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BMW steering wheel: Buttons Explained

Bianka Rommel

Jun 17, 2022

BMW steering wheel: Buttons Explained

Everyone loves some state-of-the-art iDrive tech, right? But at times, you just gotta get real –

there’s not much use of a high-end BMW touchscreen when you’re speeding at 100 mph ;) 

As a driver you want to keep the control of your in-car systems quick and as intuitive as possible when at high speeds. In that regard, BMW steering wheel control is hands down unrivaled. 

But what features can you control with BMW steering wheel buttons? And are they enough during long cruises on a highway? We’ll go through the list of your control options and explain how you can leverage your driving experience with each.

BMW steering wheel controls

BMW started migrating core multimedia control functions from the dash onto the steering wheel over two decades ago. For owners of 1999 BMWs E46 it already meant the convenience of adapting the music volume through buttons right at their fingertips or accepting phone calls without having to reach into their pockets. 

20 years on, the multi-functional BMW steering wheel compressed a whole lot more control features, from adjusting your speed, through activating BMW voice commands and self-heating to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay control possibilities – all elevating your daily trips. 

Let’s see how the steering wheel buttons look like on a 2020 BMW X5 with iDrive 7.0 and standard Dynamic Cruise Control.

NOTE: The availability and placement of BMW steering wheel buttons may differ depending on your model and the technology package.  

Right side – BMW audio control

Starting off at the right side you’ll find audio control buttons.

Right side – BMW audio control

1. BMW volume control buttons – allow you to adjust the BMW navigation voice volume, the volume of your music and phone calls.

2. BMW radio selection buttons – allow you to skip songs and change radio channels.

3. Phone call button – helps you answer phone calls coming through Bluetooth or call the last person you spoke to.

4. Entertainment display button – makes it possible to display your playlist or the list of radio channels on the BMW head up display or if you lack it, on the digital cluster.  

5. BMW voice command button – engages the BMW Personal Assistant after a single press, or activates Siri/Google Assistant when long pressing the button.

6. The rocker switch – allows you to go through the tracks displayed on the BMW head up display.

Do BMW steering wheel buttons work with Apple CarPlay?

BMW knows folks love having their phone apps at hand, so giving them the possibility to access Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functions seemed like an obvious step. 

So how to skip a song on the BMW steering wheel when in Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mode? Just as you’d go through, select or display your radio stations on your BMW HUD or digital cluster, you can do the same with your Spotify or YouTube music tracks – with your right hand side buttons. And if you don’t want to shift focus from your BMW head up display to the road, just engage the BMW voice assistant button and let Google Assistant or Siri control your favorite CarPlay apps for you. 

With Siri/Google Assistant voice commands you can select playlists, call people, ask about weather conditions or the nearest gas stations, set navigation destinations and even dictate messages on WhatsApp – all at a single press of a steering wheel button and a quick call out “Hey Siri”/ “Hey Google”.

How to enable Siri for Apple CarPlay if you don’t have one in your BMW? BimmerTech can unlock it for you with simple 15 minute iDrive coding.

Left side – BMW cruise control

Now that we’ve covered the multimedia controls, let’s take a look at the left side of the wheel and explain what is LIM on a BMW steering wheel or what does the rocker switch do.

The left portion of the BMW steering wheel is where you’ll find your cruise control buttons allowing you to lock the accelerator at your desired speed and take your foot off the pedal. 

This is how a configuration of these controls looks like in a 2020 X5 equipped with a standard Dynamic Cruise Control.

Left side – BMW cruise control

1. The speed gauge button – turns the cruise control on or off. When turned on it lights a green cruise control gauge on your BMW digital cluster.

2. The set button – allows you to set the constant speed when you reach the desired limit. 

3. The speed limit assistant button – won’t allow you to exceed the desired speed for a specific zone unless you initiate an extensive throttle input. 

4. The rocker switch – allows you to increase or decrease a set speed by 1 and 5 mph increments. If you’re equipped with BMW speed limit assist, the system will recognize that the speed limit has changed and will propose the new speed. To accept it, press the set button.

