The BMW iDrive cockpit controller is like the flashing-12 display seen in home electronics: a symbol, correctly or not, of technology run amok. The Bavarian elves at BMW have been hearing cranky-owner complaints for five years. But the iDrive might have easier times ahead, with the arrival in November of the second-generation X5 sports utility vehicle—or sports activity vehicle (SAV), in BMW-speak.
BMWs first official photos of the X5 show a row of eight programmable keys on the center console stack, to assist the iDrive. That means you will be able to program a favorite destination, a phone number, or an audio setting into each button, bypassing iDrives slide, turn, and press-to-select methodology.
This marks the third version of iDrive. The first, in 2002, had eight general functions that you selected by first sliding the controller in one of the eight compass directions. Version 2, circa 2004, reworked the functions to just four (communication, navigation, entertainment, and climate control). This third variant adds the function buttons, much like programmable PC function keys (they can be programmed, you know, just that no one does anymore) or radio buttons on your car audio system, to the four-way iDrive controller.
The Real iDrive in 2008
A fourth version of the iDrive may appear two years from now, with the replacement of the flagship 7 Series, which started the iDrive uproar in 2002. Sources say that at focus groups held over the winter by BMW in New York and Los Angeles, BMW sought feedback on a system not unlike Audis MMI (multimedia interface): The driver chooses the basic function by pressing a button near the controller, and then fine-tunes with the MMI controller, which has the same kind of turning knob and press-to-select feature as the iDrive. Mercedes-Benz new COMAND system on the S-Class works similarly.
Best-in-Class Parking Aids?
BMW appears to be moving ahead on other technological grounds as it attempts to catch up to the sales of market leaders, the Lexus RX 330 and Acura MDX. Most significant may be the combination of parking sonar, which BMW has long had, with a backup camera. If the car already has an LCD (and all X5s have an iDrive monitor LCD), adding a backup camera is cheap; about $100, TechnoRide estimates.