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Published Date: 25/10/2017

Our cars are becoming more computerised with each passing generation, and the latest models are the most technologically-advanced ever. Nowhere more so than in the cabin, where simple push-button radios and CD players have been replaced with glossy, hi-res screens and in-depth infotainment systems.

In some BMWs they are controlled by touch, including in the latest BMW 1 Series, and in others they are accessed and navigated through the iDrive system.

What is it?

Introduced in 2003 as a feature on the BMW 7-Series luxury car, this intuitive technology has now filtered across the BMW range. It places a rotary control in the centre console between the front seats, which can be accessed by both driver and front passenger to control many of the car’s functions.

What’s the thinking?

With so many functions on new cars, many of which we rarely adjust or fiddle with on the move, iDrive was created to reduce the plethora of buttons on the dashboard. As well as reducing the number of parts required, it also creates less cluttered, more soothing interior environment.

How does it work?

It’s very simple. The dial rotates left and right, to navigate each page, and is tappable to select your chosen option. The dial also toggles ‘north, east, south and west’, for menu shortcuts.

There are also a number of shortcut buttons and programmable fast keys, directly on the dashboard – great if you’re a seasoned channel-surfer or want to place a particular contact on speed dial.

The convenient location of the dial means you needn’t shift from your seat to touch the screen, or avert your gaze from the road for more than a second here or there. But for even greater safety, voice controls are now integrated into iDrive (on selected models), making completely hands-free controls the stuff of reality, not science-fiction.

You can even use a touch-sensitive panel on top of the dial to ‘write’ letters – great when inputting a postcode or searching for your favourite song.

What can it control?

The functionality and features accessed and controlled through your iDrive system will vary depending on the exact model, trim level and options you choose, but generally speaking it controls all of those things that aren’t vital for the safe operation of the car: things like audio, ventilation, trip computer, telephone (via Bluetooth) and – if you have an iPhone – music, messages, audiobooks and more via Apple CarPlay.

What about sat-nav?

If your chosen BMW includes sat-nav, it’ll be controlled via the iDrive system.

You can input a postcode or street name using the rotary control, touch-sensitive pad or voice control, but if you’re doing something more complicated - like a trip with multiple waypoints, or planning a route on your phone or computer – you can use Google’s Send To Car feature.

This enables your car to download the route you’ve planned the next time you turn on the ignition.


Within iDrive is ConnectedDrive, a web-connected service that links to the BMW Connected app on your smartphone. With the app open and your smartphone plugged into the car, a host of new features become available – including internet radio apps, concierge services, news, weather forecasts and much more.

And finally, unlike many in-car infotainment systems, the iDrive system allows you to activate a split screen – so, for instance, displaying both navigation and media information simultaneously.

Find out more

If you need a masterclass in using your iDrive controller, or are interested in finding out more about the infotainment systems available in a new or used BMW, contact a member of the team at Cooper BMW.


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