Oct 20, 2020
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. Find out more about what it is, how to keep it up updated, and the useful hidden features you might have missed:
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 BMW iDrive 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 iDrive 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.
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.
Thanks to the changes made to the interface from one iDrive version to the next, distinguishing between different generations is usually simple. As each iDrive version largely replaced its predecessor, you can also get an idea of which iDrive version you have by looking up your vehicle's model and production year. If you need any help, get in touch with us and we'll help you identify your iDrive head unit.
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 your BMW iDrive 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.
Retrofitting a new iDrive head unit can let you access all the latest features in your older BMW. Depending on your vehicle and its current hardware, as well as the iDrive version you intend to upgrade to, you may need to replace the whole iDrive system, or just a few components. Upgrade from CCC to CIC requires for example a complete hardware upgrade, including the head unit, screen, iDrive controller and trim. In return you get a much more advanced hardware and internet support. Find out more about BMW CIC iDrive.
Upgrading from NBT Evo ID4 to NBT Evo ID5/ID6, is on the other hand comparatively simple, as you may be able to retain several parts of your existing iDrive system. Making a more substantial jump will require far more extensive changes.
BimmerTech is ready to help you upgrade your iDrive, so you can get more from your BMW. For more information or for advice on the best upgrade path for you, don't hesitate to get in touch with our expert team.
Navigation is a key part of the iDrive system, making it easy to get from A to B. Roads and points of interest change all the time, though, so to make the most of your iDrive, it's important to keep your BMW's GPS maps updated.
Many of the latest BMWs include over-the-air (OTA) map updates, automatically downloading the latest map data using the car's built-in SIM card. In these cars, the process is similar to updating your smartphone to the latest iOS or Android version — your iDrive will download the data, and you'll only need to restart your car.
Vehicles that do not support OTA updates will require a manual upgrade. In the past, BMW navigation maps had to be updated by switching a DVD containing the map data. More recent cars store the data on a built-in hard drive, letting you update your map by overwriting the data on the hard drive. BMW lets you do this by inserting a USB stick with the new map data into your car's USB port.
Before buying a new BMW map, it's good to check which map version you require, which depends on your iDrive system. With your iDrive navigation open, use the settings menu to scroll to "Navigation system version", where you will see the region, version and year of your current GPS data.
A quick and easy way to tweak your car's capabilities is through BMW iDrive coding. Making small changes to the software underlying your iDrive system can unlock previously unavailable features that will add convenience and comfort behind the wheel. Possible modifications include:
BimmerTech can code your BMW iDrive via USB or cable, unlocking just the features you want for your vehicle. Our innovative processes mean you won't even need to leave home — the whole process can be completed in your garage or on your driveway, at a time that suits you.
Connecting your smartphone to your BMW over Bluetooth not only allows streaming music, but also makes it possible to access incoming texts and calls through your iDrive system.
To do so, your iDrive needs to support the Office feature, which also needs to be switched on. After pairing your BMW and smartphone over Bluetooth, go to your iDrive settings and navigate to the mobile devices page. A settings menu should let you switch Office functionality on and off. If the Office option isn't shown, your vehicle likely doesn't have the feature available, meaning you will not be able to access text messages on iDrive.
Before text notifications can be displayed on the iDrive system, it may also be necessary to adjust the settings on your mobile phone. On an iPhone, you will need to navigate to the Bluetooth menu and tap the "i" icon next to the BMW you are connected to, then activate the "Show notifications" option. Android devices may have different requirements to show notifications over Bluetooth, please consult your device documentation for more details.
If text messages still aren't displayed on your iDrive screen, it's possible that your phone doesn't offer iDrive support. BMW's website features a Bluetooth compatibility checker that lets you enter your vehicle and mobile device to check exactly which features are supported.
The BMW Connected app creates another layer of integration between your BMW's iDrive and your smartphone, going beyond just listening to music and reading messages. Using the BMW Connected app, available for iPhones and Android devices, you are able to access your BMW's vehicle settings remotely through your mobile device. All you need is a BMW ConnectedDrive username and password.
