BMW's biggest sport utility vehicle offers luxury for up to seven and competent handling for the one at the wheel
BMW's biggest sport utility vehicle X7 excels Measuring nearly 5.2m long by 2m wide and standing just over 1.8m tall, the BMW X7 is the biggest BMW. PHOTOS: BMW, CHRISTOPHER TAN, UWE FISCHER

It has taken 20 years for BMW to make a larger version of its trailblazing X5 sport utility vehicle (SUV), which was first produced in 1999.

The German marque says this has to do with changing consumer patterns, with the growing preference for SUVs now spilling over to the luxury segment.

The X7 is thus an all-terrain version of BMW's 7-series. It has variable all-wheel-drive, off-road drive modes and a water fording depth of 500mm. It also has the trappings of luxury, such as air suspension, massage function for front seats and seat-folding and unfolding functions which are electrically operated.

The car, arriving in Singapore in May, is the biggest BMW, measuring nearly 5.2m long by 2m wide and standing just over 1.8m tall.

Within a wheelbase of a little more than 3.1m are three rows of seats, accommodating either six or seven people.

It is not only the biggest BMW available, but also the biggest multi-seat SUV in its price segment.

It is slightly longer and taller than the Bentley Bentayga, with a more generous wheelbase.

But surprisingly, the X7 does not appear as bulky as its dimensions suggest. In fact, when parked next to the new and enlarged X5, it comes across as only slightly larger.

Its styling also hides its sizeable frame well. In the United States, the Land of Giants - where massive trucks roam - the X7 is not overly big at all.

Inside, the X7 offers plenty of room in the first two rows, especially in six-seater form. The third row, while a bit more spacious than the multi-seat version of the X5 (seen in the last generation), does not offer as much legroom as a proper full-size multi-purpose vehicle (MPV).

The footwell is especially constricted, as the second-row seats cannot be raised. A separate air-conditioning control panel for the third row compensates, though.

The car boot is also pretty compact, but is enough for two carry-on luggage.

In this respect, the X7 is similar to other multi-seat SUVs (barring the American monster-size models). SUVs, by virtue of their design, cannot compete in the space race against boxy, functional MPVs.

And BMW being BMW, it prioritises driving dynamism as much as it does practicality.

In this area, the X7 is astoundingly capable on the road. During a test-drive spanning approximately 700km from Las Vegas to Santa Monica, the big BMW acquits itself on roads, which make those in Europe look tame, more than adequately.

The route traverses the infamous Death Valley. Endless straights here demonstrate the X7 xDrive 40i's tractability and accelerative prowess. It overtakes long trailers with conviction, even if not with complete effortlessness.

With 340hp from its familiar turbocharged inline-six transmitted by a well-paired eight-speed autobox, the X7 feels brisk despite its weight of almost 2.4 tonnes, which is the heaviest non-armoured BMW there is.

But it is its generous torque - 450Nm from 1,500rpm - which helps the car navigate the many treacherous bends and hilly terrain that punctuate the vast flatness.

Its variable all-wheel-drive, which apportions torque to each axle as needed, and its rear-wheel steering combine to make negotiating these stretches with the nimbleness and fearlessness of a smaller and lower-slung car.

Self-levelling air suspension takes up the rest of the slack, as well as cushion the cabin from all but the nastiest of bumps. Its brakes are the best I have sampled in a car of its size and heft. It stops with the efficiency of a far smaller car.

Proof of its luxury status is in its superb sound-proofing. At 160kmh, the car betrays only a hint of wind noise. Road noise is kept at bay, even when the car runs on 22-inch wheels shod with broad runflat Pirelli Zero tyres.

The only quirk is that the X7 does not have height adjustment for front seatbelts.

As this is a BMW peculiarity, which, going by the brand's success is not a huge impasse, only one question remains: Should you get the six-or seven-seater?

That, of course, depends on individual needs and preferences. But know this - either one will drive as well.