Sedans have long ruled the roost at the apex of luxury car lineups. BMW was no exception to this standard, as the 7 Series has historically been the biggest and most luxurious of all vehicles from Bavarian Motor Works. Perhaps you’ve heard, but things are changing these days. Crossovers and SUVs are not only entering the space previously occupied by sedans, they’re taking it over.
BMW was quick to enter the smaller crossover classes (X5 followed by X3), but it didn’t make a large 7 Series equivalent until a short while ago when it introduced the BMW X7. It’s BMW’s answer to the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and American luxury SUVs like the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade. But crossovers do more than just battle amongst themselves these days. Sedan sales have been on the decline for years now, and crossovers have picked up the slack. Many of the reasons are obvious: greater cargo space, better visibility and a more convenient entry/exit height. Those are all valid advantages, but are they enough to make the new X7 a smarter (or just more desirable) purchase than the 7 Series?
To find out, we recently got a chance to test the pinnacle of each model line: the 2020 BMW X7 M50i and the 2020 BMW M760i xDrive. We compared these two because they’re both at the top of their respective model lineups, and they’re both M Sport models. The lesser (and much cheaper) 750i xDrive has the same engine as the X7 M50i, but it’s not an M Sport car with all the accompanying suspension, brake and exhaust performance add-ons that come with.
The X7 and 7 Series may have radically different body styles, but both are highly-optioned BMW vehicles with nearly identical feature sets and materials quality. The M760i is chock-full of beautiful stitching, quilted leather and slick German styling, but the X7 is, too. Hopping from the M760i’s driver seat and into the X7 M50i’s isn’t a downgrade in any way. In fact, the X7 actually has a slightly larger infotainment touchscreen display than the 7 Series does (12.3-inch versus 10.25-inch display). Both offer heated, cooled and massaging seats, and both are fitted with BMW’s excellent iDrive 7.0 interface. The X7 even has an advantage in one area with its Glass Controls option. You get fancy ceramic controls in the 7 Series, but we prefer the look and touch of the glass.
Despite these similarities, the M760i is just about $60,000 more expensive than the X7 M50i when the two are equally equipped. We’ll let you digest that price gulf for a second.
Before you write the M760i off on price alone, there are a number things you should know, or specifically, 12 things, as in cylinders. The M760i has a 6.6-liter twin-turbo V12 under its hood, a rare get in the days of downsizing and increasingly stringent emissions targets. It makes 601 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque, enough to shoot the massive sedan from 0-60 mph in just 3.6 seconds. Those numbers step all over what are otherwise massively impressive figures from the X7 M50i. It’s equipped with BMW’s widely-shared 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8, spitting out 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque in this trim. That allows for a 4.5-second 0-60 mph run, according to BMW. Both achieve these feats through the work of launch control programs.
Excessive speed is a key part in both of these driving experiences, but only the M760i leaves us gasping for breath and stymied at how rapid it is. Launches start from second gear, and trust us, the short first gear is superfluous with peak torque coming on at 1,550 rpm. This engine hits like a sledgehammer, without the faintest hint of lag at any point in the 7,200-rpm rev band. You can pump a V8 full of boost, but it’s still no match for the bestial ease of this masterful 12-cylinder. Acceleration shows hardly any sign of fading with our foot down at freeway speeds, making us yearn for an autobahn to set this car free to its electronically-limited 155 mph top speed. It would certainly go significantly faster were it unshackled.
Giving the X7 M50i the beans just doesn’t compare. The complete lack of lag from the V12 makes the slight pause to build boost in the V8 far more noticeable than it was before, even if it’s only a split second. Once up and running, the X7 M50i is responsive, and even a bit touchy. The V8’s rumble sounds better than the V12 around town, which is largely muted until you switch it into Sport mode and let the M760i-specific exhaust breathe a bit. Of course, both deploy Active Sound Design, which pipes in artificial noise through the speakers to enhance the noises otherwise lost through turbocharging and acres of sound deadening materials. In other words, we’re not quite sure how much is real, how much is fake, but in any case, the end result is the M760i sounds better at full throttle.
Neither of these powertrains are truly deficient in any areas besides their penchant for drinking premium gasoline. The X7 gets a 17-mpg combined EPA fuel economy rating, while the M760i is just a hair worse at 16 mpg combined. Fuel costs are unlikely to be top of mind for somebody buying a six-figure BMW, though.
Now that we’ve established both options are valid getaway cars, we’re happy to report that both are excellent casual cruisers, too. Some SUVs are a bit choppier on rough pavement than their sedan counterparts, but the gap in ride quality between these two is nearly nonexistent with their cushy adaptive air suspensions. We’re going to give the smallest of wins to the M760i for being just a hair more isolated and quieter than the X7 M50i, but the difference is hardly noticeable. Both are among the most comfortable-riding vehicles one can buy today.
