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Get past the nose, and what do you have? 2021 BMW X7 is an intriguing 7-seat crossover

2020 BMW X7 M50i

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 BMW X7 different?

Maybe a new color choice or two and another round of feature-shuffling. But major changes to BMW’s full-size premium crossover SUV aren’t anticipated before model-year 2023. That leaves the 2021 X7 a virtual rerun of the 2020 model.

Assembled at its plant in South Carolina, and with seating for up to seven, this is BMW’s largest-ever vehicle. It debuted for model-year 2019 as the company’s first challenge to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLS and Range Rover, as well as to domestics such as the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. It’s been a sales success, vaulting in 2019 to a strong No.3 in the segment, well behind the dominating Escalade but within 651 units of the more established GLS.

The ’21 X7 lineup should return three models: the six-cylinder xDrive40i and the V-8 xDrive50i and M50i. All will again come standard with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive (AWD). Introduced for model-year ’20, the M50i is comprehensive upgrade in power and handling but still a rung below BMW’s super-high-performance M-suffixed models.

The future could include an X7 M, with the 600-horsepower V-8 from BMW’s midsize X5 M crossover; it’d compete with the 600-plus-horsepower Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. Also possible: a plug-in hybrid with the powertrain from the X5 xDrive45e iPerformance model. Even an ultra-luxury four-seater to answer the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 may be in the cards. Such additions aren’t likely before early calendar 2023, when an updated X7 should bow as a 2023 or ’24 model.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on test drives of 2020 X7s furnished by BMW. Where the ’20 might be different, we reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2021 BMW X7 or buy a 2020?

2020 X7 M50i

Buy a 2020. The ’21 isn’t apt to change in any way worth waiting for, although it is likely to cost more. Likely isn’t certainly, of course. In fact, BMW did not increase the base price or destination fee of the 2020 X7 xDrive40i and xDrive50i, holding them at $74,895 and $93,595, respectively. The 2020 M50i started at $100,595.

That restrain was laudable, but it involved dialing back some content. Most notably, adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead was made optional as part of a $1,700 package. That handy feature — Active Cruise Control, in BMW parlance — is standard on many economy cars. We’d urge BMW to include it in the base price of all ’21 X7s.

With electrified and boutique X7s still at least a couple years off – and speculative, at that — buying even a 2020 X7 would get you a rock-solid crossover packed with technology and luxury features. Performance is a selling point, but don’t expect adult-worthy accommodations in the third-row seat. You’ll also need to abide the X7’s most controversial styling touch: a colossal version of BMW’s trademark twin-kidney grille.      

Will the styling be different?

2020 X7 M50i

No. All ‘21 X7s will retain their 2020 appearance. The xDrive40i and xDrive50i will again be visual duplicates except for badging, and the M50i will be set apart by unique trim. Aside from the exaggerated grille, the 2021 X7’s look will remain relatively unadventurous. There’s a chrome accent behind the front wheel openings, but exterior brightwork is otherwise used sparingly, and to good effect. That doesn’t mean any ’21 XT will lack presence.

The xDrive40i and xDrive50i should return with 21-inch alloy wheels standard and 22s a $1,300 option. The ’21 M50i should again swap chrome window surrounds for black and accent its grille, front fender scallops, and M Star-spoke 22-inch wheels in grey. Larger front vents, subtle aero body addenda, blue-painted brake calipers, and M logos complete the kit.    

Much of the M50i’s visual flair, as well as its black wood interior trim, M Sport steering wheel, and alcantara headliner, will again be available via the M Sport Package. It should return at around $4,350, but only for the xDrive40i. BMW dropped it from the xDrive50i options list for model-year 2020, evidently believing two fast V-8 X7s with similar looks is one too many.

2020 X7 third-row seat

Essentially an X5 stretched 5.1 inches in wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) and 9 inches overall, the X7 was designed with a third-row seat. With its nicely padded split bench, its own moonroof and climate controls, the X7’s third row is more accommodating than the X5’s optional one. But size-6 shoes fill its tight footwell, and ingress and egress are terrible. The second- and third-row seats power fore and aft, but with frustrating deliberation. For a direct rival with a truly usable third row look to the GLS.  

In its favor, the X7’s squared-up profile furnishes excellent headroom for all rows. Seating capacity drops to six with the three-person second-row bench replaced by two captain’s chairs, a $600 option. The captain’s chairs have the same 16-way power adjustments as the front seats, including power side bolsters.

2020 X7

Even the “entry-level” X7 xDrive40i’s cabin décor will be opulent without ostentation. Artful forms, soft-touch surfaces, precision switchgear, and quality materials abound. Aluminum accents and wood trim are standard. A $650 option puts cut-glass surfaces on the transmission shift knob, starter button, and audio controls. A three-panel panoramic moonroof is standard, and third-row passengers control the rearmost sliding sunshade.

