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Broader changes for BMW’s flagship SUV are spearheaded by an M-lite, V8 special

Nobody could dispute that BMW has got the bit firmly between its teeth concerning the business of brash, fast SUVs. How firmly is something that becomes apparent when you consider that the 523bhp, £109,000 BMW X7 M60i tested here isn’t even the fastest, brashest BMW SUV you can buy, or even the second-most – step forward the new M-bespoke 653bhp BMW XM and the recently upgraded 628bhp X5 M.

But, of course, the X7 M60i’s remit is not simply to be as fleet-footed and dynamically able as it’s possible for BMW to achieve. It must also be endlessly practical and lavishly comfortable. There is an overlap with the BMW 7 Series limousine here, which is an element neither of the hottest X7’s uber-powerful stablemates need worry about. They need only be fast and brash.

It’s easy enough to mock something like the X7 M60i, what with it being so generally excessive. But it would be a fine all-season, all-task companion. I know I could grow to love its laid-back personality.

So who are the chief rivals of this wide-ranging SUV? Given this is such an expensive and niche recipe, there are a surprising number. Most notable is the latest Range Rover, the current class benchmark for both off-road marauding and rolling refinement back on terra firma. However, as a BMW and an M-lite one at that, the seven-seat X7 M60i needs to fight convincingly well on broader fronts. In dynamic terms, owners will expect it to be an alternative to the Porsche Cayenne, only with the all-round usability of Audi’s Q7 and the everyday opulence of the Mercedes GLS. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that, in V8-engined flagship M60i guise, the X7 has the toughest job in the segment. So can it rise to the occasion, or will it prove as divisive to drive as to look upon?

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Range at a glance

A bespoke M derivative of the X7 is something BMW has never offered, meaning the V8-powered M60i that replaces the pre-facelift M50i is the flagship, above two straight-six options starting at around £85,000. Interestingly, BMW has dropped the 395bhp M50d, a quad-turbo version of the straight-six turbo diesel.

All models use the same eight-speed torque-converter automatic, which is an enhanced version of the existing Steptronic gearbox.

Most buyers will opt for one of the six-cylinder versions, and they will have a choice of entry-level Excellence trim or the popular M Sport trim, which adds various dark and sporty design touches, an M Aerodynamics package and 21in M alloy wheels. The equipment seen on the M60i builds on this considerably.

Version Power
BMW X7 xDrive40d 335bhp
BMW X7 xDrive40i 375bhp
BMW X7 M60i xDrive* 523bhp

*Version tested

TRANSMISSIONS

8-spd automatic         

DESIGN & STYLING

02 BMW X7 M60i RT 2023 front cornering flou artistique

BMW’s move to a split-headlight design for the X7 marks out the facelifted model, though fundamentally the car remains unchanged. A full-size SUV with the option of seven seats, the X7 is the largest car BMW makes and comes with a choice of six- or eight-cylinder engines, all paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and variable four-wheel drive.

However, look beyond the headlights, the redesigned kidney grille and, if specified, the new 23in alloy wheels that are the biggest ever fitted to any BMW, and there are some meaningful changes. One of them is the adoption of 48V mild-hybrid technology, which is found on both the 375bhp X7 xDrive40i 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol and its 335bhp diesel counterpart, as well as the 523bhp 4.4-litre V8 tested here. On the six-cylinder petrol, the system can even provide all-electric driving at very low speeds, though in all cases it contributes to overall torque output. Note also that the X7 M60i marks a relatively low-key debut for M’s new S68 engine, with its cross-bank exhaust manifold. It is likely to resurface in the next M5.

You can instantly identify an updated X7 by its distinctive headlights, which have a split-level design also seen on the i7. Our testers consider the treatment more successful on the SUV, though it’s hardly elegant. Note that the M60i’s brightwork also has a ‘shadow’ finish.

All models use the same electronically controlled multi-plate clutch, housed within the transfer case, to send drive fore and aft, though only fore when the car senses a loss of rear traction. The X7 is, for the most part, purely rear-driven, and the M60i benefits from an M Sport differential to maximise traction at the back axle and engender as much sporting-saloon dynamism as realistically possible. The car’s speed-sensitive power steering has also been retuned and works hand in hand with the rear-wheel steering.

