BMW iDrive 8 adds big screens, digital key, data-based climate control

BMW on Monday released more details on its latest iDrive infotainment system. This marks the eighth generation since iDrive launched in 2001 on the BMW 7-Series. The iDrive 8 system launches in the BMW iX electric crossover later this year, followed by the BMW i4 electric sedan.

In the iX, iDrive will feature a massive curved display spanning most of the dashboard It will consist of a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 14.9-inch touchscreen mounted side by side. Both screens have a graphical resolution of 200 ppi, BMW said in a press release.

BMW retains the rotary knob that’s been a part iDrive since the system’s 2001 launch, but adds two-axis steering wheel controls that allow the driver to sift through menus by toggling horizontally or vertically. The controller is also now a clear puck instead of a black plastic dial. The displays also get three modes—Drive, Focus, and Gallery—that rearrange information. Drive is the default, Focus is meant for more intense driving situations, and Gallery minimizes driving information to create more space for other graphics.

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The next-generation iDrive system also gets the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant voice-control feature available in current BMW models. Updates include a virtual “face” on the dashboard display, which was chosen from over 100 possible designs, according to the automaker. That may sound creepy, but BMW believes it will create more of a connection between the voice assistant and vehicle occupants. An expanded data pool will also improve functionality, the automaker said.

BMW iDrive 8

BMW iDrive 8

A similar data pool will also inform the climate control system, which can only be operated using the touchscreen or voice recognition, according to BMW. The default setting will be based on data from more than 440 million customer trips, while air conditioning settings will also consider the number of vehicle occupants, where they are sitting, and the intensity and direction of sunlight. The system can also learn drivers’ personal preferences.

A digital key feature allows drivers to use their smartphones in place of a key fob, while BMW ID lets drivers transfer personalized setting between vehicles. The My Modes feature allows further personalization, encompassing everything from powertrain and chassis settings to display configurations and vehicle sounds—all selectable by voice command or via a button on the center console. The feature will launch with Efficient, Sport, and Personal modes, but others will be added later, BMW said.

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BMW launched over-the-air (OTA) software updates with iDrive 7 in 2018, but iDrive 8 will be able to perform more complex updates, such as adding driver-assist features, BMW said. Data is routed through a 5G connection, and cars will have more than 30 antennae to transmit data, according to the automaker. This will allow the iX to transmit a DVD’s worth of data in a little over a second, BMW said.

Previously known as the iNext, the BMW iX will be the first model to get iDrive 8 when it launches in the U.S. in 2022. Positioned as the technological flagship of the BMW brand, it will be available with up to 500 hp and a 300-mile range, plus next-generation driver-assist technology.

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