we chose our long-term bmw x7 the way the majority of americans buy cars: picking among already-built units. unfortunately, at the time, there were none available with the factory towing package, although we knew we wanted to exploit the 7500-pound capability of bmw's largest suv. no worries, we thought; we'll just have our local dealer install it after the fact.
not so fast: although bmw will install a factory hitch to an x5 after purchase, it won't do so to an existing x7, an approach that the company is not alone in taking. it can quickly become cost prohibitive with wiring and programming modifications in addition to mechanical changes, such as the larger brakes that are included as part of the towing package on non–m sport x7s. so we went looking in the aftermarket and stumbled across an unfamiliar but intriguing option: stealth hitches.
they're one of the few aftermarket options available for the x7, and a bonus is that when it's not in use, the tow bar is truly and completely hidden behind the rear bumper. enabling this bit of visual trickery is stealth hitches' vertical receptacle machined from a solid block of stainless steel that the ball mount plugs in to. once plugged in, it is automatically locked in place and is released by a lever on the right-hand side. to prevent theft, the lever can be locked using the key cylinder on the left side of the hitch.
bonus: unlike the x7's factory hitch, the stealth hitches option keeps the foot-kick feature intact to open the rear liftgate, something that's true of all of the 120 vehicles it has kits for, which is growing at a rate of one to two new applications per week.
stealth hitches sells two kits. the lower-priced "rack only" option runs between $400 and $600 and includes a standard two-inch-square receiver to be used for accessories such as bike racks or cargo carriers. the more expensive rack + tow combo goes for $700 to $1000 and provides both the square accessory mount and a separate hitch plate for towing, plus provisions to hook up the trailer wiring. kits that include a factory wiring harness and programming rather than simply tapping into the existing wires can run as high as $1600.
the combo kit for our x7 m50i cost $967, which is not one of the ones that includes factory wiring. installation is similar to other trailer hitches and of course requires the tedious removal of the rear bumper; the company estimates a 2.5-hour install time.
we threw our newly hitched x7 at the task of hauling 5800 pounds of newly acquired car and u-haul trailer from the seattle area 2300 miles back to our ann arbor, michigan, home. with our x7's 523-hp v-8, it was an easy task, with so much torque that it could maintain speed on moderate grades without dropping from top gear. we've since deployed it in some around-town towing, such as getting a boat tucked into storage for the winter months.
a benefit of the stealth hitches design is that it eliminates the pin that's used to secure the mount into the typical square receiver. that means the slop in that connection is gone, which allows stealth hitches' units to pass the more stringent european test requirements, which include two million yanks back and forth.
stealth hitches was started about three years ago by steve nance, who says his big idea was "trying to turn a grudge purchase that was visibly unattractive into something that doesn't affect the look of the vehicle." initial kits were for luxury european brands because, nance says, the customers don't mind spending a bit more for a premium product. in addition to simply gravitating toward high-volume models, the company sniffs around internet forums to gauge interest and decide which vehicles to develop hitch kits for. surprisingly, nance reports that the best-selling kit thus far is for the tesla model 3. further validating his initial success is the fact that stealth hitches was recently acquired by trailer-hitch behemoth b&w.
care to guess who is stealth hitches' largest customer? that's right, bmw dealerships, who are satisfying their customers' desire to add a hitch after purchase.