Over the last few generations, BMW’s vaunted iDrive digital experience has become bloated and complex. Its lead in the marketplace has been lost and there are a handful of automakers that feel a generation (at least) ahead of BMW’s latest offerings. But that’s about the change in a major way.
The new iDrive you see pictured here isn’t a concept but an early look at the production version that will be coming to BMWs in just a few years. An entirely new concept, this new iDrive reimagines the idea of infotainment with an eye towards simplicity and a more driver focused experience. But maybe more importantly it’s the coolest thing we’ve ever seen in a car.
There are three key components to this innovative; a Central display with matrix backlighting and local dimming, the Panoramic Display and a 3D (augmented reality) heads-up display. All three are interesting but it’s the HUD and Panoramic Vision that feel unlike anything we’ve seen before.
The Panoramic Vision actually isn’t a screen but actually three separate 4K projectors that project light onto a black band at the bottom of the windshield. With projection BMW can use nothing more than standard automotive glass keeping product costs and potential rock-chip related repair bills down. This is all controlled by a multi-function steering wheel navigation pad with next generation haptics. Will it be easy to use? It’s a very straightforward D pad style input that anyone who’s played a video game will be familiar with.
The 3D HUD is a next generation project based HUD that operates as augmented reality putting navigation and guidance information on the road as you drive.
Experiencing the New iDrive
When I walked up to the Vision Neue Klasss for first time it wasn’t the yellow corduroy seats that I noticed right away. It was the parallelogram shaped display (with a matrix backlight and local dimming) that’s canted towards the driver. It’s a bold new move from a company that has steadfastly remained connected to a multi-function controller since iDrive 1.0. And while we will always prefer a center controller for safety, the added functionality and reliance on the display itself has pushed BMW UI designers away from the relatively simple iDrive interfaces of the past and into one that, through human centered design, reimagines everything.
The default mode we experience had the map on the right with various widgets on the left. But a driver can completely customize the layout and even the size of each widget,
The Magical Panoramic Vision
Then it gets really cool. Any of the widgets can be swiped up and INTO the Panoramic Vision. There are three widget areas so a swipe up to the left puts the widget directly into the driver’s field of view. Straight up places the widget in the center of the windshield and up and to the right moved it to the passenger side. It’s an ingenious system that, while technically complex feels utterly intuitive and simple.
This interplay between the experience zones is just one aspect of the system however. BMW is also introducing a 3D HUD above the Panoramic Vision, centered on driver. It will allow for augmented reality displays of information as a 3rd layer of experience.
The standout however is the Panoramic Vision in how it melds data and functionality into the driving experience. And there’s interactivity there as well. When widgets are moved to the Panoramic Display you can interact with them via a simple touchpad on the steering wheel.
BMW is committed to retaining some core physical controls like the volume knob and others as it moves ahead with this new iDrive. However the exact functionality to be controlled by these physical inputs they wouldn’t tell us.
Designers have also signed inputs and reactions to them to light in the cabin. So there are subtle lights that responds to inputs like temperature and volume changes. It helps to emphasize the interaction and also gives the car the feeling like it’s alive and at your beckon.
Emphasizing that last point, as you turn off the car and walk away the lights move to the left to guide your path. In reality it feels like you’re talking the light from the car as you leave – a really interesting touch.
Driving Experience At The Core
That’s the phrase that BMW experience designers kept coming back to. They wanted to create something that added modern functionality yet did so in a way that didn’t detract from the experience of driving. So much so that the center display is overtly angled towards the driver giving the interior a reference to BMW interior shapes of the E21, E28 and E30.
A key ingredient in making it all feel effortless is the technical architecture at the core of the system. BMW is using the latest Snapdragon processor which gives the new iDrive 20 time more computing power than the current generation. That speed makes it feel effortless to use centering the experience more on driving than engaging with the UI.
Figital – A Leading Philosophy Behind the Neue Klasse Digital Design
As you first sit in the Vision Neue Klasse the light begins to flow and connect from the center screen to the panoramic display finally ending with the dash subtly glowing. Similarly as you walk around the car (presumably with the key or a paired phone in your pocket) the center screen has a prism of light that then moves into the panoramic display.
