2019 BMW X7 first drive review: Big-time Bavarian

Last May, I received an early preview of BMW's brand-spanking-new flagship SUV, the 2019 X7. At the time, I praised the three-row crossover's dual personalities as I spent the better part of two days tackling sinewy roads and rocky trails in and around BMW's US home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The prototype drive left me with lofty expectations: The X7 offered a plush ride, yet it could dial in the right amount of sportiness with just a few button presses.

Still, that early prototype test left me with a lot of questions, mostly concerning overall interior comfort and general ease of use. Following a second, more thorough go-'round of a production model, I'm happy to report the X7 is still a lovely driver. But in other areas, there's many a compromise to be had.

Lots of space, but less than I remember

Having just finished driving a 2019 X5, the X7's interior unsurprisingly  feels very familiar. The dashboard is just about the same, with a pair of standard 12.3-inch screens laying low to maintain forward visibility. However, the area for driver and passenger has the same problem as the X5: There's not a lot of space to put stuff. The center armrest cubby isn't particularly deep, nor are the pockets in the doors. While I appreciate the wireless charging dock in the center console's forward storage area, putting anything in the cupholders makes reaching your device almost impossible.

The second-row captain's chairs also feel less spacious than I remember. Folding the third row flat to add cargo space also limits the second row's fore-aft movement, leading taller passengers to feel slightly cramped -- but only in the legs; headroom remains ample. The third row can accommodate adults, but I wouldn't be comfortable back there for more than an hour at a time. As for cargo space, I can't fit two backpacks and two carry-on-size roller bags in back without folding the third-row seats down, so don't expect to haul a family of seven's worth of junk across the Great Plains without a roof-top box. (In fairness, the same space crunch affects the X7's fellow European rivals, as well).

Otherwise, this BMW's interior is top-notch. The X7's slab-sided style means there's lots of glass and, therefore, lots of visibility in all directions. The two-tone blue leather interior (not shown) looks and feels great, but it's a costly addition at $5,150 for X7s with the I6, or $3,700 with the V8. The optional glass controls add a pretty, if unnecessary touch to the V8 model, part of a $2,100 package that also includes a panoramic roof with embedded LEDs, which looks every bit as cool as you think it would.

This is the same spec as my I6-equipped tester, and it feels every bit as fancy as it looks.

BMW

Two engines, one bordering on overkill

The first half of my run from Spartanburg to Savannah is spent in the X7's xDrive50i variant. The xDrive bit means that this X7 packs all-wheel drive, which is actually standard on both current X7 trims. The 50i portion of this model's name alludes to the larger of two engines on offer -- a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 putting out 456 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque.

The V8 is glorious overkill. A 5.2-second sprint to 60 miles per hour may not seem all that sprightly, but when you're pushing a vehicle of this size at that rate, it feels quick. The engine is surprisingly loud inside and out, thanks in part to this car's optional M Sport package, which adds a beefier exhaust, a few M badges and a generally more aggressive exterior. The sound is genuinely surprising, with a deep, almost muscle-car-like burble.

With a bump-soaking air suspension system, lively steering and pedals that are easy to modulate, it's easy to dig the X7. It's still plenty great on the highway, too, floating along and providing a plush ride with plenty of on-tap power for lane changes. It's surprisingly fun to drive, and it feels in line with BMW's efforts of late to deliver comfortable cars that still err on the dynamic side.

Most folks will probably opt for the base engine, though. This one is a 3.0-liter, single-turbo I6 that makes 335 hp and 330 lb-ft. It may not sound as righteous or accelerate as quickly -- 60 mph arrives in 5.8 seconds -- but it also knocks more than $18,000 off the window sticker. It still feels quick, but the engine is lighter and that reduced mass leaves the front end feeling ever so slightly less composed over bumps.

No matter the engine, the standard eight-speed automatic transmission barely makes its existence known to me, swapping cogs effortlessly in the background and taking little time to call up lower gears when it's time to put the hammer down on the on-ramp.

But regardless of model, the X7 has one big drawback: wind and tire noise. The X7's interior is a little less vault-like than expected, but I'll need more time on different kinds of pavement before I'm willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and say it's loud all the time. For the majority of my trip, though, there's a lot of unwanted noise in the cabin.

The cost of entry is high, but man, that V8 is sweet.

BMW

So much tech

Everything that's new and impressive on the X5 is present in the X7, as well. The first thing most folks will notice is the pair of 12.3-inch screens on the dashboard. The gauge cluster screen is configurable, and it lays out information in a straightforward way with designs that change based on vehicle mode, but the "map" between the tachometer and speedometer is only useful when turn-by-turn navigation is enabled -- it lacks street names, so it's generally useless for on-the-fly stuff.

The infotainment screen houses the latest version of BMW's iDrive system. Touch capability is a welcome addition, offering an extra degree of manipulation above the standard rotary controller. iDrive can display multiple tiles on the home screen, giving me plenty of info at a glance, or it can provide in-depth information on a single topic. It's responsive and attractive, and its natural-language voice recognition can be enabled with a preset voice command -- it defaults to "BMW," but custom commands (harder to activate on accident) can be programmed in, too.

This X7 also comes equipped with BMW's optional Driving Assistance Professional package. This offers up a whole host of safety systems, including active lane-keep assist, automatic lane change assist and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality. It works great on these long stretches of highway, holding its lane position well while not being too heavy on the gas or brakes as traffic requires. Like the X5, I find lane-keep assist to be a little heavy-handed in its standard corrections, and the lane-change assist wants way too much time between hitting the blinker and making a move, but otherwise the system comes correct.

iDrive keeps getting better and better.

BMW

Brass tacks

Even though its price tag might seem high to the hoi polloi ($73,900 for the I6, $92,600for the V8), the upper end of its window sticker is actually competitive with similarly equipped offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. A V8 Mercedes GLS-Class, for example, starts at $95,000, while a V8 Range Rover just crests $100,000.

The X7 is a crossover of compromise. It's not excessively large, which means cargo and people occasionally do battle for the space inside. It's engineered to not be a total snooze-fest, so there's a balancing act between fun and comfort that inevitably leaves some material on the cutting room floor.

But while there's compromise, it results in a package that still feels fully baked when it comes to the kind of daily-drudgery driving that most owners will experience. The X7's position as a flagship SUV means it needs to be the best and brightest, and I feel it succeeds in that regard.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

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