Best 4x4s for off-roading: BMW X7 vs Range Rover

Many SUVs look more butch than they really are, but what's the most capable four-wheel-drive model on the rough stuff? Our off-roader megatest reveals the answer...

BMW X7 vs Range Rover

BMW X7 xDrive40i M Sport

List price £90,050
Target Price £87,203

The X7 doesn’t have fancy driving modes, locking differentials, a low-range gearbox or off-road-focused tyres. The only nods it makes toward off-roading are height-adjustable air suspension and hill descent control. You can order the X7 with a 3.0-litre diesel engine, but we’ve opted for the 3.0-litre petrol.

Range Rover D350 Autobiography

List price £126,720
Target Price £126,720

The Range Rover has long been many a country squire’s go-to choice, and with good reason. This version comes with height-adjustable air suspension, all-wheel steering and centre and rear locking differentials. A plethora of wide-angle cameras make placing the car easy over rough terrain, too.

‘Hansdampf in  allen Gassen’ is German for ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. We reckon the engineers ignored this view when developing the BMW X7, because instead of trying to feel equally at home in both the Himalayas and Highgate, it prioritises on-road performance. For example, its suspension is tuned for being on the beaten track rather than off it, and it goes without serious off-road hardware.

BMW X7 front off-road

Contrastingly, in order to remain true to the terrain-conquering heritage of parent company Land Rover, the Range Rover has a pronounced green-welly streak.  Like the X7, it’s an exceptionally lavish luxury SUV, but the Range Rover seems like a better bet for exploring the farthest reaches of your country estate. Is that really the case, though?

Well, with a virtually identical mechanical make-up to the Land Rover Defender, the Range Rover went everywhere its smaller sibling could. Simply twist the Terrain Response dial to select the type of surface you’ll be tackling, and the car works its magic to find the right balance of traction, comfort and performance. You can also adjust the differential locks (to further boost traction) and driving aids (such as cameras and wading depth sensors) via the infotainment screen.

Range Rover front off-road

The Range Rover even has a form of off-road cruise control called All Terrain Progress Control as standard (it’s optional on the Defender), and it’s a superb piece of software. We set it to 5mph and aimed the Range Rover at a heavily rutted sand slope, and it picked its way up with little fuss. Even at the steepest point, the system wasn’t afraid to open the accelerator to help maintain momentum.

Only when we got to the Horseshoe did it start to sweat. The same offset ditches that troubled the Defender had the Range Rover cocking its wheels in the air, and its long overhangs regularly touched the ground. Indeed, a plastic underbody panel located under the front bumper was torn off over one particularly deep rut, and the rear bumper took some gentle but rather unsettling hits.

BMW X7 specs

BMW X7 off-road specs

So, how far did the X7 get in the same terrain? Well, unlike the Range Rover, the BMW doesn’t offer selectable all-terrain drive modes, an off-road cruise control system or locking differentials. You get air suspension that can be raised at the touch of a button, plus hill descent control, but that’s pretty much your lot. Therefore, all we could do was turn off the traction control system, select the highest ride height mode from the suspension and set off.Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before we ran into a problem.

You see, in the Range Rover, when you reach a certain speed (around 30mph), a warning on the infotainment system clearly informs you that the suspension is automatically changing from off-road height to its on-road height.  The X7’s suspension does a similar thing, but at just 20mph and with only a dim green light on the centre console to warn you. As we found, arriving at an obstacle with more than 20mph of momentum is liable to result in damage to the car, or a red face at the very least.

Range Rover specs

Range Rover off-road specs

Mind you, even at its highest ride height setting, the X7 felt out of its depth on the Horseshoe and the Dragon’s Back; its nose and tail readily caught on ridges and raised obstacles. And while it did manage to clamber up the relatively smooth gravel slopes, it ran aground on the heavily rutted sand slope. Here, the X7’s sporty tyres, which contribute so much to its handling on Tarmac, struggled to find traction; with no locking differentials to call upon, the wheels were never far from spinning in the dirt. 

With a wading depth of just 500mm, the X7 was unable to attempt our test site’s plunge pool; the Range Rover had another 400mm to play with. The X7 will go off road, then, but the wilderness isn’t its natural habitat.

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