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Frankly, there are very few companies that can produce high quality digital user interfaces, so BMW's achievement here is significant. To put iDrive into a wider context, the world's richest software company (that'll be Microsoft) routinely fails to produce user interfaces as well thought through as iDrive. Indeed, with the latest iteration of iDrive in the E90 3 Series, it's not unusual to find yourself thinking "wouldn't it be handy if BMW had added X or Y feature to make things easier" only to subsequently realise it was there all along. Obvious examples here are the aforementioned programmable shortcut keys and the traditional rotational volume controller which incorporates the overall system mute button.

That's not to say it's perfect. We do have a few misgivings. For starters, the input wheel is set too far back for true comfort. In the 3 Series, its location is perhaps somewhat dictated by the placement of the gear selector. Despite that, we feel there is room for improvement here. The menu hierarchy is also occasionally erratic - the division of labour between the dedicated "Back" button and pushing left on the wheel is sometimes very confusing and unpredictable. What's more, BMW is guilty of unnecessarily burying some features too far out of reach, the specifics of which we'll come to momentarily.

As tested, our 330d also includes BMW's voice control interface. It's a pretty comprehensive system and supports recognition of everything from spoken phone numbers to addresses and contact information. In these guises, it works extremely well. It can also be used to navigate the overall iDrive interface, in which role it's significantly more hit and miss. As with all voice control systems, it's a case of choosing your battles carefully. Reserve your use to the areas where it's most effective and you'll find it a handy tool. Over reach and it will drive you slowly insane.

Finally, iDrive continues to eschew any form of touch-screen control. For the most part, that's a good thing. The interface is highly optimised for the wheel controller and the absence of touch has allowed BMW to bury the screen beneath a binnacle and pretty much eliminate glare. Nevertheless, just occasionally you will wish touch input was available, particularly when inputting address information into the navigation system. In this scenario, you must use the wheel to scroll around a circle of letters on screen and rather laboriously slot them in, one by one. However, thanks to the uber cleverness of ConnectedDrive, this BMW makes manually inputting addresses an extremely rare occurrence.

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April 28, 2009, 1:16 pm

A hideously looking monstrosity of a car. BMW's of late look absolutely vile! And don't get me started on the X6....


April 28, 2009, 5:44 pm

@Steve - You’ll get no argument from me, I think that the 3 Series saloon is an ugly beast. Although at least the rear light clusters on this facelift model aren’t as rank as the ones on the original. Of course my trusty coder Rich will argue to the death that the 3 Series saloon is stunning, but at least he’s otherwise sane.

Personally I just can’t believe how big the 3 Series is now. The 1 Series coupe is about the size that the E30 3 Series coupe was! There’s no denying that the technology that BMW is squeezing into its cars is pretty impressive though.


April 28, 2009, 7:24 pm

Regarding Information Plus - I'm sure that Fiat had something like this about five or six years ago in the Stilo. Anybody remember? If you went for the satnav option and installed a simcard, you could press some sort of 'Help' button and be put through to a call centre where they could send e.g. a local hotel (or garage more like) to your Nav.

Or am I dreaming again? If not, it's surprising how long it takes for tech to make it's way through cars...


April 28, 2009, 10:27 pm

@Mario: Sounds like you're thinking of SmartNav. That's not particularly new or impressive technology and it's not confined to Fiat. It's not quite the same thing either. If you asked the SmartNav lady for the atomic weight of Boron, she'd probably hang up on you whereas a BMW lady would kindly oblige.

The closest I've heard of is the 'concierge' service that used to come with a VW Phaeton, although that was more for restaurant reservations, theatre tickets and the like.


April 28, 2009, 10:58 pm

I still think the previous generation 3 series looks far more 'premium' that the current version. The interiors have always been solid but at the same time looked a little old fashioned too, eg. the dials haven't changed much over the years. However, you just can't argue with the way they drive, they are all excellent cars (begrudgingly even the X5 & X6, for what they are), and the latest generation of diesel engines are in a league of their own, returning some amazing Co2 results alongside some serious performance figures.

Anyway, there has to be a point when all this tech gets distracting to the driver, but then seeing as we spend more and more time stuck in traffic jams, having lots of functionality might actually help preserve our sanity!!

Mark Peter

April 28, 2009, 11:49 pm

"open out the iDrive platform" - now there's a thought. It's one thing to brick your iphone with a dodgy app but messing up your traction control system opens up whole ranges of interesting possibilities...


April 29, 2009, 3:48 pm

@ChrisC: The facelift gives it a far more 'premium' look. The new creases in the bonnet lend some aggression and the new rear and light clusters are far more distinctive. The previous rear clusters were ripped straight from a Mitsubishi Charisma, the most inaptly named car in history.

Also, look out for some impressive new diesel engines from Mercedes and Jaguar. Merc's new 4-cyl C250 CDI does 0-60 in 7.1, returns 'over 50 mpg' and pumps out 138g/km CO2.

Jim Fulton

April 30, 2009, 1:31 am

I drive an 07 335d Coupe, with the earlier generation iDrive. I agree with a lot Jeremy says, I went for upgraded speakers and they make a big difference to the sound, much cheaper than the horrendously expensive Harmon Kardon option. As for the quoted range, you'll find that a bit optimistic. 600-650 miles, certainly, I manage around 500-550 in the 335d at a steady 75-80 on a long run.

Agree with Chris, the new Jaguar XF engine with the twin turbodiesel is getting great reviews, must be worth a look.

Rich 42c5

May 1, 2009, 7:53 pm

A stunning, stunning car. I'd hit it


July 27, 2010, 5:43 pm

Thanks for the great info on connected drive. I have just bought a new F10 5 series that includes the same system, and was looking for more in depth tech info that you described.

Overall it is a great system, I am just waiting until the third party hackers start on it so we get things like custom POI (speed cameras) for the NAV, video interface for iPod etc.


June 3, 2013, 10:39 am

Beautiful car man

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