Bottom line: BMW’s upcoming iX SUV and i4 sedan will feature the company’s latest iteration of iDrive, the popular infotainment system that premiered on its flagship 7-series model 20 years ago. The new version sees a major revamp of the hardware and software, including bigger, curved displays with higher resolutions, a redesigned center console with more touchpoints, and a plethora of features and personalization options powered by BMW’s Operating System 8.

When it comes to modern in-car dashboards and experiences, BMW’s attempt to keep up with the times might not be as aggressive as its German rival, though the increasing industry trend of dropping physical switches and knobs in favor of on-screen controls and touch surfaces is present here, as is the reliance on AI for automating tasks and offering advanced connectivity features for navigation, driver assistance systems and delivering OTA updates.

The main highlight of the new iDrive 8 system is BMW’s Curved Display that combines the driver’s 12.3-inch instrument cluster display and the center 14.9-inch touchscreen into a single panel with a resolution of 200ppi. This “floating” unit is angled towards the driver and will vary in size depending on the car model.

The iDrive’s characteristic rotary wheel has also been given a redesign and is still the “central control element” for the system, though other physical buttons and controls have been eliminated by almost half as a result of BMW prioritizing voice and touch inputs. Another noticeable change is the new slider control in place of BMW’s stylish gear stick.

In terms of the user experience, BMW says its new “Great Entrance Moments” feature will prepare the car as it senses the driver approaching by illuminating the cabin, door handles, and the trunk lid release for ease of access. It builds upon the Ultra-wideband (UWB) radio technology that Apple added to the iPhone 11 with the U1 chip. As opposed to the current NFC-based system, this new feature, called Digital Key Plus, will let BMW (and iPhone) owners unlock supported models without having to take out their phones.

iDrive 8 also supports 5G connectivity for downloading OTA updates and accessing HERE-powered live traffic data for navigation, charging, and parking. It can read weather info to adjust HVAC automatically and allows for personalizing the driving experience through the new My Modes feature. The first 5G-capable BMW will be the company’s upcoming iX SUV.

The system is a “major step” towards fully autonomous vehicles, says BMW CTO Frank Weber, noting that iDrive 8 has been designed to support both Level 2 (adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist) and Level 3 (conditional automation with driver intervention as needed) self-driving technologies. It will also build upon BMW’s ConnectedDrive Functions on Demand feature by letting users download variants of ‘My Modes’ and upgrade driving assist systems in the future.