2020: Year of the Road Trip. I’m not ready to get on a plane, not yet. But I’m not going to let that slow me down and prevent me from seeing family on the East Coast. Recently, I had a chance to borrow a BMW X7, the flagship vehicle of the BMW SUV line. Over the span of my life I’ve owned 37 vehicles, and I’ve loved every one of them. I’m a car-guy, so I was intrigued to see how the X7 would perform over the span of a planned 10-day trip on the road. It’s big – but is it too big? Would we get all our (crap) inside and still be able to ferry passengers around in comfort? What about gas mileage, visibility and comfort? How would it perform in foul weather? I knew it was loaded with tech and a dizzying array of safety features, but how would it hold up over thousands of miles of city and highway driving?
Visiting Family in the Age of Covid-19. Our primary motivation for driving from the Twin Cities of Minnesota to the East Coast was to see our parents. My wife’s mother (Josephine) recovered from a case of coronavirus back in March. She’s 91 years old, and she’s been fighting Alzheimer’s in an assisted living center outside Washington D.C. for 14 years. E-mails, texts and Facetime calls are all great, but we wanted (needed) a hug. After confirming that we weren’t sick, no symptoms of the virus, we set out on our journey. By the way, my 90-year old father has amazing stories about growing up in Germany at the end of WWII – stories that still resonate today. I was able to interview him for my afternoon radio show on WCCO Radio from the comfort of his dining room table. The beauty of radio: if you have a strong internet connection you can do you show from anywhere.
A Prince-Worthy Interior. The cockpit of the BMW X7 is extraordinary, with two HUGE 12.5″ screens and the ability to bathe this high-tech cocoon in a soft, otherworldly light. We chose Prince-Purple for our color of choice when driving at night. There is an Eco Pro Driving Mode that sips gas, and a Sport Mode, when you need more power and torque, but we opted for Comfort Mode, which provided a good mix of performance and economy. The entertainment options were endless, with Sirius Satellite Radio, local radio stations that automatically updated with any/all stations within range, and an option to link to Apple CarPlay, so I could listen to podcasts and Spotify. There was no shortage of ways to pass the time as we drove east, winding through Chicago and then getting on I-80 through Indiana and Ohio. My only fear: 85 in a BMW feels like 55 in any other vehicle. I was determined to keep up with traffic, while avoiding speeding tickets, if possible.
A Pleasant Surprise at the Pumps. Yes, we took precautions. We wore masks in all indoor spaces and I even put on latex gloves when fueling up. The range of the X7 is extraordinary, over 500 miles on a tank of gas. Which meant we only had to stop twice on our 1,000-mile drive to Washington D.C. Gas mileage ranged from 23-28 mpg, which – for a vehicle of this size – is amazing. We spent an average of $30-35 every time we gassed up, a testament to the low cost of gasoline and the efficiency of the BMW X7.
An Endless Laundry List of Safety Features. The BMW X7 is loaded. And I mean….loaded. More airbags than I could count, electrified, seats that recline and raise at the touch of a button, and safety features to insure you’re lowering risk every time you get behind the wheel. I take none of that for granted. In fact, the older I get the less I take for granted, in general. The X7 alerted me to multiple threats but didn’t overwhelm me – it seemed to be the perfect balance of smooth driving, and occasional alerts when I wasn’t paying close enough attention or someone was creeping up into my blind spot on the interstate highways. This vehicle is a lot smarter than I am – I was grateful for all the ways BMW kept me safe and secure. Oh, ff you have a boat or a bike, the X7 can tow up to 7500 pounds. Amazing.
A Pick-Up Truck Worth of Storage Capacity. I’ve owned a few trucks over the years, because like so many other Americans, we like to HAUL STUFF. One advantage of a road trip? You can take as much stuff as your vehicle can accommodate. You can’t take much on an airplane, but we had gifts and food for family – and way too many suitcases and electronic gear for my WCCO Radio show. You can easily get a pick-up bed’s worth of luggage in the back of the X7, with room to spare. I was even able to bring back a case of my favorite East Coast beer, Yuengling. Thank you BMW.
