in display within the instrument binnacle. Perhaps the most impressive trait of this ecosystem is that it somehow manages not to dominate the view forward and the dashboard in general, as is the case with rival systems on the Mercedes-Benz GLS and Audi Q7.

USB ports are smattered generously about the entire cabin and the Professional entertainment package brings 10.2in touchscreens, a Blu-ray-compatible DVD player and an HDMI socket to the second row.

For £3280, our car was also equipped with a Bowers & Wilkins 1500W sound system, which, to the layperson, delivers sonic richness and clarity that is a rare treat.


BMW X7 2020 road test review - engine

As antisocial as the concept of a 523bhp 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 in a six- or seven-seat SUV that tips the scales at 2.5 tonnes might be in this day and age, it’s very tricky not to be enamoured by its application in this range-topping BMW X7. This is an impressively multifaceted engine – one that’s capable of delivering thundering performance in one moment and impeccable, creamy refinement in the next.

With Sport Plus mode and launch control engaged, the X7 M50i uses its immense four-wheel traction and rearwards weight transfer to fairly devastating effect off the line. It hit 60mph in 4.8sec and 100mph was surpassed after 11.3sec. It was homing in on 140mph as we neared the end of Millbrook’s mile straight and didn’t show any signs of letting up right up until the point where self-preservation dictated its suitably enormous brakes be deployed. Hard.

X7 can be furnished with wheels as relatively modest as 20in in diameter or as large as 22in. The M50i wears 21in lightweight M alloys as standard, although our test car has been upgraded to 22in Y-spokers

Of course, with a couple of hundred kilograms of extra weight to lug about, the X7 isn’t quite a match for the likes of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo (0-60mph in 3.9sec), or the Range Rover Sport SVR (4.4sec), but it’s quite unlikely that you’ll notice such a deficit on the road.

Chances are you’ll be more amused by the way in which it squats down on its haunches like an Olympic powerlifter, before erupting forwards on a wave of sonorous V8 fury. Indeed, with a wealth of torque spread across quite a wide rev range, this engine’s flexibility is as impressive as its outright pace (30- 70mph in fourth gear took 5.5sec). The dexterity with which its eight-speed transmission swaps cogs while on the move is good, too.

However, there are a couple of gripes, albeit small ones. The first is fuel consumption. The average during our time with the car was 19mpg, which stings but doesn’t really surprise. The second was an occasional tendency for step-off to be a shade more urgent than you might have anticipated. Hardly a dealbreaker, but you would need to be a bit delicate with your right foot in such instances to avoid making any of your passengers uncomfortable.

Braking performance in emergency stop conditions is very impressive. As with acceleration, the X7’s stability under hard braking is exceptional and it can haul itself to a standstill from 70mph in 45.2m. That’s less space than a Volkswagen Polo requires.

In normal driving conditions, meanwhile, brake pedal progression and feel are both sensibly calibrated for smooth, controlled stops.


BMW X7 2020 road test review - cornering front

Hurried progress on narrower, twistier cross-country roads doesn’t come easily to the BMW X7 M50i, but the manner in which it conducts itself when pushed on wider, smoother, faster roads is still impressive.

There’s an abundance of grip here – more so than a car of this weight and size has any right to possess, you might argue – while optional four-wheel steering and a helm that’s perhaps a shade light in its weighting but also accurate and responsive all serve to build confidence and shrink the X7 around you. Of course, physics can only be eluded for so long, and even with active anti-roll stabilisation (part of the £2450 Executive Drive Pro bundle) working for the car, there’s a lot of side-to-side movement as you tip the X7 into bends.

Traction and grip impress and, aided by optional four-wheel steering and an accurate helm, the X7’s responses belie its bulk, although you can make it lean quite markedly

That roll is progressively checked so it doesn’t take you by surprise when it arrives, but it’s still entirely possible to adopt what feel like rather hilarious lean angles through quicker corners should you choose to, and to do it without feeling you’re in any way flirting with mishap. The X7 always seems to retain enough wheel travel to avoid any massive mid-corner deflections, so stability remains impressive.

With its sheer size and mass, there’s always a bit of manhandling required to drive the X7 at pace on the road. But the balance this largest M Performance model strikes between grip and agility on the one hand and easy stability and good outright rolling comfort when you’re not rushing it on the other makes it seem both surprisingly dynamically accomplished and unexpectedly appealing to drive.

Tackling Millbrook’s Hill Route at pace in the X7 M50i isn’t a particularly pleasant experience. That’s not down to any shortage of traction. Even when pressed hard, the X7 clings on impressively. It’s more to do with how pronounced vertical and lateral body movements are at serious speeds.

