BMW diesel SUV enters new, fun space

Peter Atkinson
The new BMW X7 M50d combines vast space and luxury

Diesel SUV.

Two words that don't exactly set the pulse racing when it comes to driving enjoyment.

Practical, yes. Sensible, of course. Economical. Without doubt.

But as a general rule, very much at the beige end of the spectrum if you're looking for a car that will bring some excitement and exhilaration into your life.

Not all diesel SUVs are created the same, of course. But this one, well, it's taken the term "diesel SUV" to an entirely new place.

A fun place. Where the rules no longer apply.

It's called the BMW X7 M50d. It's very big, very comfortable, very capable and, most unexpectedly, very, very fast. And not just quick for a massively big machine. It's quick, full stop.

The fact that it even exists says a lot about how the once safe, family-focused reputation of the SUV is changing before our eyes. This year alone we've driven a handful of high output, high enjoyment, high-riding machines with dazzling, supercar-like performance.

But this big Beemer takes the cake, in our eyes.

It's not the fastest of this group of super-SUVs - but it surely brings a broader range of skills than any other car of its type.

A massive, seven-seat, all-wheel-drive monolith whose capabilities stretch from muddy trails and sandy beaches all the way to racetracks. A car that's equally at home on Fraser Island or Phillip Island, you could say.

A car with not one, not two, but four turbochargers. Yes four! And a diesel engine that, while delivering sledgehammer performance, guzzles fuel at a lesser rate than your average family hatchback.

I mean, who thinks of these things?

And who decides that, rather than remaining in some wacky engineer's wildest fantasy, they should be set loose on our speed-restricted roads. And sold to people just like you and me. Well, perhaps a little better-off in the bank account.

This X7 will, after all, cost you a base price of $169,900, plus the obligatory on-road costs.

But that buys you a machine that's equal parts people mover, off-roader, load-lugger, luxury limousine and thunderous sports car.

It's extraordinary and ridiculous and wonderful all at the same time.

Let's see. It accelerates to the speed limit in a laughable 5.4 seconds. Once upon a time, we used to marvel that a BMW M3 could achieve exactly that number with "only" a six-cylinder engine.

The X7 is imposing, almost intimidating to stand beside with its huge, chunky body, its massive 22-inch wheels with equally massive, fat, grippy tyres. Not to mention its powerful front-end and muscular bonnet, adorned by the biggest version of BMW's signature kidney grille ever made.

The car is 5151mm long, 2000mm wide and 1805mm high, with a wheelbase of 3105mm and as much as 2210 litres of cargo space with the seats all folded down.

But if you imagine that the X7 is no more than a stretched version of the company's hugely successful X5, think again. This car makes an X5 look like a Tonka truck.

Inside, the story is much the same, with roughly a hectare of beautiful, premium "Tartufo" leather and lashings of piano black glossy trim. The 10.25-inch multimedia screen is dwarfed by the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The massive "sky lounge" sunroof (a $1600 option) delivers a panoramic view.

It feels classy, perhaps beyond anything we've seen from BMW before. There's even a cut crystal gear shifter to emphasise the point.

We tested the "entry level" version of this machine - the X7 Xdrive30d, just a couple of months ago and it left a lasting, positive impression on us - luxurious, surprisingly nimble, beautifully built and impressively handsome, to boot.

But the M50d bundles up all of those desirable qualities and adds a mechanical package that takes it to another dimension.

The same six cylinders and three litres of diesel engine found in the base model have been tweaked and boosted to manufacture outputs (294kW and 760Nm) more befitting a premium sports car.

Fire up the big diesel and it fairly bristles from the outset - sharp and responsive and amazingly focused for a car that takes up so much space, fits in so many people and, just for good measure, goes so far on a tankful of fuel.

The seats are heated and cooled and adjustable in every direction; the airconditioning is similarly adjustable across five separate zones. There's the choice of the Bowers and Wilkins 3D Diamond Surround sound ($7,900, thanks) - or just listening to the very non-diesel tones from the dual exhausts.

It all sits on a pillow of adaptive, two-axle air suspension that can be softened or screwed down tight, depending on your driving mood. Or jacked up high if you decide to venture off road.

Go anywhere, do anything - and wait for no one.

Oh, and if that's not extraordinary enough for you, consider this.

BMW plans to soon release an X7 M50i - with a twin-turbo V8 petrol engine and even more power and acceleration than this one.

Diesel SUVs, indeed.

BMW X7 M50d

HOW BIG? Gargantuan. It's one of the biggest conventional vehicles on the road, yet feels nimble and responsive as a sports car.

HOW FAST? 0-100km/h in just over five seconds. Not the fastest in its exclusive class, but probably the most impressive.

HOW THIRSTY? Officially 7.5L/100km. Extraordinary for something so big, and so fast.

HOW MUCH? You'll need $170-grand just to get the conversation started. Tick a few boxes and expect to pay well in excess of $200k. Our test machine, with a handful of extras, will set you back $185,400, plus on-road charges.