It would seem that there are two truths to modern BMWs. One: iDrive is still confusing. Two: That silver, golf club-shaped shifter is a cumbersome nuisance. Yet the 12,000-plus miles I've logged in our long-term X3 have slowly made me realize that, amongst other things, these truths are wrong.
I'll admit it. The modern version of BMW's iDrive is my favorite all-in-one infotainment system. It masterfully combines all entertainment and navigation functions into a concise, modifiable, and easy-to-comprehend screen. Drivers can split the screen responsibilities, so that, for example, one side shows the map and the other shows what's playing on your iPod, album artwork and all. Switching between screens comes naturally through the four buttons surrounding the controller wheel. And while the screens don't switch with the flashiness of Audi's MMI, iDrive is less distractive because of it.
As powerful as it is, a beefy system like iDrive takes some time to start up completely. With some other luxury cars, this means that you are without a sound system and parking sensors/cameras for a few crucial moments on start up, but BMW uses neat little tricks that make this a nonissue. As soon as you unlock the car, the software begins booting up under a non-illuminated screen -- completely unnoticeable. It's such that if you're loading groceries or opening the passenger door for a female friend (being the gentleman that you are), by the time you start the engine, the system is already running. But what happens say you just jump in, fire 'er up, and need to make a quick escape out of a parking spot? The system prioritizes parking sensors and back up cameras first. There's no delay.
Now, the most heretical bit: the shifter, or "That Thing," as it's been referred to in this office. It works, and it works well. That odd shape fits my palm more agreeably than most gear knobs on manual transmissions, its lockout button resting right under my thumb and needing only slight pressure to push. Drive? Tug back. Reverse? Push forward. There's no second-guessing which detent means what gear, no fumbling through a maze-like path on your way to "D". The shifter is quick, efficient, and takes no thought to operate. Need to make a three-way turn? You don't have to use the lockout button when going from reverse to drive. Even better, when you put the transmission in sport mode, by pulling the shifter left, it makes upshifts by pulling back and downshifts by pushing forward, which is just the way I like it.
The shifter's problem -- and iDrive's, to a lesser extent -- is that they take some time to get used to. It's understandable why most people, after a brief drive, find these features awkward: They are different, and you have to adjust what you're used to doing in order to accommodate them. Owners, however, will find that these features accommodate back. And that's the only truth they need consider.
| Our Car |
| Months/Miles in service || 6/12,513 |
| Avg econ/CO2 || 21.4 mpg/0.91 lb/mi |
| Energy cons || 157 kW-hr/100 mi |
| Unresolved problems || Throttle lag |
| Maintenance cost || $0 |
| Normal-wear cost ||$0 |