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BMW 330d M Sport with ConnectedDrive - Navigation & Communication

By Jeremy Laird



As you would expect, a major part of the iDrive interface is consumed by BMW's navigation system. For the most part, it's a pretty conventional solution for a built-in system. Both 2D top down and pseudo 3D map views are available, while traffic data is provided by the RDS-TMC system and is therefore several steps behind the likes of TomTom's HD traffic.

Conventional address input can be done with both the iDrive wheel and voice command. The latter does not require training and in our experience is extremely accurate. However, it's worth noting that like so many built-in navigation systems, post code input is limited to five digits, following which users must identify the relevant street from a list and add a house number. That's absolutely normal for this kind of system, but falls short of the full post code support of even cheapo aftermarket navigation devices.

As we mentioned before, the system supports split screen, allowing navigation cues to be retained throughout the iDrive interface. In terms of routing, three main options are offered: Fast, Efficient and Short, with each displayed on the map with mileages. Users can further tweak routes in the usual manner by choosing to avoid motorways, toll roads, ferries and all that jazz.

All of which is pretty predictable. What, then, marks out BMW's navigation system from the competition? We'll start with the good stuff. Arguably the best bit is the ability to send navigation data to the car remotely (see MyInfo in the Connected Drive section above). The system also deserves a thumbs up for overall quality of presentation as well as accuracy and reliability in terms of locating and tracking the car. For the most part, it's a great system to use - clear, precise and intuitive.

Predictably, it includes a points-of-interest database, too. As already noted, it's actually more reliable than the Google Search function in the ConnectedDrive system. But let's not get too carried away, it's very similar to systems offered by competing car manufacturers.

Despite all these strengths, the navigation system is not, however, perfect. For starters, the audible guidance notes are poorly paced. The first warning of a turn or exit is often given too soon and the final command sometimes a little too late. The net result of which is that you may forget about the first warning only to fall into something of panic when the final cue arrives abruptly. In our time with the car, the system also occasionally gave moderately inaccurate or misleading directional commands. In this regard both Lexus' in-car system and the likes of TomTom, to give just two examples, are clearly superior.

We're also a little underwhelmed by the 3D option in the navigation interface. Superifically, it's one of the best looking currently available. It appears to show proper terrain relief and even includes full 3D renderings of certain key points of interest (Salisbury cathedral being the best example during our tour of duty), which is fun even if the models are very low fidelity.

However, with use you realise that the relief shown on the map is cleverly faked - the system doesn't actually know the lay of the land, so to speak. More to the point, in 3D mode the system feels sluggish. Given the high resolution of the screen, this probably reflects hardware limitations. However, we've so far been unable to identify the hardware driving the interface. It's been announced that future BMWs will pack Intel Atom processors. But that won't happen until at least 2010.

A slick and easy to use Bluetooth interface is an essential tool for any road warrior and here the 330d scores highly. The synching process with our commodity-spec Motorola test handset was utterly fautless. The system quickly keyed into the contact database on the handset. Once synched, it's possible to select contacts using the voice command system. Just like the address input in the navigation system, we found voice command for contacts to be surprisingly accurate. Again, no training of the system is required for this feature, it just works.

The same goes for dialling telephone numbers via voice command. In fact, the system is quite capable of recognising full numbers spoken fluently using normal conversational diction. The sound quality of hands free calls through the system is also excellent from both ends - those we spoke to while on the move said background noise at their end was well suppressed. Another nice little feature is the network signal strength indicator that remains visible through most of the iDrive interface.


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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