The automotive user experience is defined by a vehicle’s connectivity, its infotainment, its driver-assistance technologies and the ease of their functionality.
Automakers such as BMW are constantly experimenting with new approaches to the user experience, hoping to surprise and delight customers with features they didn’t know they wanted.
The Bavarian automaker’s all-new X7 (pictured below, left), its largest vehicle ever, incorporates a first-rate drivetrain and interior one would expect from the German luxury brand, but it’s also designed to soothe the soul.
Using the amply sized touchscreen or the seventh generation of BMW’s iDrive controller in the center console, the driver can quickly summon the “Caring Car” menu as part of the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which serves as a portal to personal wellness and rejuvenation.
Select “Vitalize” if you’re feeling drowsy and need a jolt of energy or choose “Relax” to settle down.
If you click on Vitalize (pictured below) with the climate control set to Auto, the sunscreen opens, a techno pop dance number comes on the audio system, seat ventilation cranks up, ambient lighting turns green and cooler air (64.4° F) pulses through the vents and sounds like waves washing rhythmically on a beach. It’s meant to rouse you on a long road trip and the sequence runs for three minutes.
Likewise, switch on Relax at the end of a busy day for an opposite experience with peaceful music, bronze ambient lighting, a steady, quiet fan speed and temperature raised to 73.4° F.
If you don’t like fiddling with buttons, activate the Caring Car feature by pressing the talk button and saying something like “Hey BMW, I’m tired,” or “Hey BMW, I want to relax.”
Add in massaging seats and the X7 becomes a rolling health spa, but cucumber slices on the eyes can only be worn by passengers, not the driver.
The three-row utility vehicle cares for you in many other ways, beyond providing loads of room to stretch out and unwind.
The X7 infotainment system has “Experience Modes” to tailor your ride for optimum comfort. The driver can toggle through “Executive,” “Expressive” and “Well Being,” each with different settings for ambient lighting, temperature and seat ventilation. Some of the modes automatically adjust window privacy screens and the panoramic sunroof shade.
It’s a one-touch process to fit your mood or the situation.
The X7 greets the driver with a “Welcome” screen at startup and bids farewell with a “Goodbye” at shutdown with accompanying BMW graphics. At that time, the driver can set the cabin temperature and precondition the heated and cooled seats for the next time you get in the car (pictured above).
If you’d like to set your heated or cooled seats to turn on at certain ambient temperatures, the X7 can make that happen.
We’ve covered a lot of ground on the X7’s comfort settings but have barely scratched the surface on the overall user experience.
There were a whopping eight USB ports in our test vehicle, including two in the first row, four in the second row and two in the third. The third row is wisely designed for two occupants, each seat comfortable for small-ish adults.
Unlike in some people movers, the third row of the X7 doesn’t feel like a penalty box. The same metallic, wood and leather trim from the front row extends to the hinterlands (pictured above), and third-row occupants also have heated seats and their own climate controls overhead in our ’20 X7 M50i test model, priced at $113,845.
Up front, there’s wireless phone charging, and phone pairing is extremely fast and simple. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity also are wireless, and the X7 M50i comes with three months of free WiFi service.
There’s also live traffic and weather information and the BMW-pioneered gesture control for touch-free volume adjustment and station changing. Incoming text messages are displayed on the screen or can be read aloud, and the full-color head-up display can be reconfigured to include turn-by-turn navigation.
Voice controls for navigation work well, finding obscure addresses hundreds of miles away and quickly recalculating if you take a different route. Voice activation also is great for finding and calling contacts.
The X7 checks all the boxes on the driver-assistance front (pictured above). Adaptive cruise control performs flawlessly, even in stop-and-go situations, and automated lane changes happen when the driver activates the blinker, if there’s no car in the way. Warning graphics are bold and bright.
“In total, this vehicle has so much surprise and delight going on, including cluster graphics showing another lane with vehicles on it,” via augmented reality, Wards judge Christie Schweinsberg says on her scoresheet. “Pretty much every ADAS technology is customizable in terms of warnings or being able to turn it on or off, via settings in the main screen.”
With so many features easily customized for every mood or personal preference, perhaps the X7 will lead to a new BMW brand identity: The Ultimate Caring Machine.