Special Coverage

Convergence

DETROIT – The iDrive controller on the previous-generation BMW 7-Series is among the most maligned automotive electronic devices in history, but it’s much better on the new '09 model. Really.

Preh Inc., BMW’s new supplier of the iDrive human-machine interface, is showing off the redesigned iDrive at the Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference here, along with other 7-Series components such as the new controller in the middle rear console and the front center stack controls for audio and climate functions.

Similar in function to the MMI controller that Preh supplies to Audi AG vehicles, the new iDrive features seven separate buttons and/or rocker switches to provide fast and direct access to core functions and menu prompts.

One of the key gripes with the original iDrive is that complicated software turned accessing even basic functions, such as changing the radio station or turning off the traction control, into a dance of the seven veils with the control knob and numerous other functions layered in the software.

The new system allows the driver to access basic functions with a quick push of a button or tilt of the center control knob.

The audio and climate-control systems also are decoupled from the iDrive system, so they can be operated by simply pushing buttons and turning knobs, like in the good old days.

Ward’s recently spent a full day test-driving the '09 7-Series in Europe and can attest the new system is a huge improvement in simplicity over the old, although perhaps still not perfectly intuitive for non-Masters of the Universe who drive the car.

Nick Lontscharitsch, Preh senior vice president-marketing and sales, also is crowing about a nice piece of high-volume business the supplier won recently: the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning control heads for the '09 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

“Preh not only developed the hardware but the entire climate-control software,” Lontscharitsch says. “The development time was very short, only 12 months, and included full validation during comprehensive test drives.”

Preh had sales of $440.5 million in 2007.

dwinter@wardsauto.com