Automorbit, Cars – We built a new house. On an island in northern Ontario, Canada. Its existence has not fully sunk in. When much of the build occurs a day’s drive away during a pandemic, it means decisions are made by phone and online. When you finally have some days off to make the trip to see the almost-finished abode, the anticipation is huge. And there are heaps of household items and small furniture that need transporting.
All of which makes the 2020 BMW X7 M50i a fitting steed to make a trek that will be etched in my memory forever. BMW introduced the X7 for 2019—about the time we decided to leap out of our comfort zone and build a house—and added the performance M50i for the 2020 model year in time to check out how it all turned out.
The $113,845 X7 M50i (as tested) available for the trip is more luxurious than the new cottage/home. And with a 4.4-liter turbocharged V-8 under the hood, it is also geared for a far faster pace than life on the water’s edge once I arrived. With 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque—compared with 456 hp and 479 lb-ft in the xDrive 50i—channeled through an eight-speed transmission, the X7 is quick. It is quick off the mark, quick to change gears, quick to pass, quick to exceed the speed limit when you are not looking. And the rumble of the V-8 is thrilling.
It meant the roughly 11-hour trip went by quickly. Once there, I was advised to keep it parked as much as possible. A vehicle with New Jersey plates would arouse fears and suspicions, which could prompt calls to the police during strange times when the U.S.-Canada border is essentially closed. Let’s face it, BMW’s largest vehicle, in white metallic with cognac Vernasca leather, Alcantara headliner, and 22-inch M wheels, was pretty conspicuous on an island of rural back roads full of used pickup trucks.
Check Out Those Kidneys
But it was the perfect backdrop to appreciate the striking exterior. Many have criticized the huge kidney grille—including many of my MotorTrend colleagues. But the more time I spent with the X7, the more I grew to accept that on this huge three-row SUV, the grille might be the right proportion. The result is a face that combines elegance and menace.
And though the X7 is BMW’s largest vehicle to date, it doesn’t look ungainly. Some of the bulk is taken out of the sides with a crisp character line below the door handles and then another lower down, breaking up what might otherwise be a giant slab of sheetmetal. Instead, it appears somewhat sculpted, and dividing the greenhouse into four sections along the sides also helps break up—while not erasing—the sheer size.
In back are a couple treats: M50i badging and quad exhausts, plus a split liftgate where the bottom folds flat and the glass top half lifts to toss in last-minute items. Makes the loading easier, especially with the air suspension that can lower the vehicle.
Nothing Beats That V-8 Rumble
There is no denying the joy of driving a big, rumbling V-8 on a highway, and despite the many hours on the road, it never got old. Slow clap for the M Sport exhaust system. Where the big engine was not as welcome was in stop-and-go traffic. It can be a little bit harsh and jerky on initial throttle with so much power at the ready.
Steering assist made turning the behemoth a breeze—the X7 is nine inches longer than an X5—and pressing the firm pedal of the M Sport brakes resulted in excellent and smooth stopping power. The X7 also has standard all-wheel drive. Adaptive LED headlights and fog lights did a good job of piercing the dark in areas with no streetlights or intersections, just stars and a full moon.
Hopping inside, you slide into contoured black leather seats with perforated insets and top-notch stitching and piping. They are heated and, for an extra $500, they are also ventilated. After a long haul, I appreciated the high seating position, and I found them quite comfortable. One quibble: The seatbelts are not height-adjustable, an oversight I find hard to excuse in a $100,000 vehicle.
Touches of Class
The dash is padded black leather (an $850 option) with more nice stitching. The doors are a warm black and tan two-tone; it looks and feels rich and luxurious, along with the dark wood trim in the cabin. Ambient light bathes the cabin, and there is very little cheap plastic. Upping the classy quotient are glass controls for the engine-start button, gear shift stalk, volume knob, and iDrive controller ($650 as a standalone option).