Indian Summer in D.C. We have family in the Washington D.C. area (my wife’s mom and 3 sisters and a gaggle of cousins) so on a bright, sunny Sunday we steered the X7 down to The Mall, where we ogled the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. My X7 was “Arctic White”, sort of a metallic white color, which I found dazzling and easy to keep clean. It glittered in the sunlight, which was pretty cool. After all, guys like shiny objects. I couldn’t help but notice the admiring looks, which had nothing to do with me, but the vehicle I was driving. Nice.
At Home in Amish Country. I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Amish Country. I was reluctant to share some of these pics during our road trip, because I didn’t want to antagonize or annoy my Minnesota friends, who were shoveling out from under 7-9″ of snow. While I was wandering around in shorts and loafers, soaking up mid-70s in mid-October. I hope I can (safely) post them now. By the way, the covered bridge in the background is where I got my start. When I was 14 that covered bridge washed away during Hurricane Agnes (1972). The storm flooded the home in Lancaster where I grew up, ultimately igniting my interest in meteorology. I went on to install a river gauge at the base of the (new) covered bridge, so a small army of mobile weather observers using CB radio could call in real-time reports on the Conestoga River, to give some advance warning to the city of Lancaster, just downstream. Yeah, I was and am an unrepentant weather nerd, but like so many other meteorologists, it took a wild storm to get me off the dime. Ah, the memories…
One Room Schoolhouse. There are still active, fully-functional one room schools in Lancaster County, mainly by the Amish and Mennonites. Going home is like going back in time, in many respects – a perfect marriage of old and new.
Wicked Awesome. My 30 year old Navy son is preparing for a deployment to the Middle East in Rhode Island, and we had a chance to drive Brett and his new wife, Karla, up to Boston to eat pasta in the North End and browse Faneuil Hall for lobster rolls. I snapped this shot outside the Hancock Tower, with Trinity Church in the foreground. The old and the new. The X7 is amazing on the interstates, but it doesn’t feel too big in city driving, which genuinely surprised me. What blew me away (among so many other things) is how you can comfortably get 7 full-size adults into the X7, with room for luggage, and still feel secure in congested city driving. Not claustrophobic, but secure, safe and confident, no matter what the local traffic or weather throws at you.
It Even Tells You The Weather. One of the (many) options in the BMW X7 is real-time weather conditions and forecasts, which came in very handy as we drove through rain in Indiana and a burst of wet snow west of Chicago. The entertainment and information options are endless in this vehicle, and the navigation system is top-notch, with real-time information displayed on both screens AND the option of projecting turn-by-turn directions directly onto the windshield, so you never have to take your eyes off the road. Smart.
Situational Awareness. At any time you can dial up a screen in the X7 to see how far you’ve driven and check on average gas mileage. We hit 12 states and the District of Columbia over the span of 10 days. The weather was supernaturally good, only a little rain in Indiana and a few patches of ice in Wisconsin on the drive back to MSP. Over the span of 4,152 miles we averaged 23.5 mpg, which for a vehicle of this size and weight, is nothing short of extraordinary. The X7 even reminds you when you’ve been behind the wheel too long, encouraging you to take a pit stop (by showing you the location of the next rest stop coming up). It’s almost as if the X7 anticipates your needs as a long-haul driver, and serves up the information you need to reach your destination safely. I wasn’t prepared for that.
Ah, The Memories. A few take-aways from our epic road trip. No matter what size vehicle you drive, chances are you’ll always fill it to capacity on a long trip. With the BMW X7 you have so many options for seat configuration and luggage – it’s amazing how much stuff you can cram into this beast! I was also impressed with the sound system – concert hall fidelity and endless options to make the miles fly by. The cruise control was the best I’ve ever used, with automatic warnings if you got too close to the vehicle in front of you. Again, there are so many checks and balances and safety nets in this vehicle to list in this post. We’ve owned 10 SUVs over the years but the X7 was, by an order of magnitude, the most amazing SUV I’ve ever driven. The best way to experience the X7 is to take your own test drive and see the difference for yourself.
Seriously, if you’re in the market for big, safe, fuel-efficient SUV you should take the BMW X7 for a spin. It’s everything an SUV should be – and more. I can’t wait for my next road trip in November. At some point we will be driving through snow and ice; I’m curious to see how the X7 performs when the weather acts up. And it will. Count on it.