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BMW X7: Is this the peak of our greed?

ON THE ROAD

How far are we willing to travel down capitalism’s sordid, twisty road? Is there a bend at which we ask to get dropped off, or do we shut our eyes and hope to arrive safely at the bottom of the hill, swallowing the sick from the surprise bumps along the way? These sort of ruminations begin to seem important when we’re confronted with the leviathan of free enterprise that is the BMW X7.

Just as the phones in our pocket keep growing bigger to swoop a new pool of customers, so too must car designers continually sketch new plans to keep the market enticed. Hence the birth of this behemoth: an astoundingly big frame soaked with ridiculous luxury.

BMW has been happily fiddling with its X range of late and in 2019 came out with its idea of introducing a seven-seater. A pure seven-seater, that is. It’s worth pointing out from the outset that this is no charlatan with two faux seats rising from the spare tyre. This is a fully fledged passenger comfort liner. You might even say its interior space is the defining feature of the car. 

At the very least it’s what you will immediately notice when stepping inside. Three rows of seats give the impression of entering a mini school bus or kombi. Our test model came with the added option of splitting the middle seats – which then removes the centre armrest – and serves to enhance the roomy feel and creates the sensation of sitting in an airplane. To access the rear a button is pushed and the backrest slides forward (painfully) slowly.

From that vantage point the car’s greatest eccentricity comes into view: three panoramic slots spread across the long expanse of the roof. It’s quite a view for those relegated to the back – an experience that is further enhanced by the inclusion of a small triangle window on either side. Sitting there in no way feels like you’re being shoved in with the luggage, as is the risk with these sorts of auxiliary seats.

There’s nowhere you can sit, in fact, where you don’t feel pampered. Every spot has ample leg room and all the amenities – cup holders, aircon controls, blinds – one could hope for. There are optional screens that can be added to the back of the headrests too, so passengers have a number of options to fool around with, including the option of following the journey on their own navigation pane, just like you can do on long-haul flights.

Again, optimum traveller comfort is the sales pitch here. But that’s not to say that the driver has it all bad. 

The X7 landed in South Africa in mid-2019 and the rousing M50i model, our tester, has since followed suit. It boasts a 4.4l V8 engine – an upgrade from the standard 3.0l engine – and is a hell of a mean block off the line. The nature of this car does inspire a more languorous ride but the power is there when needed.

Handling is smooth and responsive but the responsible advice would be to not go barrelling into tight corners at a high speed. Also, don’t expect to fit into any reasonable parking space.

Styling-wise the verdict is a lot harder to nail down. Much of the motoring community has chastised the design for its massive, ostentatious grill. There’s no denying that it looks like an evil grater, but it’s also at home on this machine. Absolutely no one is getting one of these expecting to remain low-key, and if you’re going to do braggadocious then do it right. Otherwise the rest of the car is much of what fans of BMW SUVs might be accustomed to; from most angles this looks like an X5 that resorted to steroids. 

Which brings us neatly to where we started. The German manufacturer already has members in its stable that can accommodate any conceivable family whim, cars that are already top of their class. Did the market really need a R2.2-million cruise ship? How many times a year would any given customer utilise the extra two seats?

As we know, the answers to those questions don’t really matter. Someone in Bavaria has worked out that they will sell and so here we are. The onus is on you to work out if you’re willing to take that extra, garish step.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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