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iDrive is a computer-like system, which is used to control most secondary vehicle systems in many current BMW cars. iDrive's user interface consists of a LCD panel mounted in the dashboard and a controller knob mounted on the center console.

iDrive allows the driver and front-seat passenger to control such amenities as the climate (air conditioner and heater), the audio system (radio and CD player), the navigation system and communication system.

iDrive was first announced for the BMW E65/E66 7-Series, and is now available on all current 1-Series and 3-Series models, being standard on the 5-Series, 6-Series, 7-Series , and X5.


The design rationale of iDrive is to replace a confusing array of controls for the above systems with an all-in-one unit. The controls necessary for vehicle control and safety, such as the headlights and turn signals, are still located in the immediate vicinity of the steering column.

Since the climate, audio, navigation and communication systems are adjusted only occasionally, the idea was to move them into an easy-to-use central location. However, iDrive was filled with controversy and many disapproved of it.

Controversy and Critics

iDrive has caused significant controversy among users, the automotive media, and critics. Many BMW reviews in automobile magazines disapprove of the system. Criticisms of iDrive include its steep learning curve and its tendency to cause the driver to look away from the road too much. This has caused it to be labelled "iDistract" by detractors.

Like many car navigation systems, BMW includes a warning that the user must accept before using the iDrive. The warning advises that it is unsafe to operate iDrive when driving.

How It Works

The iDrive system is based around the points of a compass (north, south, east, west) with each direction corresponding with a specific area. These areas are also colour coded providing identification as to which part of the system is currently being viewed.

  • North (blue) for communication
  • East (green) for navigation
  • South (yellow) for entertainment
  • West (red) for climate control

Also, at the iDrive home screen, the control knob can be pushed downwards to provide access to the car's control panel, which gives access to date/time settings, bluetooth settings, engine and tyre pressure settings, etc. In a BMW M series car, this menu also gives access to set the precise power output of the engine (400, 507, etc)

iDrive is controlled by manipulating the control knob. This can be pushed north, south, east, west; pushed inwards (down), or rotated left and right. The control knob contains an element of 'force feedback' so the knob can not be rotated further than there are options on the screen. It will also kick back slightly as it scrolls through options. This makes it easier to use while driving and keeping your eyes on the road.

From the home screen, each option can be reached by pushing the control knob in the desired direction. From any other screen, pushing the knob in the desired direction and holding in place for a few seconds will jump to that new area. (For example, in the Entertainment screen, pushing the control knob to the right for a few seconds before letting it go will jump straight to the Navigation area). The iDrive system includes a button marked Menu behind the control knob which provides quick access to the home screen.

Screen Shots

Label and reorganize as necessary.


Label and reorganize as necessary.

Competing Technologies

Other car manufacturers use similar technologies in their car, including Audi with its MMI system and Mercedes-Benz with its COMAND system. One system, available in the SsangYong Chairman, has an almost identical knob on the centre console which is an ashtray. Apple Inc. is rumored to be planning to launch an in-car navigation system for Mercedes-Benz. The interface will likely bear strong resemblance to the iPhone, offering a touchscreen interface and borrowing the device's slick Google Maps integration. According to reports, the first 2009 models sporting the new navigation technology are likely to show up in mid to late 2008.

See Also

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