For years, BMW has heard complaints from automotive editors and enthusiasts about its iDrive control system, the interface for accessing infotainment and car functions in BMW models. But with the introduction of the new 7-series, iDrive gets a radical transformation. We don't have too much to go on, mostly a picture of the new main screen for iDrive, in German, no less, and some details from the news release. The controller for iDrive remains the same, a big knob with joystick functionality. BMW adds to that hardware a set of dedicated buttons for immediate access to the radio, CD, navigation, and phone menus.
Although some would disagree, I never thought iDrive's problems stemmed from the controller, but from the software interface. Mercedes-Benz COMAND system uses a similar controller, but hasn't elicited the same level of complaint as iDrive. The software interface makes it much easier to use. From the picture released by BMW, the new main interface for iDrive shows a stack of menus that you can scroll through and select. The previous interface used four quadrants, which limits the amount of new function areas BMW could add, without shoehorning newer functions in odd places. The news release points out that "letters of the alphabet and numerals are arranged in circular form for more intuitive input of addresses and phone numbers." I have mixed feeling about this last point, as the circular menus for letter input on Audis and Hondas are a little tedious to use.
We will take a close look at the new 7-series when it makes its North American premier at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show this fall. For more pictures of the new 7-series, take a look at our preview photo gallery.