ldquoThis will be our first X model that is truly luxuryrdquo Kate Alini says of X7

“This will be our first X model that is truly luxury,” Kate Alini says of X7.

With X7, X2, BMW Works Both Ends of CUV Segment

Both vehicles arrive as luxury brands ride the CUV wave that has been the lifeblood of the U.S. market. BMW’s light truck (CUV) sales were up 1.94% to 134,310 units in 2017.

DETROIT – BMW sets out to fill two holes in its CUV lineup – one big, one small. First to arrive this spring is the X2, built in Regensburg, Germany, smaller than the X1 and designed to be sporty and dynamic, yet utilitarian.

At the end of the year, the X7 will come from BMW’s often-expanded manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, SC, a proper three-row CUV that will be larger than the popular X5 and promises an interior that matches the 7-Series sedan in its luxurious materials, features and comfort.

“This car is truly what we’ve all been waiting for, for many years,” BMW Product Manager

Kate Alini tells WardsAuto of the X7 on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show here. “This is the car that will make life easier. This is a perfect graduation to the next vehicle.”

Alini says too many customers have left the BMW brand when their families outgrew the X5, which has a cramped third row.

The production X7 will appear at an upcoming auto show, but for now BMW has released only images of the concept with certain exaggerated features, such as the trademark twin-kidney grille.

“This will be our first X model that is truly luxury,” Alini says. “In terms of fit, finishes, designs – it will be modern, contemporary – I would say it will be an enhanced experience in the interior and more of a luxury feel than in the X5.” Likewise, she says the X7 will be agile and balanced and won’t feel like a “huge tank.”

BMW has been retooling its Spartanburg plant to accommodate the X7, and pre-production models have rolled off the same line as the X5 and X6. Endurance and extreme-weather testing of the X7 is under way.

Interior of BMW Concept X7 iPerformance.

This will be the fifth X model coming from the plant, following the X3, X4, X5 and X6. Roadster production at the plant (Z3 and Z4) ended in 2008. Daily output is 1,400 vehicles per day, and maximum annual production capacity is about 450,000 units.

The plant reached its production peak in 2016 with 411,171 vehicles, according to WardsAuto data. Output in 2017 dipped 9.7% to 371,284 units, largely due to switching over production of the new X3, as well as an extended summer shutdown to bring the production expansion online, the automaker says.

Spartanburg, which opened in 1994, represents the BMW Group’s largest plant worldwide; about 70% of vehicles produced there are exported to 140 countries, making it America’s largest vehicle exporter. Some 9,000 people work at the plant, and an additional 1,000 jobs are to be added by 2021.

Like every automaker, BMW is struggling to cope with waning demand for cars while trying to keep the pipeline full with fresh and compelling CUVs in a market flooded with them.

In the U.S., the 3-Series sedan remained BMW’s best seller in 2017, achieving 59,449 deliveries. But that tally represents a 15.6% decline from 2016, while putting the 3-Series a distant second behind the Mercedes C-Class in WardsAuto’s Lower Luxury car segment.

A bright spot among BMW cars was the redesigned 5-Series, which achieved 40,658 deliveries in 2017, representing 25.5% growth over prior year. Again, the rival Mercedes E-Class handily outsold the 5-Series in leading WardsAuto’s Middle Luxury car segment.

Overall, BMW sold 305,685 vehicles in the U.S. in 2017, down 2.39% from prior year. But its light truck (CUV) sales were up 1.94% to 134,310 units, according to WardsAuto data.

On the utility side, BMW was No. 1 in the Small Luxury CUV sector in the U.S. in 2017, with 30,826 deliveries, up 10.8% from 2016. This group likely is where the X2 will reside. The nomenclature might suggest otherwise, but the X2 actually is 10 ins. (254 mm) shorter than the X1.

In the fierce, wild west segment known as Middle Luxury CUVs, the Lexus RX remains No.1, delivering 102,606 units in 2017, and that figure is bound to grow as the Toyota luxury brand prepares to launch an extended version with a third row, the RX 350L.

Other notable performers in the sector – all of them outselling BMW’s offerings – are the Cadillac XT5, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLE, Audi Q5 and Acura RDX.

X2 Product Manager John Kelly notes location of BMW roundel.

But BMW has been highly active in Middle Luxury CUVs: Its coupe-like X4 has been in the market since 2014 (and will be new later this year); the current generation of its perennial best-seller, the X5, has been on sale four years, so it’s due for a redesign before long. Despite its age, BMW sold 50,815 X5s in the U.S. in 2017, up 6.7% from prior year, according to WardsAuto data.

Much is riding on the all-new X3, which launched in November to positive reviews and should outsell the X5 by year’s end. If its production rollout continues to go smoothly, the X3 could make a dent in rivals’ CUV sales.

Which brings us to the X2, which is less about functionality and more about delivering on BMW’s promise of an ultimate driving machine, while appealing to customers who have lost interest in cars and coupes.

Breaking new ground in its lineup, the X2 is sporty and compact, powered by a 228-hp 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that can push it to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.3 seconds, the automaker says. A 6-cyl. will not be offered.

The X2 is based on the X1 platform, and both vehicles have comparable track, width and wheelbase. But BMW wants the X2 to be the CUV for driving enthusiasts, so its proportions are different, with a more muscular presence and shorter overhangs.

The rear of the vehicle is 3 ins. (76 mm) shorter than the X1, and designers incorporated large exhaust tips (3.5 ins. [90 mm]) that are the same size as on the much larger X6 M.

Frozen Grey cladding matches wheel color in X2 M Sport X package.

“Not everyone focuses on exhaust tips, but we really like them because they are big and pronounced,” X2 Product Manager John Kelly tells WardsAuto. “It’s this attention to detail that gives it a sporty, extroverted character.”

Extroverts might be drawn to boundary-pushing metallic colors such as Milano Blue, Sunset Orange or Galvanic Gold. The BMW roundel also appears in an unusual spot, near the C-pillar, in tribute to the iconic 3.0 CS of the 1970s.

Optional is the first-ever M Sport X package that uses Frozen Grey as an accent color throughout the X2, and it creates distinctive ground effects as the shade of the cladding carries over to the 20-in. sport wheels.

X2 pricing will be announced closer to launch. For guidance, X1 pricing in the U.S. begins at $33,900.

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