Before setting off on a trip, you can look up your destination and easily send directions straight to your iDrive navigation, so you don't have to set things up in the car. On hot days, you can also activate the air conditioning remotely, to bring your BMW to a comfortable temperature before it's time to leave.
The BMW Connected app also makes finding your way back to your car much easier. Activate GPS tracking in your iDrive system, and the BMW Connected app will show you exactly where your car is located, so finding your way back to it in a packed parking lot should be a breeze. You also have the option to remotely turn on the lights or honk the horn, giving a few extra ways to locate your vehicle.
Wherever you are, you can also check your vehicle's status, including fuel levels and whether the doors are locked. Forgot to lock up? Do it remotely through the BMW Connected app, without having to go out to your car.
The latest BMWs include support for Apple CarPlay, letting iPhone users connect their smartphones to their vehicles and use their favorite apps on the iDrive display. Android users, however, aren't so lucky; BMW is yet to add support for Google's in-car interface, though it is possible to retrofit Android Auto in your BMW with a third-party unit, like BimmerTech's Android Auto MMI Prime.
Android Auto lets you connect your Android smartphone to your iDrive, and use it to run popular Android apps like Google Maps, Spotify and WhatsApp. For added safety, you can even use Google Assistant to issue voice commands, letting you keep your eyes firmly on the road.
High-quality Android Auto units like BimmerTech's offer seamless integration with your BMW iDrive system, and also include support for Apple CarPlay for more flexibility.
To make things easier, iDrive stores profiles with user data. This data includes saved addresses, paired phones and your music collection.
Before selling a BMW or returning a leased vehicle, it's advised to delete all this information as part of a full BMW iDrive reset, to ensure it isn't accessible to the next owner. This can be done through the iDrive menu by going to the "Settings" menu, navigating to the "Profiles" section, selecting your profile(s) and opening "Options", where you will be able to delete all personal data.
Early iDrive versions were operated entirely or almost entirely by the rotating iDrive control knob, located between the two front seats. This controller could be used to navigate menus and input text by scrolling through the alphabet on screen.
As the complexity of iDrive increased, so did the need for more robust navigation and input methods. Additional buttons were added to the dashboard to allow quick access to popular functions, the advanced iDrive touch controller was introduced to allow tracing letters on a touchpad instead of using the rotary input method, and BMW iDrive voice control added an even more intuitive way to interact with your vehicle. It's possible to retrofit a BMW iDrive touch controller or activate the voice command feature in vehicles that didn't come with these handy options from the factory.
In many of the latest BMWs, you will even find a touchscreen. Whether or not a BMW has a touchscreen depends on its model, navigation version and production year. For example, a BMW F30 3 Series with Navigation System Professional (option S609A) has had a touch-enabled screen since the 2018 model year, whereas the same car with Navigation System Business (option S606A), or an older vehicle, will have a standard, non-touchscreen.
Even BMWs with a touchscreen retain other iDrive navigation and input methods, such as the rotary iDrive controller or voice control. Most drivers are likely to use several methods depending on the situation — touchscreen for entering a destination before setting off, the physical controller when driving so as not to take your eyes off the road.
For advanced users, iDrive also has a secret hidden menu, called the Service menu. This menu includes diagnostic information which may be used by a BMW technician.
Accessing it depends on your iDrive version. The process is slightly different for CCC iDrives (with the four-way Communication / Navigation / Entertainment / Climate home screen) than later iDrive versions.
To open the hidden menu in CCC iDrive, press the "Menu" button to reach the home screen, then hold the iDrive controller for at least 8 seconds. Afterwards, turn it three clicks to the right, three clicks to the left, one to the right, one to the left and one to the right, then press the controller knob again. The service menu will open.
To activate the hidden menu in CIC / NBT iDrives, press the "Menu" button to reach the home screen, then hold the iDrive controller in the up position for at least 8 seconds. Afterwards, turn it three clicks to the right, three clicks to the left, one to the right, one to the left and one to the right, then press the controller knob again. Your iDrive menu will show a new option, "Service menu", to open the hidden iDrive menu.
If you have any more questions about your iDrive and what changes you can make to get the most of it, please get in touch with our expert team.
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