BMW I Drive

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
bmw i drive

The first time the lorry locked-up its wheels, I was entering the 'u' in 'Weston Super Mare' into the satellite navigation system. The second time, I was trying to switch the suspension from 'comfort' to 'sports' mode. The last time, I was splitting my attention between the 'Entertainment' screen and the road ahead. So I was free to watch the eighteen-wheeler's back end swing gracefully into the opposite lane- where it missed the front of an oncoming car by inches. God knows what would have happened if I'd been driving.

I probably would have survived. If you have to rear end an articulated lorry, you couldn't ask for a better car for the job than the new BMW 7-Series. As you'd expect, it's a bloody great vault, with enough deformable steel and high-speed airbags to protect its occupants from anything short of a SAM missile strike. But not from yourself. Thanks to its revolutionary iDrive controller and centrally mounted colour information screen, BMW's top-of-the-line motor encourages you to take your eyes off the road long enough to plough into a solid object.

The iDrive controller's intended mission was to let 7-Series' owners adjust over 700 functions. How many? Quick! Name all the things you want a car to do: accelerate, brake, turn, play the radio, play a CD, raise and lower windows, maintain a comfortable temperature, lock the doors, um, tell you how to get somewhere, tell you when the next service is due, um, um, wipe the windows and turn on the lights. That's a dozen. Which leaves 688 things you never knew you needed to do while driving that you can now do in a Seven Series by twisting and pushing the iDrive controller.

How about assigning a function-air re-circulation, satellite navigation or automatic handbrake- to a steering wheel-mounted button? Or firming up the dampers and steering? Or finding the nearest curry house in Milton Keynes? Impressive stuff. Yet common sense suggests that anything that distracts a driver from monitoring the outside environment is a bad thing. A device that requires you to take one hand off the wheel while distracting you from the road ahead is positively Darwinian. BMW's previous 'comms pack' was dangerous enough: challenging you to enter 'Cwmavon' into the sat nav on the trot. The iDrive is in a different league: challenging you to check your tyre pressure in the middle of a skid.

It seems unlikely that the Seven's target market- slightly older than middle-aged plutocrats- will be bothered about using iDrive. They're the kind of successful, techno-wary people who pay someone else to do their email. They'll just get in, curse themselves for forgetting to put their foot on the brake when pressing the start button, fiddle with the stalk mounted gearshift for a bit, curse themselves some more for not pressing the button that releases the parking brake and, finally, drive off. And that's it.

BMW knows this. They have so much faith in the iDrive system that you can operate all the car's major functions without touching the controller. Traditional rotary knobs regulate airflow and temperature. All the usual buttons operate the windows, seats, central locking, defrost, etc. If BMW believed that iDrive was the intuitive future of driver control, why did they equip the new Seven with two CD players? Maybe it's because the dash-mounted single CD can be operated manually, while the six-stack system requires iDrive.

I have no doubt that BMW will 'rectify' iDrive- if only because an army of shysters stands ready to enrich the relatives of Americans who iDrive themselves straight into a tree. BMW has already announced it will offer yet another way to control the techno feast that is the Seven Series: voice activation. Disenabling the screen when the car's in gear would have been the easier solution: iNotinDrive. A simplified 'heads-up' windscreen display would have been the better answer. But I guess BMW doesn't want to play second fiddle to a Chevrolet Corvette.

Like the customers who will eventually use it, iDrive will either adapt or die. As my review of the Seven will reveal, the actual car-the bit that all this trickery is designed to control-is a superb work of automotive engineering. By adding an uber gizmo, The Boys From Bavaria have revealed a bizarre lack of confidence in and focus on their core values. The company that builds 'The Ultimate Driving Machine' is the one company that should know an over-complicated and dangerous distraction when it sees one. The iDrive is not, as BMW claims, 'A New Way to Drive'. It is, in fact, a new way to die.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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