Expect the ’21 X7 xDrive40i to again come standard with BMW’s Sensa Tec upholstery, with optional leather again ranging from $1,450 for Vernasca hides to $5,150 for Merino leather in league with a leather-covered dashboard and alcantara headliner. The 2021 xDrive50i and M50i will return with Vernasca leather standard. Merino would add $1,000, or $3,700 with the full dash treatment.

2020 X7

All ’21 X7s will return with digital instrumentation that’s complete but complex. You’ll need to train your eyes to locate some readouts, such as the manual-gear number and drive-mode setting. Redundant mapping for the standard imbedded navigation system is generously displayed. And at $1,100, the optional head-up projection is clear and informative.

Standard again will be a crisp 12.3-inch infotainment screen that responds to the large console knob and attendant buttons of the automaker’s industry-leading iDrive interface. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and WiFi hotspot are standard, and BMW wisely provides physical buttons for primary audio, climate, and vehicle-system functions.

It also offers gesture control, a frivolity that lets you adjust audio volume by twirling your finger in the air. Most every system can also be governed by voice through the vehicle’s virtual assistant. Its trigger command is “Hey, BMW.” But mentioning “BMW” in casual conversation awakens it, too. Be forewarned.

Shifting into Park is awkward because you must thumb a small button on the back of the gear lever. The center console’s polished surface distractingly mirrors sunlight. And access to the standard wireless phone charger is blocked with the cupholders in use.

With 12 cubic feet behind the third row, 49 with it folded, and 90 maximum, cargo volume is par for a crossover this size. A powered clamshell liftgate is standard, the fold-down tailgate section a neat convenience.

Any mechanical changes?

2020 X7 xDrive40i

Not until – or if — the plug-in hybrid and/or X7 M show up. The 2021 X7 xDrive40i will continue with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine of 335 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. The xDrive50i and M50i will use a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8, the former with 456 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, the latter with 523 and 553.

All ’21 X7s will again have an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel paddle shifters supplementing the console lever. Driver-selectable Sport, Comfort, Eco Pro, and Adaptive powertrain modes will return, with the M50i getting specific M GmbH performance calibrations throughout. 

BMW’s xDrive biases power aft to enhance handling and can send 100 percent to the rear wheels when AWD isn’t required. Expect the ’21 X7 xDrive40i and xDrive50i to again offer a $1,650 Off-Road Package with skid plates and sand, rock, gravel, and snow powertrain and suspension modes. An air suspension will remain standard across the board. It adjusts automatically to sharpen handling or soften the ride; a button in the cargo area lowers the vehicle to ease loading.

2020 Xy xDrive40i

Also returning will be the Dynamic Handling Package, which adds degrees of rear-wheel steering and active suspension damping and uses navigation data to adjust the suspension for approaching curves. Expect this package to cost about $4,750 on the xDrive50i, where it’ll include M Sport brakes and an M Sport limited-slip differential; $3,850 on the xDrive40i, sans the differential; and $3,450 on the M50i, where the M brakes and differential are standard.

In our tests, acceleration with the xDrive40i was unexceptional without hearty application of the throttle or Sport mode engaged. Even then, it took a moment or two for the 5,400-pound crossover to move away from a stop with conviction.

By contrast, the xDrive50i’s twin-turbo V-8 furnishes abundant thrust on demand and the more-powerful-still M50i feels like a dominating force for which no driving situation is a challenge. BMW pegs the M50i at just 4.5 seconds 0-60 mph, the xDrive50i at 5.2, and the xDrive40i at 5.8. The M50i’s M Sport exhaust system contributed to a throaty growl, but all X7 engines are exceedingly smooth in a way that suggests expensive, world-class engineering.

2020 X7 M50i

Deliberate might describe the handling of our test xDrive40i and xDrive50i. Once a change of direction was initiated, they took a set and followed through with good grip and balance. But both suffered steering more syrupy than sharp, and the Dynamic Handling Package’s suspension-damping capability seems essential to quell body motions that can otherwise feel flaccid instead of well-toned.

The almost-full-M treatment elevates the M50i’s road manners in every facet. Our tester road on the summer tires that are standard, and it moved with an athleticism the other X7s couldn’t match. In straight-line driving, however, those tires were prey to lateral groves, an effect called tramlining that challenged it to track as true as X7s with all-season tread. (Optional for the M50i are 21-inch wheels with all-season tires.)

An annoyance on any model was Extended Traffic Jam Assist, a feature of the Driving Assistance Professional Package. A component of the X7’s semi-autonomous driving capability, Extended Traffic Jam Assist is designed to keep you in your lane by automatically steering and sustaining speed so long as you maintain periodic finger contact with the steering wheel.