5. The cancel button – temporarily deactivates the BMW dynamic cruise control just as hitting the brakes. 

6. The resume button – allows you to return to cruising at the set speed.

Keep in mind that the BMW steering wheel in models equipped with either Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Active Driving Assistant or Ext. Traffic Jam Assistant will include additional cruise control buttons. You may take a look at them here:

How can BMW speed limit information improve your on-the-road safety?

Using cruise control straight from your BMW steering wheel is indeed handy and can be enjoyable when on the interstate, but roads and speed limits change fast, so it’s important to keep caution wherever you’re at. 

BMW Speed Limit Information will make it easy to be sure of the speed limit on every stretch of the road by adding a clear and easy-to-see indicator right beside your BMW speedometer. Even with no speed limit signs in sight, you'll still know when it's time to slow down, and when you’re free to push the throttle without picking up a ticket.

Center – How to turn on the heated steering wheel in a BMW?

How to turn on the heated steering wheel in a BMW

Heading over to the center portion of the BMW steering wheel you’ll see every driver’s favorite – the horn. Grand and loud speaks more than a thousand words in critical situations, and for some, even acts as a perfect replacement for a turn signal. 

BMW steering wheel heating button

Right beneath it, you’ll find a BMW steering wheel heating button, which, when pressed, activates the heating until manually switched off by another press or turning the car off for more than 15 minutes. In some BMWs this button is located on the left side of the steering column.

BMW M Performance steering wheel

That would be about it for standard steering wheel equipment… 

But if you’re in for some race track excitement, the electronic BMW M Performance steering wheel is there to deliver the ultimate thrill loaded GTA-like experience. Covering the M3 and M4 BMW models apart from the standard controls it’s equipped with an additional gauge display that shows off car performance data points depending on the driving mode you’re in.

Turn on the efficient dynamics and you’ll be shown the average fuel consumption, average speed, the efficient dynamic index and water and oil temperature that will allow you to keep your ECO driving style right on track. Jump up to a more aggressive BMW sport or sport plus mode and you’ll see a G-Force meter and gear shift indicator helping you maintain focus on the road rather than your rev counter. Lastly, shift to a race mode and you’ll be able to play with a lap timer, section mode, quarter mile race and more features enhancing the playful rivalry experience.

If you’re not an owner of an M-Sport BMW but want to feel like one, check how to make your BMW sportier on a budget.

What are M1 & M2 buttons on BMW steering wheel

The rest of M-Sport BMWs didn’t fall out of the line up when it came to steering wheel enhancements. Although theirs do not light up like a Christmas tree on a drag race they are equipped with two programmable M1 and M2 buttons giving quick access to the more aggressive M BMW settings. 

Each of these buttons can be configured in the BMW iDrive to a prefered driving taste – such as M1 for a back road and M2 for aggressive track events. Head on over to ‘My Vehicle’ menu and you’ll be able to set their parameters: 

  • DSC

  • M xDrive (Dependent on model)

  • Throttle mapping

  • Chassis stiffness

  • Steering weight

  • Transmission shift time and aggression

  • Head-up Display view

Check how to set those up in the video below:

How to adjust the BMW steering wheel?

But before you head on to a race, or even to a store for some groceries, hold up for just a sec and set up the basics first – like your steering wheel position. You don’t want to start doing that in the middle of the road cause your hands got wilted, right?

How to adjust the BMW steering wheel

To adjust your BMW steering wheel, reach out to the little switch on the left side of your steering column and push it back ( on older vehicles you will find a lever instead, which you have to press down). Now you can move the wheel to the preferred height and angle to suit your sitting position. Once you achieve the desired position pull the switch/lever back up to lock the wheel in.

How to unlock the steering wheel push to start BMW?

In some BMWs you may also find an anti-theft feature which locks your entire BMW steering wheel when the engine is turned off. It may indeed be handy when you’re not around, but when your engine is dead or you just don’t want to start it, towing your car gets problematic.

So how you unlock your BMW steering wheel with a push to start when the engine is not working is you push your auto start-top button once to turn on the electrical components of the car without putting your foot on the brake.

If you want your engine to start, put your foot down on the brake and push the auto start-top button once. The steering wheel should be unlocked. In some cars you may also need to wiggle the steering wheel a bit to both sides to help it unlock.

Found this article helpful? Or perhaps you want to hear more tips and tricks on the BMW steering wheel? Let us know down in the comment section. We’ll gladly get to know your ideas!

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