BMW enter the mammoth SUV segment

IT IS as big as Co Louth — the “Wee County” — and it costs nearly as much as a wee house in that part of the world. It is very large indeed and might even be visible from outer space and for BMW, the X7 is indeed a very expansive (and expensive) venture into uncharted territory and, to continue to interstellar analogy, to boldly go where no Beemer has been before.

BMW enter the mammoth SUV segment

IT IS as big as Co Louth — the “Wee County” — and it costs nearly as much as a wee house in that part of the world. It is very large indeed and might even be visible from outer space and for BMW, the X7 is indeed a very expansive (and expensive) venture into uncharted territory and, to continue to interstellar analogy, to boldly go where no Beemer has been before.

The X5, as we know, rewrote the rulebook on large SUVs, refining long-held views that such vehicles were neither suited to nor able for road-going activities.

Indeed, that car inverted the industry thinking that large SUVs were only really suited for heavy off-road work and, lo, it became the first of a long line of such machines that were only really suited for road driving.

While Range Rover had a lock on acceptable on/off road vehicles, BMW (despite having owned the nominally British brand for a little while) never really went near the truly monstrous end of the market, allowing Range Rover and, latterly, a few others to corner

what might be termed ‘the fuck-off’

the large and opulent SUV segment.

For a long time it seemed that BMW had no real interest in competing against such as the Range Rover or the Mercedes GLS at the mammoth end of the scale, but that has all now changed with the arrival of

County Louth – er, sorry,

the X7 to the very, very large SUV party.

And, by God, it is big. It blocks out daylight to the whole house when in the driveway; on a sunny day, it seems that its shadow is longer than that of Mount Everest. Indeed, where you to drop one in the Atlantic Ocean — say, some 600km south-south west of Newfoundland in waters 3.8km in depth — you would certainly find it quicker than you would the wreck of the Titanic.

Upon meeting an X7 for the first time, you run looking for your mummy – crying helplessly about invading aliens and their massive spacecraft. Even when you’re middle aged and supposed to be emotionally beyond such nonsense. It is that imposing.

We stylish, avant garde Europeans tend to look at such enormousness with unkind eyes, regarding this type of a whopping vehicle as only really suitable for brash Americans, newly flush Chinese, or vastly wealthy Middle Eastern types who want to spend big money on big, flash things.

And here in Ireland, where a healthy begrudgery is a staple of everyday life, owing something as big as an X7 would cause problems even for the most extravagant drug-lord, simply because to travel around in it would create impossible visibility difficulties — as it is unfeasible to go unnoticed in one.

As the largest car BMW has ever built (it is 5.2m long, 1.8m tall, and 2m wide), this whopping machine is said to have been imagined as a 7 Series which can go off road — or interplanetary. But, despite its vastness, it actually shares a lot with the rest of its SUV siblings.

Given that it is the size of a small county in the north-east, it is unsurprising that it has seven seats as standard and that an adult can actually get into the rear-most seats.

Row two tilts forward to allow access to row three, and while it is a little bit of squeeze to get in there, once you’ve achieved the feat, it is unsurprisingly roomy and you’ve also got armrests, heated seats, air vents, and a climate control panel.

You also get Isofix mounting points for child seats — not a feature seen too often anywhere else — and that is a real bonus for anyone with a young family. Boot space is a little tight with all three rows of seats in action, but lower the two rear-most rows (electrically, no less) and you do emerge with a pretty gigantic cargo area.

Inside, you get the sort of opulence that you should expect to get in a car costing near enough to €150,000, but anyone familiar with the much, much smaller X5 will know what’s going on immediately. The interiors of the two cars are very familiar — even down to the heated/cooled cup holders, which are of course a must.

There is an atmosphere of hushed reverence about the interior — much like any large and self-respecting cathedral — and the near silence when you’re operational and driving is slightly eerie. One can feel — even in the great vastness of it all — the levels of detail BMW has got down to here to make the X7 a paragon of richness.

Except that it’s not so different from the X5 to make you feel good about spending such a colossal amount of money having one. Sure you’ve got massaging seats and hand-motion controls for the infotainment and a gear shift that looks like a crystal cork out of a crystal decanter. But the X5 has all that stuff too.

On the engine front we experienced the one thing that does not reflect the general giganticism of this whole big deal. There are three engines on offer, including a quad-turbo X7 5.0d, a three litre X7 4.0d and the diminutive one we got to try, the X7 3.0d.

By comparison with the monstrous 5.0d (394 bhp and 5.4 second 0-100km/h), the smallest three litre looks weedy and puny, what with only 261 bhp, seven seconds 0-100km/h and a top speed of only 230km/h. Surprisingly, though, it’s not that bad, especially when you realise that you’re carrying everything south of Carlingford Mountain around with you.

There is a sufficiency grunt to keep most drivers happy and the 6.8 l/100 km (41 mpg) economy figure will also please most people. Indeed, the general performance from this stately home is pretty impressive.

OUT on the road and thanks largely to the sophisticated air suspension, you get a sense that the X7 wafts around rather than drives, but the handling — considering the enormousness of everything — is eye-opening.

It corners with verve and there’s oodles of grip from the 22” wheels and the xDrive system and yet there is never any sense that you might spill the champers or upset the tray of cucumber sambos.

That said, on the narrow, twisty roads around where I live, the X7 did feel out of place, taking up much of every surface and taking up the cudgels against those pesky camper vans which infest our part of the world at this time of the year. The X7 invariably won hands down — on the basis that bulk always triumphs.

I am assured, although I found it difficult to find a mountain big enough to test the assertion, that it will also tackle reasonably strenuous off-road tasks what with its locking differential and Off-Road package.

Given the sheer monstrosity of what’s on offer here, it would be easy to dismiss the X7 was being mere wilful opulence dressed in a gigantic package, but — and despite the ginormous size and the frightening bottom line — this is actually quite a good car.

And on top of that, there is a dynamism about the whole vast enterprise that you will not find elsewhere in this rarefied megabarge segment and, in fairness to BMW, that makes it something of an immense achievement.

And when I say “immense”, I’m not over-egging the pudding at all.

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