According to a study by U.K.-based auto news outlet Whatcar, iDrive is the least distracting infotainment system. In the comparison, which analyzed twenty different vehicles and their infotainment systems, iDrive with Live Cockpit Professional in the G20 3 Series came out on top. The range of models considered was widely varied, with competitors from across the spectrum of price and prestige in the running, and perhaps most importantly, cars from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche, and Lexus.

The testing wasn’t just concerned with infotainment, as some of the procedures included changing the climate control temperature and fan speed. In modern BMW models, these functions have dedicated buttons below the main iDrive display, but in other cars, you have to navigate and toggle through a tree of menus to accomplish something so simple. The buttons in the 3 Series might be on the small side, but at least they’re present, as opposed to occupying an obscure iDrive menu screen like they were in the E65 7 Series.

Some of the other tests were primarily focused on GPS route navigation, including viewing summary map overview, and cancelling guidance. Switching radio stations was another task, something that isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be when we relied upon a knob or dedicated set of tune or seek buttons. Finally, to separate the wheat from the chaff, voice control came into play, with the test procedure dictating that the system needed to be used to find the nearest service facility.

A big selling point of BMW’s iDrive and Live Cockpit setup, according to Whatcar‘s analysis, is the ability to control it using the iDrive control knob, which is now larger and more pleasing from a tactile standpoint than ever before. Yes, the latest iDrive systems let you manipulate things with gesture control, and yes, you can simply tap or pinch-to-zoom on the screen too now, and yes, the top of the iDrive controller is a touch pad, but Whatcar says simply turning the knob or using the dedicated buttons that surround it makes things quick and easy.

In the voice control department, BMW also shined. This was thanks to its Siri-like Intelligent Personal Assistant, which started appearing in BMWs for the 2019 model year. It’s as easy as saying, “Hey BMW” (sound familiar?) to call up the system and have your questions answered or tasks completed.

The reasoning behind the in-depth analysis of twenty different infotainment systems is intriguing. Hands-free phone use laws exist in most of the developed worked now, and have been enforced in places like California for well over a decade. As vehicle navigation systems, head units, and radios have become more advanced than ever over the past ten years, in-car distraction may have migrated from our palms to the array of screens (and maybe even the heads-up display) before us. An updated version of BMW’s since replaced CIC-generation iDrive is smart enough to read text messages from a connected iPhone to a driver, and things have only increased in capability and complexity in the time since. Using your phone while driving typically carries a decent fine, but what about getting sucked into the nav screen as the two tons of steel you’re piloting hurtles down the road?—Alex Tock

[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]

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