What is BMW iDrive? – Since its debut in the BMW E65 7 Series in 2001, iDrive has spread to all modern BMW models. The platform also underpins the infotainment system found in Rolls-Royce vehicles and, under the brand name “Connected”, can be found in current-generation MINIs.
The concept is simple: take as many secondary vehicle controls as possible — music, navigation, climate control etc. — and put them all in one place, right in the middle of the dashboard. This means you have a single, cohesive way to access all your car’s features and settings, but can make it difficult to keep track of everything your vehicle is capable of, particularly without a BMW iDrive manual.
We take a look at a few of the questions a lot of people have about iDrive, whether they’re having BMW iDrive problems, or they’re considering buying a new BMW, to help you understand exactly what iDrive has to offer.
What is BMW iDrive?
iDrive is BMW’s native infotainment system, through which drivers can access a range of content on the dashboard screen. This content includes vehicle settings and journey data, as well as more typical infotainment features, such as navigation, music and communication.
The system is a combination of hardware and software. On the hardware side, the two most obvious components are the iDrive display (VividScreen), mounted on the dashboard, and the rotary controller used to move around the on-screen menus. Scattered around the driver’s cabin can also be found supplementary pieces of equipment, including buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel, a microphone for voice control and, in vehicles with the latest BMW iDrive versions, cameras supporting gesture control.
All this hardware is used to run BMW’s dedicated iDrive software, which, like the operating systems we’re familiar with from our phones and computers, has seen a number of different versions through the years. It is the software that determines much of the user experience, including menu layout and feature set through different BMW iDrive apps. In some cases, it’s possible to run different software versions on the same iDrive hardware; cars with an NBT Evo head unit can switch between ID5 and ID6 versions with quick BMW iDrive coding.
iDrive can be compared to similar infotainment offers from other auto manufacturers, including Mercedes’s MBUX, Ford’s SYNC and FCA’s Uconnect.
Which BMW iDrive do I have?
Like other technology devices, iDrive has gone through several progressive stages. Over time, more features have been added to the iDrive system, and the visual interface has been modernized and improved. Whereas older iDrive versions featured menus to scroll through, the latest iterations include layouts made up of dynamic tiles. As well as looking more contemporary, these layouts also make it easier to get the information you need at a glance.
The major iDrive versions are CCC, CIC, NBT, NBT Evo and MGU. Other head units, including CHAMP, EntryNav and EntryNav Evo, have also existed simultaneously, generally as an entry-level option.
Can BMW iDrive software be updated?
Most BMWs will still feel pretty fresh even a decade after production, but the same probably can’t be said of iDrive. Technology moves so quickly that it only takes a few years for a system to start lagging behind, so the iDrive in your brand new BMW could be outdated in a few key areas before your lease is up.
One area where issues come up particularly quickly is smartphone connectivity. With each year’s models from the likes of Apple and Samsung adding more new features, it’s likely that your old iDrive won’t be compatible with everything your phone has to offer. In newer BMWs, for example, after pairing your smartphone with your car it’s possible to call Siri or Google Assistant using the voice command button on the steering wheel. Older vehicles, produced before the rise of virtual assistants, won’t have that feature available.
In some cases, a simple BMW iDrive software update could be enough, if there’s a compatibility issue between your existing BMW and a new smartphone. Your dealer may be able to update your iDrive firmware next time you take your car in for a service.
In other cases, though, the only way to update the system is by replacing it with a new and improved version. Apple CarPlay, for example, was launched in 2014, and only made it to BMWs for 2017. A software update won’t be able to add CarPlay support but retrofitting a CarPlay-compatible iDrive head unit in your BMW will. These kinds of iDrive updates are not offered by BMW, but a third-party company like BimmerTech can help with a full BMW iDrive upgrade.