The secret of 7th heaven is iDrive


The real fascination of the 7-series is iDrive. The old 7-series was famous as the most advanced car of its day, with as much processor power as took the first men to the Moon. This new one could probably get you to Venus.

The iDrive control centre is a large central knob, positioned where a conventional gearshift might be, and there's a dashboard screen, the control display. The alloy-finished knob is the 7's equivalent of a computer mouse.

It moves in eight compass-point directions to select from eight menus. Turning or pressing the knobs selects the individual functions from each on-screen menu. It's as simple as that - or, if you don't understand such things, as intimidating.

The good news for luddites is that you can ignore it altogether and still drive the car, work the audio system, adjust the air conditioning, or even use the telephone, all of which have conventional alternative controls. Through the iDrive interface, you can control up to 270 functions and sub-functions manually or, optionally, by second-generation voice activation.

The eight compass points are: communication (telephone now, BMW online Internet later), on-board data, navigation, help, entertainment, settings, climate and BMW Assist. Some functions are standard, some optional, but that's the range. Most are self-explanatory, often familiar, but iDrive offers more features and a different access mode from any previous system. Only by learning it all, will the driver ever fully exploit the 7.

Probably the cleverest is Settings which allows the driver to change how the car behaves. Its menu includes variable suspension and steering settings (comfort or sport) through optional electronic damper control and ActiveDynamic Drive suspension.

This lets you vary the traction control functions for different conditions, such as snowy or icy surfaces. You can also programme the push-button parking brake to operate automatically as you come to a halt, and disengage as you move off.