In front of the driver is the three-spoke leather-wrapped M steering wheel that is nicely padded and puts many commands at your fingertips. The X7 has iDrive 7.0 with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a second 12.3-inch infotainment screen, spread out horizontally with graphics that are clear and easy to read. There is also a head-up display, natural voice recognition to give commands in normal sentences, and gesture control which, quite frankly, never works properly for me. And working the iDrive can still be a bit challenging.
The one advantage of a long drive is plenty of time to play with the menus, digging into the screens and settings with their reams of information. You can change the settings of almost everything including going from miles to kilometers—a key change given how easy it is to exceed the speed limit in this car even when you aren’t trying to do metric conversions in your head.
The infotainment system has Apple CarPlay compatibility and wireless charging. This model was upgraded with the sublime $3,400 Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Honestly, this system makes any kind of music sound good. The Connected Package Pro brings real time traffic information and helps find street parking.
Rear Passenger Comfort
Second-row passengers ride in style with the same quality leather seats as the front row and a wide array of controls to adjust temperature and fan speed, max out the air conditioning, or turn on the heated seats. The vehicle has controls for five climate zones, total. There are two USB charging ports and two cupholders, as well as 12-volt power and a mat to hold your phone. There are cargo pockets in the hard plastic backs of the seats and electric side window shades.
BMW offers a three-person bench seat in the second row or two captain’s chairs, an $850 option. For passenger comfort, the captain’s chairs with their clip-on pillows are the way to go, and they make it easier to get to the third row. All the seats are powered, and the driver can push a button on the door panel to move the second-row seat forward for third-row access, or back to give passengers more leg room. But the mechanism is slow.
There are controls in the cargo area, as well. It takes some playing around with the buttons to figure out which ones do what. Although the third-row seats fold flat easily, the second row is more problematic. If you have the captain’s chairs, they will slide fore and aft and tilt forward, but they do not fold flat, and the headrests get in the way, all of which eats into the available cargo room. When the seats are returned to the upright position, the headrests must be manually put back in place. It meant the captain’s chairs option was not ideal for my need to transform the X7 into a cargo van. I did appreciate the hidden storage space in the cargo area that holds a surprising amount of gear.
Plenty of Standard Equipment
The soft close automatic doors whisper luxury, as they should. The base X7 M50i is $100,595, and this model had another $13,000 in goodies. To its credit, the X7 has a long list of standard equipment. Much of it is to keep you safe, driver assist systems that kick in when the driver fails to act to prevent an accident. That includes active blind-spot detection, front collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning.
Augmenting that, the Drivers Assistance Pro Package sets you back $1,700 for Extended Traffic Jam Assistant, which takes over the driving chore in stop-and go-traffic, and other features such as adaptive cruise, lane keep assist, and more. The lane keep technology keeps you in the lane—no line crossing—but it can be jerky at times as it pulls the vehicle back in line.
The $3,450 Dynamic Handling Package brings the active steering and Active Comfort Drive with Preview. Together, they make it easier to turn into a parking spot while the suspension—with active damping—anticipates bumps or imperfections in the road and prepares for them. The X7 provided a smooth ride on a variety of surfaces and was not as stiff as I feared it might be.
This M50i felt right at home in the north with its $1,200 Cold Weather Package with front and rear heated seats and heated front armrests (so decadent). It might be summer now, but this part of Northern Ontario can hit -40 degrees in the winter. (Piece of trivia: -40 is the same temperature in Fahrenheit as it is in Celsius.) Heated side mirrors make sense in those temperatures.
The $1,300 Executive Package expands your universe with the panoramic sky lounge LED roof that changes colors and provides nighttime lighting. Looking up at the artificially lit sky whetted the appetite for viewing the real thing, complete with the Milky Way and occasional glimpses of the Northern Lights once I arrived. This package also includes heated and cooled cupholders. Word of advice: Their efficacy varies greatly depending on your travel cups. Steel water bottles remained nice and cold. Thermal coffee travel mugs did not remain as equally toasty. This package also includes the classy glass controls.
Yes, the X7 is large, and its giant grille is controversial. But the M50i is powerful and fun to drive, ensuring this three-row vehicle meets a family’s needs while remaining true to BMW DNA