As for off-road ability, the X7 doesn’t have the driveline versatility or underbody robustness of a Range Rover, though its self-levelling air suspension does allow ride height to be raised a meaningful amount. Equally, above 86mph the body drops automatically, reducing drag.

INTERIOR

09 BMW X7 M60i RT 2023 dashboard

Slide aboard an X7 and you will find it feels much more the super-sized, lifted-up BMW 5 Series than an out-and-out, stand-alone luxury SUV. This comes with the territory because, unlike any Range Rover or Bentley Bentayga, the X7 derives from an established family of executive cars, so an element of homogeneity should be expected.

But actually, rather than this being disadvantageous, the link to BMW’s mid-ranking saloon is not a bad thing. The current 5 Series has always struck an excellent balance of ergonomic thoughtfulness and material richness, and the X7 replicates the former and subtly heightens the latter, all to desirable effect. Soft leather and some interesting fascias play off against familiar physical controls honed to perfection by the simple fact they’ve been deployed by BMW hundreds of thousands of times. For an everyday kind of car, the X7 exists in a neat sweet spot of functional luxury, though we would understand if some M60i owners would prefer a bit more individuality for £109,000.

The transmission tunnel control panel is as familiar and effective as ever. The disco ball rotary control is a bit ‘bling’ but in general perceived quality is very high.

Less immediately lovable is iDrive 8, which integrates the central infotainment and instrument readouts into one vast, curved display. In fairness, this scale of the display looks quite at home in the X7, while in smaller cars such as the facelifted BMW 3 Series it simply dominates the cabin, feeling inescapable. Yet even in something the X7’s size it’s a bit of an odd presence, and we miss the leather-clad cowling the driver would traditionally gaze over. Its absence diminishes the feeling that you’re in the secure, cosseting cockpit of something fast and serious. Not even the M60i’s subtle but effective interior lighting can remedy this.

In terms of capacity, the X7 remains vast. It will seat seven in comfort, though there’s an optional six-seat layout, and every berth is electrically adjustable and heated. Note also that the tailgate has a split-folding design, with both sections electronically controlled.

Multimedia system

14b bmw x7 m60i rt 2023 infotainment 0

BMW’s iDrive 8 offers plenty of functionality and ‘wow’ factor but perhaps not quite the same level of intuitiveness as the generation it replaces. There are simply too many icons on the screen for you to either scroll past using the rotary control or press with your finger (which necessitates leaning forward a bit awkwardly). Some of the climate controls have also migrated onto the touchscreen, meaning adjustment now requires you to take your eyes off the road for longer.

The broad, curved display is, however, superbly sharp and versatile, accommodating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as though the software was native. The 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround audio system fitted as standard to the M60i also stands out for its clarity and depth.

It’s worth noting, too, that the optional Travel and Comfort System furnishes the second and third rows of seats with a generous number of USB-C ports, and tablets can be fitted to the backs of the front-seat headrests.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

19 BMW X7 M60i RT 2023 V8 engine

Inspect our telemetry figures and you could be forgiven for thinking the top-ranking X7 was an all-out M product rather than one that’s merely laced with M-car cues. Laden with fuel and driver, and therefore weighing the best part of 2750kg, our test car launched to 60mph in 4.2sec, passing 100mph after 10.4sec. Those numbers are in the vicinity of what we extracted from the F10 BMW M5 only one generation ago and they underscore the X7 M60i’s status as something of a Q car.

The M60i’s in-gear performance proved no less severe. In kickdown mode, 30-70mph went by in just 3.7sec, though perhaps the 2.0sec taken to lunge from 30-50mph in third gear was more eye-opening still. An 80-100mph time of 3.9sec in fifth gear also shows that, even approaching triple figures, the car’s M-derived twin-turbo V8 engine still has the guts to get on top of what must be considerable drag. Of course, these days we’re accustomed to performance statistics that belie the sheer bulk of modern performance SUVs, and in objective terms nothing the X7 M60i does is groundbreaking.

