The iDrive Dial Will Live On, But Only In The Biggest BMWs

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BMW’s iDrive interface is like cilantro — some people love it while others believe it tastes like soap. But iDrive has been curiously missing on some of the brand’s newer models, like the 2 Series Active Tourer. It figures to miss the X1 as well. If you thought that meant the polarizing puck wasn’t long for this world, think again. BMW’s just decided to be a bit more discerning with when and where it’s used.


Stefan Frick, interior designer for the brand, told British publication AutoExpress that iDrive will live on in the company’s larger vehicles — like the complicated, conflicted-looking7 Series — where the driver might struggle to reach a touchscreen:

“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, adding, “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.”

Of course BMW makes quite a number of big vehicles these days, from its latest flagship sedan to the X7 and the forthcoming XM — which is still kind of hard to believe is actually happening. The company is so good at setting the internet on fire every time it posts a rendering that its worst design crimes barely stay in our collective memory for more than two weeks. That’s probably part of the strategy.

Like many readers, I’m an advocate for physical controls. But rotary dial-based interfaces tend to seem too cumbersome to me, mainly because they’re typically linked to scrolling lists with tons of menu items that are hard to read and interact with while piloting a vehicle at speed. Modern infotainment software contains so many capabilities and is so complex that I find a dial just isn’t versatile or intuitive enough to handle the task. In fact, I’d rather use a decent touchpad, like Acura’s, over the iDrive knob. I related that opinion to my Jalopnik coworkers yesterday and not a single person agreed with me, which led to an entertaining 20 minutes in our Slack.

Nevertheless, touchscreens can definitely be annoying from an ergonomic perspective — especially in cars where the height and position of the display relative to the driver isn’t well planned. That’s exactly the problem in my Fiesta ST, a car that was initially built without a touchscreen. That hatch is the size of an affordable Manhattan apartment and even still, touching the panel necessitates an awkward, distant reach.

BMW’s problem is more that some of its vehicles are too big to stretch an arm across the front row without having to lean forward out of the seat. My solution to that dilemma is that the company should exclusively make reasonably sized cars; incidentally, that’s one of many reasons BMW would never hire me to make any decisions. I suppose keeping iDrive around just for the roomier members of the roster is the best compromise.

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