FRANKFURT – While small cars may make the most sense for crowded city streets, the reality is that they’re not enough for larger families – and not everyone wants a minivan. BMW unveiled its version of a luxury people-mover at the Frankfurt Auto Show, the Concept X7 iPerformance, which will lead the way to a production three-row sport-ute that will debut in 2018.
The Concept X7 is a plug-in hybrid, using a turbocharged gasoline engine with hybrid powertrain and the ability to run on battery alone after it has been charged up. While the production model’s powertrain hasn’t been announced, you can probably bet with confidence that some level of the company’s eDrive electrification technology will make it to the showroom. It isn’t until you visit the international shows that you realize how serious many major jurisdictions are about fuel and emissions standards, and almost every automaker at this event is showing something with a battery in it.
The X7 holds six people, and BMW isn’t shy about how big it is: the company says it has “imposing dimensions” and that its distinctive face will “rise prominently over the road.” The familiar kidney grille is here, with the frame and bars designed for a solid, one-piece appearance. The laser headlights slide over to it, and everything rests above massive air intakes. If the production vehicle is anything close to this, you’re certainly going to have an eyeful in your rear-view mirror when one comes up behind you.
The large footprint allowed the designers to maximize interior space, and the cabin design is lean – and definitely not intended for production, with seats attached to the floor with only slender wands. The production model will also undoubtedly offer a panoramic sunroof as the concept does, to make the large interior look even roomier, but on the Concept X7, the glass roof is attached to the body with supports that form a Y behind the second row of seats. While it isn’t BMW’s first three-row SUV – you can order the X5 with an extra pair of chairs in the back – it looks like this one will actually be comfortable for those sitting closest to the rear window.
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The concept follows a similar horizontal dash style to BMW’s production vehicles, designed so that the materials sweep from the doors and into the centre panels. The 12.3-inch centre cluster butts up to the centre screen, giving the appearance of an unbroken display. The centre screen has touch capacity but also still uses an iDrive controller, which is set into a backlit glass panel. There’s a rear-seat entertainment system with touchscreen monitors, and everything is digitally tied together, with connectivity playing an almost exclusive role in the vehicle’s system. Occupants can send songs, photos, or texts to others in the vehicle through the vehicle’s system, or forward addresses from their phones to the car’s navigation system. The concept plays this up by sending LED lighting along the path of information as it makes its way from one person to another, and occupants can use touch gestures at the screens to upload and transmit their messages.
The company says the new X7 isn’t just a model, but its move into a new luxury segment, and at a time when SUVs have never been more popular. The three-row segment has long been a mainstay among mainstream manufacturers, but luxury automakers are now looking for a slice of that pie as well. The unique styling sends the message that this isn’t just an X5 with some extra sheet-metal in the middle; but it’s large enough that it will mainly appeal to those who will fill it most of the time rather than haul around extra seats in the odd event that a fifth or sixth person shows up needing a ride. These large-by-huge vehicles are generally a small section of any automaker’s portfolio, but it’s enough of a market that BMW definitely wants in.