It’s reasonable to expect the M60i to pack more power and torque than the pre-facelift M50i it replaces. One of those numbers is bigger than the other, after all. But no, the two cars make the same figures. M60i owners can at least content themselves with knowing they have a proper M unit.

Perhaps what makes this BMW’s speed feel so surprising is that outright performance is not its defining characteristic. The 4.4-litre motor hasn’t been tuned for top-end fizz or aural fireworks and in truth you will find neither of those things here, despite the presence of an M60i-unique sports exhaust. What it does well includes pleasingly sharp throttle response, thanks in part to its new 48V mild-hybrid system, and full-to-bursting levels of easy-access torque. It’s that combination of fine throttle response and effortless roll-on acceleration accompanied by a soft eight-cylinder burble that makes the X7 M60i such agreeable company. And the new gearbox, whose natural and unobtrusive calibration means you seldom need to tee up any particular gear yourself with the paddles. It’s an exceptionally slick powertrain, and one that lurks in the background until you really ask something of it. 

If anything is left to be desired, it is that old BMW Achilles heel: brakes. There’s nothing conspicuously wrong with them, and they recorded a 45.2m stopping distance from 70mph – roughly equal to what the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT managed. But they don’t bite as reassuringly crisply as you would want them to in something so heavy, and there’s a woolly consistency that makes them tricky to modulate when you’re pressing on. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, but a Cayenne does far better in this respect.

RIDE & HANDLING

21 BMW X7 M60i RT 2023 front cornering

BMW has proved itself better than average at getting heavy cars to handle like lighter ones. The best in the business, perhaps. Anyone who has driven a BMW M5 CS knows this because the super-saloon goes around corners with the kind of verve and togetherness that totally belies its mass. A BMW M3 Competition or BMW M4 Competition does similar. These are large, relatively luxurious cars that still contrive to truly come alive on challenging, enjoyable roads.

We shouldn’t pretend that the X7 M60i has been lavished with quite the same level of dynamic fine-tuning as those M cars, but it does feature some M know-how and you might therefore reasonably expect it to out-handle the new Range Rover, Audi Q7 or the Mercedes GLS. You might even wonder if the class-benchmark Porsche Cayenne is safe.

Our car’s 22in wheels aren’t even the largest you can option on the M60i, though they look big enough. The M Sport brake kit comes as standard but, with cast-iron discs and four-piston calipers, it’s nothing remarkable.

So how good is this M-lite X7 to drive? The answer is ‘very good’ in the context of the physics involved. However, in terms of real satisfaction, the experience is still some way off what you get from a decent senior performance saloon. Most of the time the M60i’s chassis is too preoccupied with keeping everything neat, tidy and safe to express itself naturally. The car’s excellent (and deftly administered) resistance to pitch and roll can seem defining at times, and while such control can help fill the confidence void created by the lack of steering feedback, it puts distance between driver and machine. There’s also an inescapable sensation that the big, high-mounted V8 initially wants to tug the nose wide, and while some level of on-throttle adjustability exists to counteract this, even that is tempered by the car’s bulk and correspondingly conservative four-wheel drive and ESC tuning.

That said, an enjoyable mid-corner balance is most definitely of the thoroughbred, longitudinally engined variety. Yet you are never minded to take this car by the scruff – or even allowed to get much closer than arm’s length. This sounds an overly optimistic scenario until you realise that with the Porsche Cayenne, and its high-fidelity controls, you can do just that. Same for an X5 M, and even the V8 Bentley Bentayga S.

Comfort and isolation

23 Bmw x7 m60i rt 2023 rear cornering 2 0

Any BMW with a ‘7’ on its bootlid should offer decadent levels of rolling refinement, and the X7 doesn’t disappoint. Even stuffed with 4.4 litres of V8 and riding on 22in wheels and tyres with comparatively little in the way of sidewall, the M60i is generously endowed in terms of isolation, ride comfort and all-round serenity. It absorbs the worst of British roads with almost casual disdain and, even on truly choppy B-roads, there’s so little in the way of head toss it can be just a little confounding. How on earth does this skyscraper of a vehicle seem to send its centre of gravity to the deck when you’re in the mood and then relax its muscle fibres to such lavish effect when you want to get from here to there effortlessly?

