(Pocket-lint) - BMW hasn't been short of big SUVs: the X5 is huge and the X6 that drops into a faster back is equally huge, but there's always been a family-sized hole in the SUV - or 'SAV' as BMW likes to call it - line-up. Now there's an even bigger one: the X7.
Until now, BMW offered no seven-seater, which had put it at a disadvantage in the premium SUV market, unable to match the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 or Land Rover Discovery. The X7 changes that, putting in that third row of seats in typically lavish BMW style.
When the new BMW 7 Series launched, it pushed the hallmark kidney grille into its largest form ever. The X7 takes that and runs with it, with a massive grille that soon attracted 'beaver teeth' jibes. If the BMW iNext is anything to go by, this trend is set to continue.
The X7 is the BMW's biggest SUV and while that grille is large, around the rear it feels a little better proportioned. For a large car, anyway. It exhibits much the same design language as the BMW X5, but seems to lose some of the aggressiveness, especially given the horizontal bar as a point of distinction around the back.
It's a split tailgate like the Land Rover Discovery, allowing you to open the top section and lower the rear flap. We've always liked that arrangement as it gives you space to arrange baggage, strap on rugby boots or open the boot without everything sliding out. Of course, one of the real benefits is that if you reverse park against a wall, you don't need to stop 3 feet away from it.
BMW's X family design does divide opinion and if you want something softer then the Volvo XC90 is likely to appeal. We still like the X7, but more because that bulk brings a lot else with it.
Slip into the interior and you're caressed by BMW's plush interior. Again, you can immediately see the family resemblance to other X models and the layout is generally the same as the X5 - as is the quality. There's comfort in those seats, attention to detail and lots and lots of space. It's the sort of car where you'll want to spend a lot of time on long journeys.
The X7's real appeal is capacity: the third row of seats give you space for two more bottoms.
There are controls on the boot that will power-fold all the seats too. With a press of one button the seats set off into a complex dance that will see them all, eventually, fold flat, sliding back and forth to allow the seat behind to fold down. It's all pretty slow and you'll find yourself wishing you could just pull a strap and be done with it. We even tried folding those seats up while sitting in them and when the rear headrest pops forward and smacks you on the back of the head, you know it's time to jump out before you're eaten by quality leather upholstery.
The interior offers plenty of headroom and you can seat an adult in the back, but it doesn't feel as spacious as the Discovery to us. The real challenge is how you get to those rear seats, because while the second row does slide - and you'll have to slide it forward to give the rear passengers legroom - the aperture to actually climb through on entry and exit from the third row is pretty small. We suspect, like many such models, it's going to be a third row for kids, while the adults stay in the second row.
BMW has a four-zone climate control system with the option of adding a fifth zone for the rear row too, so those in the back aren't forgotten about. Whichever seat you find yourself in, it is supportive and comfortable and, again, once you've shuffled the rows around to ensure everyone has legroom, it's a great place to be.
With that rear row up, you still get a decent amount of boot space, at around 320 litres. Fold it flat and you're looking at 750 litres, meaning you can carry shed loads of stuff.
Loaded with technology
The BMW X7 comes with Operating System 7.0, which is a successor to the iDrive system, but will be familiar to those who have driven a recent BMW. It offers a digital driver display for a nice modern look, but that driver display doesn't offer huge customisation like some competitors do and for us it's a little more complicated than needed. There is also an optional heads-up display (HUD) for useful information direct to your line of sight.
Most of the action is centred on the top centre display, which supports touch and gestures, but in more recent times has moved to offer Hey BMW, the company's digital voice assistant. This is actually a much better system than many in-car systems, able to interpret what you're saying and return some useful results.
We've taken a deeper look at how it works separately. One of the things that we like is that it knows the car and can return the exact information you want - the range to your destination or to access the audio settings for example - meaning you can keep your eyes on the road more.
