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July 28, 2018

If you’ve harbored any hope that SUV mania had run its course, consider this: BMW, the brand that forged its reputation in America with its mind-etching “ultimate driving machine” tagline, has fired up what may prove to be its ultimate marketing drive.

And it’s all for an SUV.

The three-row 2019 X7 will be BMW’s biggest “sport activity vehicle.” Though the automaker says the X7’s global debut are months down the road — perhaps at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late November — and isn’t expected to reach showrooms until the first quarter of 2019, camouflaged pre-production units are rolling off the line at BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

But some of the Bimmer faithful got a chance to lay eyes and hands on early versions of the 2019 X7, as well as the 8-Series convertible, thanks to high-security, high-drama preview soirees throughout the country.

On short notice, BMW of West Houston jumped at the chance to host one of those sneak peeks. “We never ever launch vehicles this far in advance,” said Maria Moncada-Alaoui, general manager and dealer operator. “This was way before their launch time and we wanted to make sure we took advantage of the opportunity.”

Moncada-Alaoui said BMW took pains to develop its first full-size activity vehicle. “Most of these seven-passenger vehicles are not very responsive. BMW wanted to make sure that when it releases the X7, it has the same performance, responsiveness and acceleration as its regular vehicles.”

The guests liked what they saw, Moncada-Alaoui said. “The feedback’s been nothing but positive, with comments about how sweet the technology is. We had started to hear conversations about why BMW needed a vehicle for seven passengers but the preview kind of pushed them over the edge, in a good way. In fact, we have already started filling up our order banks.”

BMW of West Houston’s invitation-only preview affair, held at a striking modern manse in the Energy Coordidor on July 20, was also a showcase for BMWs modern classics and contemporary M high-performance machines.

Randy Pfeiffer brought his 2018 BMW M5 First Edition. One of only 400 that BMW will produce globally, Pfeiffer’s limited-run sports sedan — replete in the First Edition’s exclusive frozen dark red matte finish — arrived from Germany barely a month ago.

He says the color “exemplifies every curve and when the sun hits it right, you really see the metallic flake. I’m not a red kind of guy but this is a dark red that’s almost like wine. With the smoke white interior, red contrasting stitching and piano-black lacquer trim, it really pops.”

If you do happen to spot an M5 First Edition, be prepared to enjoy the view quickly. According to BMW, its all-wheel-drive executive sedan can rocket from 0-60 mph in 3.1 seconds. Pfeiffer adds that he’s almost through the car’s 1,200-mile break-in period and will be taking the M5 in for its initial service at which time, he says, BMW will reset the M5’s electronic management from its normal 155-mph limit to 191 mph.

Before aerodynamics, fuel economy and U.S. safety mandates dictated the forms of automobiles, BMWs were revered for not only their handling but the sightlines afforded by the cabin greenhouse.

Our favorite old-school BMW on display was a stunning green 1975 3.0 CSi. If only all coupes aged as well as Dennis Nowak’s Euro-spec car, also referred to by its BMW chassis code, E9.

Nowak, whose BMW fleet includes a 1984 M635 CSi, 1973 3.0CS project car, a 2016 M4 GTS and a 2013 M5 that’s a daily driver, believes he’s the third owner of the Taiga green fuel-injected 3.0 that was originally purchased in France. Like a lot of auto enthusiasts, Nowak found his green machine through BMW forums, which he uses for advice, discussion, cars or parts.

The engineer, who was bitten by the BMW bug 11 years ago when his wife encouraged him to go ahead and buy a 2000 Z3 sports car, has a five-speed manual transmission to swap for the car’s stock four-speed gearbox but needs the correct bellhousing.

With the BMW community thriving in the Houston region, chances are Nowak will eventually find his gear thanks to the BMW Car Club of America (bmwcca.org) and its Houston chapter. Houston is also home to M Gruppe (mgruppe.org), a club for owners of BMW’s M vehicles. The organization offers social and driving activities as well as discounts on vehicle purchases or leases, parts and service.

Adriana Diesen, whose daily driver is an M6 convertible and also has one of the 350 M4 GTS factory hot rods made available to the U.S. and Canada, started the niche club in December 2015. Today its 1,500 members are in 40 states and Diesen sees more women joining.

“By design, I didn’t want to charge, so there’s no membership fee,” Diesen said. “It’s a passion-based club and the only requirement is you have to have an M, which, in a way, is paying membership, isn’t it?”

Diesen speculates that their dual nature has a lot to do with why drivers become enamored with BMWs. “They offer a lot of value for the money,” she said. “They’re versatile, filling in as grocery-getter, family transporter and can be used on the track.”

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