Although these weight transfers remain controlled during quick directional changes, the inertia generated by the car’s sheer mass in these instances is profound. Driving quickly soon becomes quite a physically taxing process as a result. If competitive cruise lining were a thing, this is probably how it’d feel.

Nevertheless, the X7’s traction and stability systems are calibrated impressively. Progress isn’t constantly hampered by a heavy-handed line of software code, so you can carry what feels like serious speed through sharper, off-camber corners without any sudden loss of power or clamping of brakes.

Comfort and isolation

It can be difficult to quantify something as subjective as ‘comfort’, but we can at least put numbers to the acoustic element of the mix – that is, isolation. At a steady 70mph, cabin noise in the X7 M50i was limited to 62dB, which is identical to the Mercedes GLS 400d we’ve previously tested and very quiet indeed. To do better, you need to look to the most rarefied limousines in the world – cars such as the Rolls-Royce Phantom, which managed 60dB (appreciably quieter than 62dB, although the difference is not day and night) on its foam-insulated tyres. For further context, consider that the old V8 twin-turbo diesel Bentley Bentayga – a machine we considered opulence personified in 2017 – generated around 65dB.

To this sense of calm and well-being, the X7 adds its fine pneumatic-flavoured ride quality, which at motorways speeds is beautifully composed as the optional active anti-roll bars disengage. The car finds an enjoyable longwave flow that belies the 22in alloy wheels and ‘M’ designation on the rear bodywork. Owners who predominantly use these cars over distance are unlikely to regret their decision and the expansive glasshouse only adds to the sense of serene but quick progress.

One disappointment is that the car’s low-speed ride is not quite as refined as you’d hope, given all the travel in the height-adjustable suspension. Owners won’t exactly find themselves swerving to avoid potholes and wincing over rougher surfaces, but the X7 does labour such things fractionally more obviously than a Range Rover or Audi Q7.


BMW X7 2020 road test review - hero front

The revised BMW X7 range is priced from just over £75,000 in the UK, rising to just under £93,000 for an M50i. In the latter case, that’s likely to be a hike more than Audi will soon be charging for a petrol-powered Audi SQ7, but a reasonable amount less than Mercedes will ask for the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. The Range Rover Sport P525 Autobiography Dynamic is almost exactly the same price, and doesn’t get seven seats as standard, so in that respect at the very least, BMW can claim this car is reasonably priced.

Our test car’s £113,000 after-options price didn’t by any means include every available extra, but oddly it didn’t have BMW’s Ultimate Package, which would have bundled much of the optional content it had fitted anyway and added other highlights (rear-seat entertainment screens, rear window blinds and a TV tuner) without adding much at all to the overall cost. It’s likely to be a common feature of more lavishly equipped X7s.

X7 M50i just pips the diesel Mercedes GLS and six-cylinder Range Rover by retaining 50% of its value after three years

Our testing suggests fuel economy won’t be a selling point, just as you’d be likely to expect, but equally it may not be quite the insult some are expecting. Although thirsty when driven hard, as we’ve already alluded to, our test car proved capable of returning a shade over 30mpg on our gentler 70mph touring test. Would an M50d have done better? Almost certainly – but, at a guess, maybe only by 10% or 20%. At the M50i’s rate of thirst, its 83-litre fuel tank would still give it a pretty decent 550- mile range between (costly) fills.


BMW X7 2020 road test review - static

Should I buy a BMW X7?

The BMW X7 is not a BMW for which enthusiasts readily fall but, having subjected the top-billing X7 M50i to the Autocar road test, we don’t imagine owners will care.

Stunningly large and enviably refined but too excessive for many

BMW’s decision to enter this corner of the market will seem questionable to European drivers who travel along roads far smaller than those found in the US and the Middle East, but the execution of this Range Rover rival is difficult to fault, at least on the road. Its long-distance manners are impeccable, its cabin is spacious and comfortable, the handling inspires surprising confidence and, equipped with a subdued but powerful cross-plane V8 engine, overall the car is an unexpectedly likeable companion.

However, this BMW lacks the ultimate off-road credibility and cabin ambience of its British counterpart, and unless you desperately need the additional seats, a BMW X5 equipped with six cylinders is sweeter to drive, cheaper to run, easier on the eye and very nearly as cultured on the move. In the UK, the X7 therefore feels like the answer to a question very few are asking, but since when have 500bhp-plus SUVs ever been about straightforward logic? Expect to see plenty.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

BMW X7 (2019-2022) First drives