ROAD TEST: Business class travel for a netball team
Walking into a plane, those heading for cattle class can't help but feel a little jealous of those sitting at the pointy end.
Business class often doesn't add up for the fiscally savvy. The plush pews, personalised service and the flashy cutlery are sure to generate envy in even the most financially tight travellers.
There are plenty of well-heeled Aussies who embrace life's luxuries no matter where they journey. Arriving this year, the hulking BMW X7 sits atop the BMW high-rider tree and appeals to those chasing pure opulence.
While boasting flashy finishes and the best technology the Bavarian brand has on offer, the X7 hints at America. It's big enough to rub shoulders with the heftiest of Yank tanks, and the price ensures there is limited carpark competition.
Starting from about $120,000 before on-roads, the investment is comparable to the dimensions.
Welcome to the house of fun. BMW hasn't delved too deep into extravagance in recent times. Refined, yes. Bling, no. The X7 sets a new course.
Plush leather trim, four-zone aircon, keyless entry, fine-wood finishes, automatic two-piece tailgate, electric seat adjustment in all three rows, dual 12.3-inch instrument and central displays, as well as a 10-speaker sound system, Apple CarPlay (no Android mirroring) wireless charging and bluetooth connectivity for two phones simultaneously.
The big chrome grille is accompanied by 20-inch alloys, massive panoramic sunroof and dual trapezoidal-shaped exhaust pipes.
Prestige buyers love to add various items to personalise their ride. A long list of extras are available, but be prepared for a further hit to the bank balance.
Warranty coverage is about on par with prestige marques at three years or 100,000 kilometres. BMWs have condition-based servicing, but bank on annual maintenance. There are service packages available covering varying time frames and distances, the Basic package for five years or 80,000km is $2150 (the Plus package which includes brake pads/discs, wipers and clutch plate is $5520).
Expectations of having the latest equipment at this price are rightfully high, and the X7 doesn't disappoint. Included are a head-up display that projects speed and satnav details onto the windscreen, adaptive cruise control which maintains pre-set distances from other vehicles, along with lane keeping assistant that can help steer the big SUV within white lines and avoid blind spot side collisions.
It can also park itself, but for those who tackle the task themselves it's armed with surround and panorama view cameras, as well as sensors.
This is business class on wheels. Using a combination of blue and cream leather, crystalline gear shifter, flashy suede roof lining, plush carpet along with the woodgrain accents throughout the cabin, it reeks of luxury.
Those in the second row get plush headrests, and a soft-closing door function pulls them shut to ensure there is no need for slamming.
New BMW switchgear is relatively easy to navigate, we've managed to get our head around the new setup, but some users may find the operations difficult on initial introductions.
The sheer size of the X7 offers impressive space, and even adults can fit within the third row if they are able to climb through. All the chairs are electric, so one won't get tired pulling straps and levers - you just need some patience waiting for them to be positioned.
Ride quality is impressively luxurious courtesy of the air suspension and the cabin is beautifully insulated from wind noise.
With all three rows operational there is 326 litres of luggage space (better than a Mazda CX-3 or VW Polo), but that grows to a handy 750 litres with the two rearmost chairs folded into the floor.
Measuring more than 5m long, it's quite the unit. More like a block of units.
Yet somehow the X7 feels manageable and relatively easy to drive.
The six-cylinder twin-turbo diesel offers creamy power delivery and never feels sluggish. Highway travels are undertaken with ease, and overtaking is achieved with minimal fuss and it quickly meets driver acceleration expectations.
Hitting bends with enthusiasm can cause some roll, but not as much as you would expect for a seven-seater of this magnitude. During a challenging hinterland test with Sport mode engaged, the X7 was surprisingly agile with changes in direction even on steep inclines and descents.
Use the steering wheel mounted paddles and the X7 can actually be fun to steer.
Carparks can be the greatest challenge and those cameras become a Godsend in tight urban surrounds.
Business class is my domain, whether it's in the air or on the highway. There's also still ample kudos at school drop-off even with a big brood.
The family planning has stopped one short of a Kia Carnival. Space and grace comes standard in the X7.
MERCEDES-BENZ GLS 350D FROM $118,370
Another plush seven-seater, the big Benz is powered by a 3.0-litre 190kW/620Nm turbo diesel partnered to a nine-speed auto. Also has a range of options for bespoke styling, along with impressive list of standard luxury kit.
LEXUS LX450D FROM $133,771
Effortless in acceleration, a refined driving experience with genuine off-road ability courtesy of a 4.5-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel good for 200kW/650Nm. More suited to towing a caravan than impressing the neighbours.
Surprisingly agile and strong, this is prestige travel suitable for seven. Tick a few options and the price increases rapidly.
AT A GLANCE
BMW X7 xDrive30d
PRICE $119,900 plus on-roads (hefty)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 3 years/ 100,000km (short), $2105 for 5 years (OK)
ENGINE 3.0-litre 6-cyl twin-turbo diesel, 195kW/620Nm (strong)
SAFETY 8 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, cross traffic alert front and rear, active cruise, blind spot warning (excellent)
THIRST 7.3L/100km (very good)
SPARE None; run-flats (premium standard)
BOOT 326L-2120L, all rear seats fold (good)