Sometimes simpler is better. But in BMW’s attempt to simplify the technology in the iDrive they have made it more difficult. Replacing numerous buttons with one large one has made accessing CD or radio and volume control a multi-step process.
One of my buddies set out to buy a new car to replace his aging B6 A4 sedan. Though he wanted to maintain his Audi love and loyalty, he was disappointed after trips to the dealership where he found no Audi to suit his needs, i.e. an A5 with a 4 cylinder 2.0T. He ended buying a new 2008 BMW X5 and the selling point, besides the killer lease deal and build quality, was the near endless list of technological do-hickeys and feature gadgets for the price. After he purchased the X5 he promptly came over to my house for the ceremonial car show-off. It was in the driveway that we underwent a long debate regarding Audi vs. BMW. One of his arguments was the technology that BMW had and he was keen on showing me all the bell s and whistles.
Fast forward one month. I then drive my Audi over to his house where he is washing his X5 in the driveway. Besides the normal complaints of how washing an SUV is a lot harder than a sedan, he happens to mention that he is getting carpal tunnel syndrome from simply trying to adjust the bass in his sound system using the iDrive button (think Nintendo Contra cheat code – up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right). Though turning the iDrive wheel is smooth, it requires so much force just to push it left or right, up or down or in. His long-winded list of technological goodies has turned into a long list of annoyances which he therein dissects from actual, theoretical and philosophical points of view. My journalist mind automatically thinks headline: “When iDrive Drives You Crazy.” Some are slightly insignificant such as no visual volume indicator which he likens to “like you don’t want to be bothered with information” to the more significant of the motorized steering wheel. Every time you enter or exit the vehicle the steering wheel moves out of the way – not a good idea when you are trying to use the wheel to get in and out of the car, plus an added worry of what will happen when those gears get old and sticky. He tried to look in the telephone book sized manual to find a way to turn off the steering wheel adjustment with no avail.
Don’t get me wrong...I love technology and some is welcomed like Bluetooth and navigation. But when too much is crammed into one vehicle it can become a hindrance rather than helpful. And when it takes four steps to achieve the same goal as one button would have done the job it becomes a distraction. BMW’s touch sensitive programmable buttons that when you glide over them they tell you what they are, are not a solution to alleviate the problem. Since there is no CD button, my friend programmed the CD change function to one of the programmable buttons. Upon pushing the programmed button the screen will go to CD then unexpectedly revert to another screen, like trip computer. Then to get back to the CD screen you have to go through the iDrive’s multi-step process. Even the programmable steering wheel buttons to scroll through media types don’t solve the problem. “I don’t want to have to scroll through 5 options when I can just push the CD button on any other car” my friend says. He did give kudos to BMW since they were kind enough to put an AM/FM button on the dash...I guess the radio people won the vote at that meeting. My friend remains optimistic, however, that in the new generation iDrive there is a CD button.
The concept of technology might be better than in practice. The iDrive is great... for rarely used features, but for features that are used often, the simple push of a button is best. Call me old-fashioned but it’s worked for the last fifty years and if it ain’t broke why fix it?