2020 X7 xDrive40i

In our tests, it sometimes reacted too aggressively, with sudden steering correction at the first sign the X7 had violated a lane marking. It’s also designed to counter steer automatically if you’re about to change lanes into the path of another vehicle. Fortunately, you can turn it off or program more subtle alerts that don’t involve automatic steering correction.   

For best ride quality, stick with the standard 21-inch wheels and tires. If you opt for an xDrive40i or xDrive50i with the 22s, also spring for the Dynamic Handling Package: without its extra suspension damping, the larger tires allow bumps and tar strips to register with a comfort-compromising punch. The M50i seemed immune to the worst of those impacts and rode with a tautness appropriate to its handling capabilities.

Will there be new features?

2020 X7

New features are unlikely. Most every amenity, tech toy, and go-fast goodie is already standard or optional, from heated armrests, to the shifting “Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof,” to M Sport brakes. As mentioned, though, we encourage BMW to reconsider its approach to driver assists by restoring Active Cruise Control as standard on all 2021 X7s.

Continuing as standard on all will be a safety suite that includes autonomous emergency braking able to automatically stop the X7 to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, pedestrian, or cyclist. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection will also be standard, along with lane-departure warning and steering-linked LED headlamps with automatic high beams. The standard cruise-control system, which BMW dubs Dynamic Cruise Control, can automatically apply the brakes going downhill and adjust speed in curves, as needed.  

But by making the Driving Assistance Professional Package optional on all 2020 X7s — it had been standard on the on the xDrive50i — some safety adjuncts became extra-cost items, notably Active Cruise Control that maintains your preset gap and works even in stop-and-go driving. One suggestion is to restore that feature as standard, while continuing as optional the package’s other assists, such as the semi-autonomous Traffic Jam Assist, front cross-traffic detection, and automatic lane changing when sensors detect it’s safe.

2020 X7

A driver aid expected to continue as optional for all ’21 X7s is the $800 Parking Assistance Package. It’ll again add autonomous parking with full steering, braking, and throttle control into parallel or perpendicular spots, surround-view video, and a drive recorder that captures video from the cameras on-demand. Also returning should be the $2,300 infrared night-vision option that projects into the instrument-cluster screen ghostly images of people and animals that may be beyond the range of the headlights.

In change from usual BMW practice, in which only black or white exterior colors are free, expect the ’21 X7 to again offer a range of metallics, including Vermont Bronze and Manhattan Green, free, charging extra only for Tanzanite Blue and Ametrin Metallic, at $1,950 each.

Inside, again standard on all models will be a power tilt/telescope steering wheel and ambient lighting with 12 selectable light designs (plus puddle lamps). Expect the Luxury Seating Package ($1,600; $1,200 on the M50i) to again include ventilated and massaging front front seats. The ColdWeather Package ($1200) will again add heated seats for all three rows, plus five-zone climate control.

2020 X7

Among other key options expected to return, the Premium Package for the xDrive40i would add remote engine start, soft-close automatic doors, the head-up display, a harman/kardon surround-sound system, gesture control, and rear manual side window shades. It cost $2,800 for 2020. Many of those features will again be standard on the V-8 models, which should again offer a $1,300 Executive Package with the glass controls, heated and cooled cupholders and the Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof. Expect the Executive Package to again run $4,100 for the xDrive40i and include the Premium Package content.

Look for an audiophile-grade Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound option to return at $4,200 for the xDrive40i and $3,400 for the xDrive50 and M50i, while rear-seat entertainment with a 10.2-inch touchscreen for the back of each front seat will again run $2,200.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 X7 M50i

Only BMW knows if it’ll again hold the line on base prices. Our bet is that’s too much to ask in consecutive model years, particularly since the X7 is in demand. So expect the 2021 X7s to exhibit some price inflation.

 For reference 2020 X7 base prices — including BMW’s $995 destination fee – were $74,895 for the xDrive40i, $93,595 for the xDrive50i, and $100,595 for the M50i. Options, of course, add up quickly. A seven-passenger xDrive40i enhanced with the M Sport, Driver Assistance Professional, Cold Weather, and Premium Packages would sticker for some $86,400. And the $100K threshold is just a few option packages away for the buyer of a 2021 X7 xDrive50i.

As daunting as they may appear, these prices are in line with those of rivals in the rarified premium full-size crossover class.

When does it come out?

2020 X7 xDrive40i

Expect a 2021 X7 release date in the third quarter 2020

Best competitors

Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX80, Range Rover, Lexus LX, Lincoln Navigator, Maserati Levante, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Toyota Land Cruiser

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]