Some judicious tuning of the air-sprung struts is one answer, but those active anti-roll bars are another part of the equation. More than anything, it’s the small but decisive latter element that seems to have unlocked the X7 M60i’s cake-and-eat-it blend of ride and handling. Primary ride is at all times excellent, with only the occasional inability of the chassis to fully subdue potholes or corrugated surfaces being the only blot on its copy. Unsprung mass is to blame – we would estimate the car’s enormous wheel-and-tyre package to come in at about 32kg per corner. A Range Rover does better here, but only when shod with sensibly-sized wheels.

Alas, neither is the BMW quite as ecclesiastically subdued on the move as the Range Rover (road tested in unsporting, straight-six turbo diesel form). Where at 70mph the Range Rover registered 61dBA on our microphone, the X7 M60i recorded 65dBA, with a similar discrepancy seen across a range of speeds. However, this is not to mark the BMW down. Given its performance and dynamism, it puts in a strong showing, with the Range Rover being simply exceptional.

Track notes

Bmw x7 m60i rt 2023 track notes

You might wonder why we elected to put the X7 M60i around the Tarmac-track Hill Route at Millbrook Proving Ground rather than through an off-road course, but the decision was made for us by the choice of rubber the car is supplied on: Pirelli P Zero. This is the giveaway that the M60i is, resolutely, a road-leaning performance SUV, where something like a Range Rover is certainly more balanced in its outlook.

The M60i duly impressed on the Hill Route, its 523bhp firing it up steep climbs without hesitation and its combination of air springs, dampers and active anti-roll bars contriving to keep the tall body remarkably flat during hard cornering, so long as Sport+ mode was selected. A little more throttle adjustability would have elevated the driving experience, yet as it is the M60i is dynamically very capable, if evidently lacking the flair of the smaller X5.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 BMW X7 M60i RT 2023 front cornering lead

Interestingly for a brand whose efforts are typically mirrored by at least one other premium offering (usually also German), BMW seems to have dropped the flagship X7 into some clear air. Mercedes has the GLS, but unless you want a Mercedes-AMG GLS63 version that costs more than £123,000 and is full of V8 character almost to a fault, you’re limited to the GLS 400d, with its straight-six diesel. The excellent Porsche Cayenne Turbo costs roughly the same as the X7 M60i but can’t seat seven and its personality is more defiantly at the sporting end of the spectrum. And though it is possible to have the new Range Rover with a V8 (BMW-sourced, note), you will need to pay at least £135,000 for the privilege. It leaves the Audi SQ7 as the only direct X7 M60i rival, and while that car costs usefully less than the BMW even in fully loaded Vorsprung specification, it simply isn’t as opulent within or as good to drive.

Our test average of 20.7mpg translates to an all-out range of only 378 miles, even with 83-litre tank. At least residual values are reasonably strong – not quite at Range Rover strength, but good enough to shadow the Cayenne.

Spec advice? We would be tempted to avoid the 23in wheels in favour of a smaller set. Note also that a towbar will cost you £1320. The Comfort Plus Pack – massage seats, five-zone air conditioning – is also worth considering.

VERDICT

24 BMW X7 M60i RT 2023 static front moody skies

Applying M genetics to something the size of an X7 is an act that will seem questionable to many Autocar readers but, as plenty of manufacturers have proved, it makes a lot sense in today’s marketplace. Note also that, in this case, it is executed unusually well at a hands-on level. The X7 M60i strikes an impressive balance of attributes in that it is not overwrought in sporting terms for a car whose chief remit is to provide opulent family transport, and yet its athletic credentials are evidently more than skin deep.

This BMW doesn’t reward like a Cayenne but there is satisfaction to be had from behind the wheel and probably to a greater degree than in any other full-size SUV able to muster so much in the way of rolling refinement. Factor in genuine seven-seat ability and a level of material lavishness that wouldn’t be alien to Range Rover owners and you have a pretty compelling all-rounder.

Those who need true off-road capability and the ultimate in isolation should stick to the British car, and anybody chasing excitement should look no further than the Porsche. But if you want elements of both, the fairly priced X7 M60i is well worth your attention.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

BMW X7 First drives