A fast, twisty road immediately swings the ball back into the M760i’s court. It’s no M3, but the big bruiser is shockingly competent when asked to do its best M car impression. With both cars in Sport mode, the M760i is (predictably) the clear winner in dynamics. Where the X7 is a wafting 5,661-pound death missile on stilts with super sticky summer rubber, the M760i is genuinely rewarding and fun to toss around. Steering feel is vacant in the X7 M50i, and the M760i isn’t much better. That said, we feel more connected to the chassis and the tires in the sedan than in the X7’s high captain’s chair. In actuality, the handling likely matters little in either car for its potential drivers. But hey, you’re buying a BMW when you could be buying a posh Mercedes or Audi. We appreciate the X7 M50i for its abilities relative to its size, but will gravitate toward the M760i if we actually want to be engaged behind the wheel.
How about utility?
Not a surprise, but the X7 M50i is a winner over the M760i when it comes to interior space for people and luggage. It comes in seven-seat and six-seat (second row captain’s chairs) configurations, whereas the M760i is available in five-seat and four-seat variants. Both our test cars came with the fewer seat option, giving the X7 a two-person advantage over the 7 Series. However, the backseat in the M760i is much more expansive and comfortable than the X7 with a 6.8-inch advantage in legroom. Both have electronic controls to move the seat fore and aft and to tilt backwards. Maybe if you’re taller than 6 feet, the 7 Series legroom will come into play, but it’s just excess for folks of normal statures. Most will find the captain’s chairs of the X7 to be more than roomy, and the massive headroom is just another luxury bonus. BMW does try to make it easier to get in and out of the rear seats in the 7 Series by raising the seats upwards, though. That gives it an entry/exit height closer to a higher car, but it’s still not as easy to get in and out of as the X7 is.
Then there’s the X7’s third row, and lack thereof in the 7 Series. BMW doesn’t make the folks in the wayback seats wallow in misery. The 33.3 inches of legroom is plenty acceptable for rides of middling length, and there’s no lapse in luxury either — check out our X7 third row review here. The M760i obviously can’t match this extra capacity, but it does have one trick up its sleeve. If you’re the kind of person who prefers (and can afford) being driven around alone, the Rear Executive Lounge Seating Package (pictured above) is unmatched by the X7. One press of a button pushes the front passenger seat all the way forward, deploys a footrest and puts your seat into a lounging position. Add the console tray table and fancy rear lighting to the equation, and there’s no better seat in the entire BMW lineup to be a passenger in.
Trunk space is respectable in the M760i at 20.6 cubic-feet, but the X7 M50i charges ahead again here with 48.6 cubic-feet of space (third row folded flat). Even with the third row up, you have 12.6 cubes that are useful for groceries. Skip the captain’s chairs (they don’t fold flat), and maximum capacity jumps all the way to 90.4 cubic-feet. Any which way you spin it, the X7 is the more useful vehicle if your goal is to put people or things into it. You can even use the bottom part of the two-piece hatch as a seat should the occasion call for it. The air suspension will even lower itself at the rear to make for easier loading and sitting. It’s basically a luxurious mini tailgate to hang out on. Fun!
Another area where the X7 wins in utility is towing. Frankly, this would seem to be obvious given that it’s an SUV and the 7 Series is a full-size luxury sedan. Nevertheless, the European spec sheets reveal the M760i has a towing capacity of 5,070 pounds. Wow! Is anyone really going to utilize that? Of course not, but it’s somehow very impressive. The X7 M50i’s towing capacity is a robust 7,500 pounds, by the way.
One other obvious X7 advantage concerns its ability to travel off the beaten path. Most X7 owners are unlikely to hit the trails, but should they get really lost or come across a really rough driveway, they’ll be glad they aren’t driving a 7 Series.
Some loose ends
Even if there are many differences and advantages to each of these two cars, price is the 7’s biggest issue. Equally equipped, the X7 M50i is about $60,000 less than the M760i. The gap closes by about $15,000 if you can stand losing four cylinders with the faster(!) Alpina B7 — it’s 0.1 second quicker to 60 mph than the M760i and can be had with all the fancy accoutrements that the V12 model offers. Drop down to the non-M Sport 750i xDrive (same engine as the X7 M50i), and the 7 Series is still over $12,000 more expensive than an equally loaded-up X7 M50i. Seeing that price divide at the BMW dealership is likely to make some folks think twice about buying the sedan over the crossover.
The price gap is too much for us to look past, too. Sure, the M760i is the superior driving machine, but the mind-warping acceleration and better handling doesn’t make the car in a segment like this. BMW didn’t hold back features, tech or interior design finishes with the X7, and that means it’s right in line with the 7 Series in all those vital areas. The M760i has the V12 and royal back seat appointments, but are those worth an extra $60,000 over an X7 that’s superior in many other useful categories?
Besides, if performance really is that important, that extra $60,000 saved can just go to an M2 Competition to park next to the X7 M50i. Problem solved.