BMW was an early entrant into the luxury SUV market when it introduced the X5 back in 1999. The vehicle was immediately popular, and the brand hustled the smaller X3 to market only four years later. Other luxury brands have since rolled out competing models, and several have branched upward into full-size, dedicated three-row offerings, but BMW dithered on the question of whether to develop an X7. The company busied itself instead with X6 and X4 “coupe” variants of its mainstay models and with the smaller X1/X2. Runaway market demand for SUVs, and the bigger the better—not to mention the success of Mercedes-Benz’s GL/GLS that has been around for more than a decade now—has finally spurred BMW into action. A BMW X7 is now on its way, but it still isn’t here quite yet (expect it to debut this fall and appear in showrooms in the first quarter of 2019), so our first behind-the-wheel exposure to the X7 was in camouflaged prototypes.

The Known and the Unknown

In addition to what the vehicle looks like, there was more that BMW wasn’t quite ready to share regarding the X7: its dimensions, the output of its engines, and the specifics of some of its equipment. Still, our daylong drive, both on the road and off, gave us a good preview of this X model writ large.

First, the X7 is not merely a stretched X5. It is longer, of course—figure by about seven inches, making it roughly 200 inches from stem to stern—but it’s also wider and taller. That’s evident the moment you walk up to it. The climb aboard is about the same as in an X5, but the view from behind the wheel is not. The dash is wider, and the driver looks out over a hood that appears broad and long. Despite this, you don’t feel lost in the car, thanks to a fairly large glass area, modestly sized pillars, and a businesslike driving position with a prominent dead pedal and a floor-hinged accelerator. The fat-rimmed steering wheel with its sausage-casing-smooth leather wrap is familiar BMW fare, as are the iDrive controller alongside the goofy electronic shifter and the available Multi-contour power seats.

Despite black felt draped about to hide the interior details, the similarities with the current 7-series are evident, with a 12.3-inch central touchscreen standing proud of the dash, below which is a row of climate-control buttons and then eight radio preset buttons and a volume knob. The instrument cluster is also screen based. The wide center console houses the gear selector, the iDrive control knob, and the ignition push button, all of which can be rendered in crystal (fancy!). Additional buttons include those for the standard driving modes, while toward the front of the console is a large covered binnacle that includes two cup holders and additional stowage along with an inductive charging pad for handheld devices.

Moving back to the second row, there is a three-person bench or, optionally, a pair of captain’s chairs. The latter have four-way power adjustment and scoot forward electrically to allow access to the standard third row, which accommodates two. Overhead is a standard panoramic glass sunroof that spans the first two rows; the section above the front seats opens. Above the third row is a separate, fixed glass panel. The second row is plenty comfortable, but if those passengers avail themselves of every last inch of legroom, they’ll leave precious little for their companions back in steerage. Provided some mercy by their second-row counterparts, third-row occupants don’t have it too bad, as there’s decent headroom, the seat cushion is up off the floor to benefit legroom, and the quarter-windows allow a view out.

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