Introduced in 2001, the BMW iDrive infotainment system went through a series of iterations. Like most infotainment systems, iDrive offers a centralized interface capable of controlling the car’s secondary systems. Each function can be accessed with a single control knob, but later models also feature a range of programmable buttons.

In 2014, BMW updated iDrive to include ConnectedDrive, a software interface to the larger iDrive system. ConnectedDrive uses iDrive technology but uses touch controls instead of rotary knobs and buttons.

Here we take a look at the various features and functions of the BMW iDrive.

Information about the iDrive system

BMW iDrive info screen
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

When iDrive was first introduced, it ran on the Windows CE operating system. Later versions relied on a real-time operating system called Wind River VxWorks. In 2016, BMW introduced the Professional NBT EVO system, which resulted in a hardware and software overhaul of the system.

Owners of vehicles with iDrive can visit the BMW support site to download iDrive updates. These updates can then be downloaded to a USB stick and installed via the vehicle’s USB port.

iDrive control knob

bmw idrive control knob
Benjamin Kraft / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The main idea of ​​iDrive is that the whole system can be controlled with one handle. This allows the driver to access various secondary systems without having to take their eyes off the road or fumble for buttons.

When iDrive was first released, critics complained that it had a steep learning curve and suffered from input lag. These issues were fixed through a combination of software updates and redesigns in later versions.

Beginning with the 2008 model year, iDrive added several buttons in addition to the control wheel. These buttons acted as shortcuts and the control stick was still used to access all of the vehicle’s additional systems. Each button on these versions of iDrive is also programmable to access a specific feature, screen, or even a radio station. With the advent of ConnectedDrive in 2014, the system introduced touch controls.

BMW Rotary Controls

Entering BMW iDrive data on the screen
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

Most of the controls in the iDrive system are designed to work with the stick, which makes it easier to navigate without taking your eyes off the road.

To make the system easier to use, all communication systems, GPS navigation, entertainment and climate control were tied to the main line. On models that did not include the navigation option, the on-board monitor display computer replaced the navigation system on the dial.

When text input is required, such as searching for a point of interest (POI) on the navigation system, the alphabet is displayed as a ring. This allows you to select letters by rotating and pressing the knob.

iDrive Navigation Screen

BMW iDrive navigation screen
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

The iDrive widescreen display is capable of displaying information from two different sources at the same time. The smaller part of the screen is called the auxiliary window.

While navigating, the help window can display directions or location information, while the main window shows a route or a local map. The auxiliary window can be switched to display route information if the driver opens the radio or climate control on the main screen.

Search POI iDrive

POI search for BMW iDrive
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

iDrive versions with built-in navigation also include a searchable POI database. This database includes a number of categories.

Early versions of the iDrive POI database required the driver to search for each category separately. This design choice was poorly received as it required drivers to take their attention off the road while figuring out which category to look for. Later versions of iDrive allowed the driver to query the entire POI database without specifying a category.

If your iDrive system still has limited search functionality, you may contact your local dealership’s service department for possible system updates. It is also possible to download the update and install it yourself via USB .

iDrive Traffic Alerts

BMW iDrive motion warning screen
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

In addition to basic navigation functions, iDrive can provide traffic alerts. If the system detects a traffic problem on the selected route, it will issue an alert so the driver can take action to avoid it.

These alerts show you how far away the traffic is and how long to wait for the delay. The iDrive navigation system is also able to calculate alternative routes, which can be accessed by selecting a detour option.

iDrive Vehicle Information

BMW interior stuck in traffic
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

Since iDrive is designed as an infotainment system, it can also display various vital information about various primary and secondary systems.

The vehicle information screen is capable of transmitting information from the on-board diagnostic system, making it easy to track oil levels, service recommendations and other important data.

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