The journey across the Florida panhandle on Interstate 10 takes you from the state capital of Tallahassee to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The eight-hour drive provides ample time in which to contemplate why, exactly, the SUV is the perfect vehicle for the way we drive now.
The X7, BMW’s new flagship sport utility, is the largest vehicle the company has ever built in its 100-plus year history. That fact speaks to the spirit of the particular automotive moment we find ourselves in: bigger is better. And yet, here in Florida, the X7 seems perfectly reasonable, even modestly sized. Big, but not outrageously big, the German machine is dwarfed by American full-size pickups and SUVs jacked up on vehicular steroids like suspension lift kits and exhaust chimneys that billow black smoke.
This is also the most opulent car in BMW’s long history. It has three rows of seating, making it fully capable of carrying six people in pampered comfort. Nothing is cramped. If you opt for the six-seat configuration, the middle chairs are as deluxe as those in BMW’s 7 Series limousine. The headrests have pillows on them. The central instrument panel is a cascade of wood trim, available in your choice of exotic timber.
On this road trip, there’s plenty of time in which to admire our immediate surroundings. Natural light pours in from the tall side windows and full-length glass roof above. When you’re sick of the light, the touch of a button brings motorized window shades up to cover the side windows, giving you some privacy. The deep blue Alcantara headliner is the same colour as the night sky. Long stints behind the wheel demand a calming, serene environment that isolates a driver from the stresses of traffic. In this regard, the X7 excels.
All four wheels are suspended by pneumatic dampers that cancel out imperfections on the roadway. They also enable a neat party trick: from the car’s digital key, the driver can raise or lower the X7’s ride height to make ingress easier — there’s no need to jump up into it like you’re forced to do in most vehicles this size. Thanks to the key’s screen, using this feature is as easy as swiping through an app on your iPhone.
Everything you interact with in the X7 has an exquisite attention to detail: the knurled metal on the dials, the cut glass starter button, the palm-sized chunk of crystalline glass that functions as a gear selector. Opting for the BMW Individual cabin decor puts stitched two-tone Merino leather in white and navy blue across nearly every interior surface. Perhaps you won’t notice all of these luxurious details right away, but they give every interaction a pleasing, tactile quality.
It’s nice to be in a place where everything is so well thought out. Every need is catered to. The cupholders are heated and cooled. We lost count of how many different types of massage the seats deliver. The armrests are heated, so your elbows don’t catch a chill. It sounds trivial, but wait until you try it. BMW’s infotainment system has hundreds of functions, but it is nevertheless perfectly straightforward to use. Connecting to the on-board WiFi is as simple as pulling up a QR code on the in-car screen and pointing your phone at it. Show your children this feature, and you may never hear “Are we there yet?” again.
The versatility of large vehicles can sometimes feel like a curse, a never-ending chore of raising and lowering seats. But BMW thought of that, too. In the trunk, you’ll find a panel of buttons that raise and lower any of the rear seats. With the second and third rows folded, there’s room for furniture, bikes, or a stack of hockey bags. The air suspension keeps the car level, no matter what you’ve got to haul. Want to tow a boat? Sure. The X7 can tow 3.4 tonnes with the factory trailer hitch.
Our eight-hour road trip is made considerably less stressful by the fact that the BMW acts like a second set of eyes with its full suite of advanced driver-assistance systems. Adaptive cruise control, which gives your right foot a rest, is ideal for the Interstate. Something we haven’t seen before, however, is what BMW calls Reversing Assistant. If you get the X7 into a tight spot, hit a dead end, and need to back out, the car can help by taking over steering duty and effectively retracing your last 50 metres. Driving a big vehicle has never been so easy.
Under the hood is either a straight-six or V8 engine, both turbocharged. BMW makes the best straight-sixes in the business, but it’s the V8 that leaves a more lasting impression. It has a baritone gargle, making it sound more discreet and polite than any American machine, but no less powerful.
At the end of our trip across the Interstate, disembarking in Baton Rouge, we arrived not as weary travellers, highway warriors, or dead-eyed commuters. Thanks to the X7, we were relaxed, massaged, and pampered. Leave it to the Germans to perfect driving in North America.