The main remit for our reviews is in-car tech and in the context of contemporary BMWs that inevitably makes the iDrive infotainment platform the hot topic. In our test car, iDrive is part of the broader BMW Professional Multimedia Package. A hefty £1,935, it includes BMW’s top spec navigation system, a Bluetooth phone interface, ConnectedDrive and Voice Control as well as a multimedia system with support for MP3 playback and storage, iPod connectivity, DVD playback and more. It’s not exactly cheap, but at least you get a lot for your cash.
Your window into the iDrive interface comes courtesy of an impossibly crisp 8.8in LCD panel. It has an ultra-wide aspect ratio and a monster 1,280 x 480 pixel grid (well, it’s monster for an 8.8in in-car panel). As well as the ability to display high quality graphics, the screen’s pixel density and wideness allows BMW to implement a useful split screen mode with navigation cues on the right-hand third while the remainder of the display retains focus on whatever function the driver chooses.
iDrive, of course, took a bit of a mauling from the specialist motoring press when it first appeared in the previous generation E65 7 Series. But much like BMW’s Bangle-era flame surface styling, it has proved extremely influential – shades of iDrive are detectable in most competing systems. Admittedly, the original iDrive presented users with a pretty steep learning curve. But we think the criticism reflected crusty, outdated attitudes as much as it did the shortcomings of iDrive.
Still, with the latest revision BMW has addressed the one major critique of iDrive. By surrounding the input wheel with a range of shortcut keys, users are able to jump directly to the top level of several of the main menu entries including navigation, telephony and radio.
Further speeding up navigation through the iDrive system is a bank of eight shortcut keys located along the CD/DVD aperture. At first glance they look like track selection buttons for the single-disc optical drive. But they’re actually fully programmable, enabling users to quick-jump directly to any part of the iDrive interface. It’s a feature we suspect will prove extremely handy over time, allowing instant access to the most commonly used features.
As before, once in the relevant subsection it’s the usual iDrive routine of using the wheel to scroll through and highlight on-screen options for selection. Similarly, as with the previous generation, the first impression for iDrive newbies remains one of moderate impenetrability. But once the initial user interface hump has been surmounted, we reckon even technophobes will quickly appreciate just how well thought out and polished iDrive really is. The wheel is tactile and accurate and for the most part the overall interface is extremely well optimised for wheel navigation.