What is BMW iDrive? Is it worth it?

BMW’s iDrive infotainment system has been around for over a decade now and has gone from a technology package that was initially criticised for being hard to use, to now being considered one of the best on the market.

iDrive first appeared on the BMW 7 Series back in 2001 and has been through several revisions since. All have a large knob situated on the centre console that controls a large central screen. The idea is to have the majority of the car’s functions available through one controller, as opposed to the myriad of buttons that were starting to appear on cars with lots of tech in the late ’90s.

BMW iDrive controls

All generations of iDrive have had a large turnable knob next to the driver, located roughly behind or next to the gear lever. In recent years this has been complimented by a series of buttons around the main controller, that offer shortcuts to certain features, and of course a ‘back’ button.

Being a BMW, the knob has an expensive feel and is finished with metal, but in more expensive models this can be replaced with a ceramic finish. Possibly the most interesting feature, however, is the glass top of the knob that’s actually a touch pad which can be used to input phone numbers and write addresses – handy when on the move.

BMW iDrive features

Although initially only in BMW’s more expensive models, iDrive is now standard on all its vehicles today including its popular 1 Series hatchback. However there are two versions – Business and Professional and, while some models come with the pricier Professional version as standard, in others it requires a pricey upgrade.

The main difference between the two is the smaller screen in cars in Business spec. A CD player, Bluetooth and USB inputs are all standard and, as of 2015, all new BMWs get satellite navigation. In the Business edition it does without with 3D graphics, traffic updates and web searching – no real tragedy.

Professional is standard on more expensive BMWs like the X5, 5 Series and 6 Series, but can also be added to any of its less pricey models for around £900. This upgraded version brings the fancier navigation (based on a 12GB hard-drive), but also an enhanced instrument panel, larger screen, BMW Assist package in case of accidents, internet connectivity and is also required if you want to get BMW Apps support for things like Facebook and Spotify.

BMW iDrive future

Typically with German car manufacturers, new technology is showcased on flagship models – in this case the new 7 Series. The upcoming version of iDrive brings with it the usual updates of quicker response times and improved graphics, but also two new input methods.

Probably of most interest for owners is the addition of touchscreen controls to the main screen, something that lots of buyers accustomed to smartphones have been crying out for for years. But there is also a gesture control function, so the user will be able to swipe away phone calls without touching the screen, and showing two fingers to the screen will navigate you home, apparently.

All these features will filter down to the next generation of BMWs, most likely starting with next year’s new 5 Series.

What next?

All BMWs now come with iDrive and sat nav as standard, so why not check out our reviews for the most popular models – the BMW 1 Series hatchback, BMW 3 Series saloon and BMW X3 SUV.

BMW 1 Series

Fun-to-drive small hatchback with an upmarket interior
£21,260 - £31,345
Read review Compare offers

BMW 3 Series

Smart saloon is one of the best all-round cars on sale
£25,580 - £41,435
Read review Compare offers


Medium-size 4x4 with lovely interior and smooth ride
£34,100 - £46,140
Read review Compare offers
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