There's a great deal of connectivity with a range of connected services, but this is where BMW starts to move towards packages and subscriptions, so some services will start to cost you more money. Hey BMW, for example, is free for three years, after which you'll have to pay a fee to keep it running.
The same applies to services like Apple CarPlay. You'll only get it for a limited time before you'll be asked for an ongoing fee - which is a little miserly as cars half the price of the BMW X7 will offer it as standard. There's no Android Auto and although BMW has occasionally suggested it might happen, it doesn't really seem to be on the agenda.
Outside of those connectivity options, the tech that BMW offers natively from OS7.0 is pretty good. We like the mapping and access to other services, so even though you can't just plug in your phone and have everything free, there's still a lot on offer.
Of course there's also a lot of technology packed into driver assistance functions, something that BMW has been doing for a long time and which makes driving a BMW a pleasure.
On the road with a choice of big engines
While BMW was one of the first to have an electric car on the road with the i3, its launch schedule seems to focus on conventional combustion engines first - and that's certainly true of the BMW X7. There's the 30d, 40i and M50d in the UK, so that's two diesels and a petrol, respectively, with no sign of any sort of hybrid option - but also eschewing the V8 model that will be available elsewhere too.
The xDrive30d is likely to be the volume seller for those wanting fuel economy on longer drives, where sedate driving will return you over 40mpg, while a combined figure is going to be in the low 30s. There's 265HP and that will get you from 0-62mph in 7 seconds, so it's no slouch - it's a 3.0-litre diesel after all.
It's also the cheapest model and we suspect it will have plenty of power for the majority of drivers. It's attached to a great eight-speed automatic gearbox and everything is blissfully smooth. It's all enhanced by that lofty driving position, very much king of the road stuff.
Despite its size the X7 does drive really nicely, with adaptive air suspension doing its bit to control roll, keeping things precise on those corners and comfortable on rougher roads. Flipping through the driving modes really does make a difference, both to the throttle response and the overall economy. Once you've ferried your passengers to their destination in style, you can lower the car for easier access too.
For those wanting a little more poke there's the M50d (pictured) that bumps you up to 400HP and offers a more sporty 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds. Given that this thing is roughly the size of a house, that's going some. It's accompanied by the appropriate tailpipe cacophony, in the spirit of other performance SUVs like the Audi SQ7, for those who wish they were actually in an M3 but found themselves in a family transporter.
BMW is always keen to point out that its xDrive off-roading isn't just a label for Chelsea tractors, that they do have offroad ability too. While they aren't being built to drive up mountains, you can opt for the xOffroad pack to give your car a little more underbody protection, for example.
We haven't taken the BMW X7 offroad, but we have put the BMW X5 through some of the sticky stuff and its acquits itself well enough. We'd expect the same performance from the X7. We suspect that the X7's all-wheel system (AWD) will mostly come into play when driving into ski resorts or careering across the edge of a sodden sports field in the rain, where it will be perfectly assured of foot.
With SUVs selling like hot cakes, it's no surprise that BMW has stepped up to offer something a little larger to compete in the seven-seat stakes. If you're looking for something surprising you're unlikely to find it because this is very much the same performance as you find in other X models.
It's great to drive and a fantastically comfortable place to be; there's plenty of tech - although it feels a little miserly by failing to offer Android and putting a subscription on other services - and the voice control is good, too, but you can have Google perform a lot of that stuff in a Hyundai at half the price.
For those looking for a seven-seater SUV in the premium segment, BMW is taking the fight to the those at the top. The fact that we're already seeing a number of these on the roads perhaps tells you everything you need to know. If you want to have it large, the X7 has plenty of appeal.
Alternatives to consider
Land Rover Discovery
The Discovery has long been the go-to luxury seven-seater model. While the BMW X7 drives better and has a slightly higher quality in the interior, the Disco has greater offroad skills (if you need them) while also giving that rear row a little more space.
The XC90 offers huge amounts of space, the option of a hybrid setup, and some great interior technology. It might not have the sporty excitement of the BMW, but it's a hugely popular seven-seat model.