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Photos: New BMW iDrive first look

At the 2008 Paris Motor Show, we get our first chance to look at BMW's new iDrive configuration. The menus seem usable, but we don't know enough French to understand them.

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CNET Reviews staff
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BMW debuted the newest version of its 7-series at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. Although the car features significant changes in styling (notice that front grille?) and engine choices, we immediately climbed in the cabin to get a look at the new iDrive system. We had only seen one picture of it previously, but it looked as if it might take away our biggest, and only serious, criticism about BMW models.
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Previous iDrive controllers only use the joystick/knob and one or two buttons. BMW added some quick access buttons to the new controller for navigation, the telephone system, CD, and radio. We found these buttons well-placed, and it was fairly easy to memorize their positions. The knob is also updated--it moves more easily than the past version.
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It might not look as elegant as the previous iDrive main menu, but this new system is much more functional. The previous menus was divided into four quadrants, one for each major function area. But that scheme limits how many function areas you can have. This simple menu in the new system is very easy to scroll through. Once you highlight an item, you can select it by pushing the knob in. Of course, this version is in French, as it was on display in Paris.
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This submenu shows the rotary selection scheme repeated, with fewer items. You can also see that BMW has maintained the Assistance Screen, to the right of the main screen.
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This screen shows how you input names, with a rotary scheme for selecting each letter. Audi uses a similar scheme for selecting letters, and we've always found it tedious. The new iDrive system suffers the same problem. Hopefully the voice recognition system will make up for it.
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We also noticed that BMW updated the switchgear on the steering wheel, using this plus/minus toggle switch. There's a similar switch on the opposite spoke for adjusting audio volume.

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