This connection between digital moments and physical elements is what BMW calls Figital experience and it’s something they’re leaning into with the Vision Neue Klasse (and presumably future production BMWs).
It’s also about demonstrating how the car is always on and sensing its surroundings. For sentence as I first walked up to the car, the lights (integrated into the Kidney Grille) turn on and it seems to wake up. Walking to the door the I notice the lack of door handles. No worries as the e-ink in the driver’s side window blinks where I’m suppose to my hand to open the door. The result really is a feel that the car is alive and constantly aware of its surrounding and what I need as a driver.
The entire concept is made possible due to the right integration of software and hardware. The lighting, from the headlights to the e-ink to the taillights all work together seamlessly and feel as if they were one. This is due to clever programing surely but it’s made possible by ultrafast Snapdragon processors an innovative wiring harness (that’s 30% lighter than current versions) and a software stack that’s ultra efficient.
We tested a very early version of the new iDrive and Panoramic Display with the Vision Neue Klasse so we expect many changes. But the core concept felt incredible in person and is easily the most innovative in-car experience we’ve ever seen. Perhaps more importantly it’s not overwhelming despite the increased functionality and added experience it brings.
It’s made possible by a shockingly small and young team that operates like tech company inside of BMW. And the enthusiasm for the work and what’s to come is telling. And this team’s focus isn’t on chasing cool features but instead creating experiences that feel connected to BMW’s core brand tenets.
Ultimately BMW’s goal with the new iDrive and Panoramic Display is to make individual mobility more human, intelligent and responsible. They’ve learned from competitors and have been very bold in rethinking BMW’s 20 years of experience with iDrive.
Perhaps the best news? This team will be scaling these innovations across the entire BMW and even MINI line-up for future products. If they can pull it off and put just a touch of polish on what we experienced, there’s no questions BMW will be back at the forefront of innovation in the automotive world.
New iDrive debuts in 2025 Neue Klasse sedan.
All-new BMW iDrive coming to the Neue Klasse.
With the new BMW iDrive, BMW is bringing a display and operating concept to the next vehicle generation which enables a completely new intuitive interaction paradigm between the driver and vehicle. The next development leap will follow in the Neue Klasse from 2025. The future generation of BMW iDrive will transform the vehicle into a digital experience space. With BMW Panoramic Vision, a new multifunction steering wheel, the new central display and a new BMW 3D head-up display as central display and operating elements, the quintessential BMW user experience is being reinterpreted in all Neue Klasse models.
Logical progression of BMW iDrive with new technologies.
The next technological leap enables a modern, characteristically BMW interior design with a focus on touch and advanced voice interaction.
BMW iDrive in the Neue Klasse is characterised by four central elements.
BMW Panoramic Vision is based on a completely new head-up display technology. It projects information at a height perfectly matched to the driver across the entire width of the windscreen.
BMW Panoramic Vision is complemented by the new BMW 3D Head-Up Display for active driving situations, which displays the required information, such as assisted driving or traffic guidance, with high precision as 3D animations in the driver’s line of sight.
With the new multifunction steering wheel, the display contents of BMW Panoramic Vision and the BMW 3D head-up display can be individually controlled according to the principle eyes on the road, hands on the wheel. Operation is convenient and precise via the steering wheel buttons, and is enhanced by the active haptic feedback and multilayer technology.
BMW iDrive in the Neue Klasse focuses on the new central display with characteristically BMW styling and intuitive touch function. The matrix backlight technology of the new central display ensures a high resolution for the displays, vibrant colours and strong contrast, regardless of the specific light conditions.
The future BMW iDrive will continue to feature the QuickSelect concept introduced in 2023. The system in the Neue Klasse is based on a highly integrated software architecture and uses the next generation of the BMW Operating System. The vehicle’s smart connectivity with the BMW Cloud as well as the customer’s digital ecosystem creates an immersive user experience and brings a new dimension to the human-car interaction. It transforms the vehicles of the Neue Klasse into digital experience spaces.