Ever since car infotainment systems started to become mainstream throughout the 2000s, BMW has consistently provided one of the better systems for connecting with your car.
Fast-forward to today and while other manufacturers have sharpened up their act, BMW remains steady with its latest iDrive system which runs BMW Operating System 7.0. Technically, this system is called "BMW Live Professional", however for simplicity's sake we'll refer to it simply as iDrive.
What is iDrive OS 7.0?
BMW’s iDrive is software that’s housed within the infotainment system. It controls a vast number of the car’s entertainment, navigation, communication, media controls and vehicle systems, but can also integrate seamlessly with a phone’s internet connection and even connect to the internet itself.
Traditionally vehicle occupants had to rely only on a rotary dial controller to interact with iDrive, but this latest version also makes use of the touchscreen, voice activated features and gesture controls to work with the computer.
Many new BMW touchscreens are complemented by digital instrument clusters which, while they’re primarily reserved for passive displays for things like speed, odometer and the tachometer, can be used as a quick-access screen for infotainment purposes.
Smartphone mirroring is all the rage right now and iDrive supports Apple CarPlay with OS 7. Support for Android Auto is said to be coming in 2020, but a specific date isn’t locked-down as yet. Smartphone mirroring can be used interchangeably with the native infotainment system but not simultaneously, as with other cars.
What is iDrive OS 7.0 like to use?
Familiarity is key with BMW iDrive. While other systems come and go, vastly reinventing themselves with each new iteration of car model, iDrive has walked the fine line between staying true to what it’s known for while also introducing new features alongside.
While it’s nice that BMW is placing more emphasis on touch, gesture and voice control, the rotary controller still remains king for quick navigation of the infotainment screen. Decisive and accurate, once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to cycle through menus and shortcut between screens.
Pairing a phone for the first time via Bluetooth is fairly painless, and recurring pairing is quick once you get back into the car. Annoyingly iDrive and Apple CarPlay aren't always congruous, switching between Bluetooth audio streaming and CarPlay music is difficult, so too is making calls with the native Communications tab when you're Apple CarPlay connected. It seems there’s no simple way to quick switch, and it's one or the other.
The layout of the customisable home screen now gives a quick-view of important systems like navigation, audio and communication, while other items are accessed in a column on the right hand side. Click into one of these options and the screen changes to a more familiar list style. Navigational commands using the rotary controller are satisfying to issue and you get the hang of the joystick aspect of the dial quickly.
Conversely, voice commands aren’t so good at identifying what you want to do – with the car asking again and again for you to repeat your request. It becomes frustrating to the point that you just forget to bother with it after a while.
Gesture control is better at understanding your intentions, but even still it takes time for the car to understand what you’re after and by that point you’ve already embarrassed yourself to your passengers and other motorists with your limbs flailing about. Bit of a gimmick – just easier to give it a miss. In any case, gesture control isn’t always available – the 3 Series we used to test iDrive 7 didn’t have it. We have seen it used in higher grade models like the BMW 8 Series, however.
BMW offers a number of apps to enhance its iDrive experience, which includes weather information, news, email and BMW Connected.
Maps are clear and easy to read, and destination entry is easily done by drawing your destination on the trackpad on top of the rotary dial. We’ve had hit-and-miss experiences with vocally commanding the navigation system.
For the ultimate customised experience, you can set up a driver profile to store all your preferred settings if different drivers are regularly getting in and changing things around.
Is there anything iDrive OS 7.0 is missing?
As a holistic infotainment system, iDrive pretty much has all bases covered. As mentioned, a notable omission is the lack of Android Auto support which will hopefully be rectified at some point this year.
It’s worth noting that while iDrive with OS 7 is now available on a number of new BMW models, it doesn’t reach every single car on the dealership floor. Notable current exceptions are the 5 Series, 4 Series, much of the X range apart from the X5, X6 and X7, and the BMW i3 and i8. As these models reach their mid-life updates and facelifts, it's likely iDrive 7 will be included.
How useful is iDrive 7 overall?
The latest version of BMW’s iDrive still holds out as one of the best infotainment systems on the market. Mercedes-Benz’s brand-new MBUX system and MMI from Audi have both become much better in recent years however, so there is less of an infotainment technology gap than there used to be - at least as far as premium German cars are concerned.
The customisability and connectivity achieved through iDrive is top notch, and although it’s a cliché, you really could consider an iDrive-equipped BMW as a mobile office.
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