BMW will continue to offer a rotary controller for its infotainment system in certain models, even as some rivals are dropping theirs.

BMW interior designer Stefan Frick told Auto Express that the iDrive rotary controller will continue to appear in vehicles where the touchscreen is further away from the driver.

“You have to think about the architecture of the car and the ergonomics. If the screen is not close enough it makes no sense [to remove the rotary controller], he said.

The redesigned 2 Series Active Tourer was revealed without a rotary dial, while at the other end of the size spectrum the new 7 Series and i7 will still feature one.

Both of these vehicles run the latest iDrive OS8.0 infotainment software.

“In the 2 Series [Active Tourer] it’s a different architecture, and the screen is pretty close – it’s quite convenient to control with touch,” said Frick.

“We still stick with the iDrive controller, especially with this model [the 7 Series]. We have a 20-year history of iDrive controller.”

Frick’s remarks suggest models like the next-generation X1 will do without a rotary dial as it’s expected to have an interior similar to the Active Tourer’s, while larger fare like the next 5 Series will continue to use it.

The first-generation iDrive rotary controller was launched in 2001 with the E65 7 Series, and initially received much in the way of criticism from members of the automotive press.

Shortly after its launch, BMW flanked it with some shortcut buttons and successive generations of BMW iDrive have continued to see the system finessed.

Though BMW introduced touchscreens last decade and has continued to expand its voice command technology, the rotary controller remains an intuitive means of navigating the system.

In contrast, Audi has been progressively removing its MMI rotary controller from its cars while adding touch functionality to its infotainment screens.

In the switch from COMAND to MBUX, Mercedes-Benz has also done away with its rotary controller. And while Lexus never had a rotary controller, it’s removing its controversial trackpad and rolling out touchscreens and expanded voice prompts across its vehicle range.

Alfa Romeo continues to put a rotary controller in its cars, while Genesis’ latest generation of products feature a slick, knurled metal dial. Both of these brands also feature touch functionality for their screens.

William Stopford

William Stopford is an automotive journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. William is a Business/Journalism graduate from the Queensland University of Technology who loves to travel, briefly lived in the US, and has a particular interest in the American car industry.

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