Sales of big luxury sedans are steadily sinking like the massive luxury liners that used to dominate the trans-Atlantic trade, and BMW isn’t one to wait around and play the violin while its 7 Series appeals to fewer and fewer buyers. Munich’s solution to flagging flagship interest has been to dump its development efforts into its largest offering yet, a behemoth of an SUV that slots in above the long-established X5.
Dubbed the X7, this 5661-pound family-hauler is aimed squarely at the Mercedes-Benz GLS, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Volvo XC90, and Land Rover Discovery. It’s a few years late to the game compared to these rivals, but this also happens to be one of BMW’s strongest efforts in recent years.
Introduced last model year, for 2020 the BMW X7 adds a new model—the M50i—which aims to provide high-performance thrills to an otherwise cosseting road-going locomotive. The Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 is essentially the only other similarly-sized three-row monster with this type of ambition, so the X7 M50i broadens the field for those who walk into the dealership and want the one with the most power, biggest wheels, and highest sticker price.
With a starting window sticker of $99,600, the 2020 BMW X7 M50i appears to be the top-spec trim, and the alpha of the X7 lineup outside of Alpina’s XB7. As with the current 7 Series sedan, BMW M will show a rare case of restraint and forgo a full-M X7 model. Featuring a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive, the X7 M50i we tested came with the Dynamic Handling package, the Luxury Seating package, the Executive package, and a Bowers & Wilkins surround sound audio system. Altogether, this X7 M50i totaled $110,650.
Everything about the BMW X7 skews big, and the M50i variant accentuates this somewhat with an emphasis on sporty aero and gaping vents to keep its turned-up powerplant performing its best. When it was initially released, the X7 caught a lot of flack for its massive, toothy grille, but to be honest the maw is well suited to the overall proportions of the vehicle. This is a handsome interpretation of BMW’s SUV design language, and it won’t turn away long-time X5 customers who want an upgrade.
Inside, especially is where BMW rewards buyers who make the jump from the X5 to the X7. We’d say the glass shift knob is a little over the top, but the rest of the cabin is contemporary-looking, clean, and consciously tilted towards coddling occupants in each of its three rows. Backed by top-notch materials, even this punchiest take of the X7 is like a silent, mountainous limo when tutting around town at reasonable speeds or cruising on the highway.
We should mention that one could, in fact, stuff an adult or two at the very rear of the X7’s seven-passenger arrangement with little issue—something not to be taken for granted even in large sport-utilities. If cargo is the priority, then a set of buttons at the rear will automatically fold down the back buckets to reveal a generous load area. The mechanism is even programmed to tilt the seats ahead of those being flattened, to get them out of the way, which is a thoughtful attention to detail. Owners of $100,000 SUVs don’t want to pace around their car pulling levers and sliding seats.
The M50i’s twin-turbo V-8 produces 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. You’d be correct in pointing out that the xDrive50i edition of the X7 is similarly gifted under the hood, and while the two models feature the same engine, the M50i is tuned to deliver 67 additional ponies (and a whopping 74 extra lb-ft of twist).
The X7’s uprated engine and surefooted AWD system is enough to launch the vehicle to 60 mph from a standing start in a mere 4.5 seconds, which given the BMW’s considerable heft is an astonishing feat. Somehow, the engineers behind this beast have been able to balance a bit of snarl with a sensation of absolute stability and poise, even when unleashing its full thunder in a straight line.
Some of that aural aggression is computer-generated and piped into the cabin. BMW is not alone in digitally sweetening the sounds that enter the passenger compartment, but even from the outside it’s clear that this is one thundering pachyderm whose charge you would never want aimed in your direction. The X7 dispatches tight corners with as much ease as physics will permit, and while it’s hardly a driver’s car it’s rarely caught out in any environment shy of a road course.
In some ways, the M50i’s high-performance mission statement is at odds with how the vehicle is best enjoyed. Its air suspension—which offers numerous adjustable ride heights—is excellent at keeping road imperfections at bay, while the vehicle’s surging speed is an appreciated highway weapon to be wielded when zipping past left-lane campers.
By combining both a rotary dial and a touchscreen, it’s relatively easy to parse the X7’s iDrive infotainment menu structure and tap into the temperature, massage seat settings, audio EQ, and trip info that you’re looking for. Avoid BMW’s gimmicky gesture controls, however, which are engaged via flailing your hands and arms in a prescribed manner to perform simple functions. When there is a button on the steering wheel as well as a knob on the center stack to change the volume, rotating your finger around in front of the screen seems like more work, not less.
BMW has nailed the gargantuan luxury SUV formula on its first attempt. All three X7 models—the M50i, the xDrive50i, and the xDrive40i with its stout turbo-six—offer every bit the commanding road presence and ultra-layered comfort required in a mammoth home-away-from-home, with the right kind of familiar styling and prestige.
Highs: Exceptionally quick, handsomely styled in and out, and genuinely useful as a people mover or cargo hauler without compromising luxury.
Lows: Little need for extra grunt over the less-expensive xDrive50i model.
Summary: The X7 M50i adds sheen of sport that, while perhaps more excessive than necessary, at the very least lets the BMW compete with Mercedes for market share of a segment that is clearly willing to spend more to get more.