Not long ago I owned a BMW 2 Series and, while the car was excellent, the infotainment system was severely lacking.
Sitting in the BMW 3 Series with iDrive OS7.0 there’s quite a bit to pay attention to, including how much it pays attention to you now.
The instrument cluster has dropped the analogue dials for a large 12.3-inch display. The speed and tachometer line the sides in an oblong design that takes getting used to – you actually find yourself ignoring them entirely and focusing on the speed in the head-up display instead.
We love the added navigation elements in the display and the small changes that can be made, but would love the option to use the display for what it is: a blank canvas.
Other manufacturers allow you to turn the display into a full map and leave small dials or numerical readouts of your speed and other information. Others make the views change based on driving mode. Fortunately, BMW could (and should) still do this with an over-the-air update.
Casting your eye to the centre console quickly you’ll find the start button which is no longer near the steering column. The familiar iDrive navigation dial is available, slightly larger than before, and remains one of the best ways to control an infotainment system.
Sure, you could reach out and use a touchscreen, but it’s much more comfortable to just flick the controller. The dial is surrounded by shortcut keys for navigation, media, and more should you choose to be even more efficient.
Gaze on the 10.25-inch central display and you’ll find a familiar BMW design, albeit on that has taken major steps forward. Customisation is the first thing you notice. You can tailor the main display to show your most used functions, place news headlines in one section, your current podcast in another and the weather elsewhere.
The connected car experience is well done here, allowing you to look at the news through various well-presented sections on the display, have the headlines read, and see rich images for context.
The weather reports look excellent, and use the car’s location or a pre-programmed destination as an option. The BMW navigation system is easy to use. It gathers traffic information for more efficient trips and you can use voice, the rotary controller, or the touchscreen to enter your destination.
The camera system on the vehicle covers all bases, with 360-degree views which will surprise you. You’re able to see the car from different angles, as though you were standing outside looking in.
This is incredible sorcery, with software stitching enabling the cameras to present this view. The ability to view any part of the car from any angle means those 19-inch wheels should remain scratch-free for life, no excuses.
While you could use Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa from your smartphone, BMW has its own personal assistant built into the vehicle. It has some functionality your smartphone helpers can’t match.
Asking BMW to set the air-conditioning, control navigation, and manage your music is the start. You’re also able to ask BMW to help you relax, which changes the ambient lighting, adjusts the temperature, and even plays soothing music. Not a bad way to end the day.
If the 3 Series had massaging seats it would have triggered at the same time also. The assistant extends to an app on your smartphone allowing you to control climate, music, navigation and more remotely.
You can share navigation instructions before you get into the vehicle, or allow backseat drivers to add a destination along the way… if you’re feeling generous.
Wireless Apple CarPlay comes free with the BMW 3 Series, a big improvement over the bad old days where it was subject to an annual fee.
Wireless CarPlay is an excellent convenience, as you can keep your phone in a pocket or your bag and still make calls, send texts, and play your favourite tracks hands-free. You have access to a wireless phone charger which means you can charge your phone at the same time, too.
We were surprised that upon connecting an Android smartphone there’s no access to Android Auto. BMW is currently rolling it out, but it’s not yet widespread – and only supports a limited number of phones, not the full Android spectrum.
While a wireless charger is available up front you’ll still find a 12V socket and USB-A slot, while the centre storage compartment houses a USB-C connection – you’ll find two more at the back.
This shift in port types is evidence BMW has focused on the future as most phones, except Apple phones, have moved to this new standard. Strange the infotainment system isn’t as accommodating.
It certainly feels like the start of a new era for BMW when it comes to infotainment and the technology available to the driver.
When BMW is showcased during a global Apple event, you notice. The addition of large displays means BMW has the space to do great things with them. The instrument cluster is something it can tweak and enhance over time, and we hope it does.
The BMW assistant and connectivity options are fantastic, but it’s sad BMW wants features such as CarPlay to be an added cost, and still doesn’t support Android Auto across its range. When I sold my 2 Series with the older version of iDrive buyers said the lack of CarPlay was a deterrent.
Could it be the same when this car is looked at without Android Auto?