Does it work: we test BMW's latest iDrive 8.0 infotainment

Published: 13 March 2022

► New BMW iDrive OS8 reviewed
► Debuted first in iX, then i4
► More connectivity, fewer buttons

It’s been a feature of BMW cabins for two decades, with regular upgrades in that time. But the latest version of the iDrive information, communications and entertainment system – dubbed BMW OS8 – is claimed to be a significant step forward, and arrives on a wave of buzzwords: intuitive, intelligent, proactive, adaptive… But what exactly is it, and is it any good? 

Underpinning the latest evolution of iDrive is BMW’s Operating System 8 – a new generation of processors, software, displays and controls. The first cars to be fitted with it are the electric iX and i4, and the 2-series Active Tourer.

As flagship infotainment systems go, it’s discreet. No full-width hyperscreens here – what you get is a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch central infotainment display, seamlessly joined to look like one ultra-wide screen.

You get to choose from four different ways of controlling various functions. You can go via the touchscreen, which feels the most natural for some interactions. You can use BMW’s new voice assistant. Gesture control remains an option best ignored. But it’s our old friend the iDrive scroll wheel that’s the most welcome carry-over from the previous system, great for making adjustments on the move without taking your eyes off the road.

However you navigate it, OS 8 is easy to find your way around. Whether you’re familiar with previous BMW systems or it’s all new to you, you won’t take long to get up to speed, as it’s so intuitively arranged. There’s a vertical menu system that makes as much sense on a touchscreen as it does on a scroll wheel. Information is presented via pin-sharp screens, albeit with an excess of polygons.

The factory sat-nav will learn your habits, anticipating the destination you’re heading to based on past behaviour – this works surprisingly well. You’ll be able to pay for parking or charging directly from the map, and over-the-air updates ensure you’ll always have the latest version.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, as is increasingly normal, but here they’re integrated in the best way we’ve ever seen – with maps viewable on the instrument panel as if they were part of BMW’s own software.

There’s not much we don’t like. The loss of physical heating and ventilation controls, including those for the heated seats, is a backwards step. And the voice assistant stumbles over some simple commands unless they’re phrased in a specific way.

BMW OS8: does it work?

Yes. Version 8.0 is a worthwhile iDrive upgrade, largely dodging gimmicks in favour of a combination of slick visuals and intuitive interaction. It’s well suited to the new EVs. But please, can we have heated seat buttons back?

BMW OS 8: how it works 

1) Keep on scrollin’

BMW iDrive rotary controller: still got it

Familiar iDrive rotary controller is more than just a throwback – it’s often easier than the touchscreen for making adjustments

2) Better than a TV

BMW's touchscreen is pin-sharp and has easy menu navigation

Pin-sharp screens change colour scheme with drive mode; easy menu system, too, but we miss physical heating controls

3) Interlopers welcome

BMW iDrive v8 includes a very deep integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Operating System 8 integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto more deeply than we’ve seen before

Read on for our news of when BMW OS8 was first revealed in March 2021

How BMW announced its iDrive v8, aka BMW OS8

BMW OS8, aka iDrive v8

BMW officially announced its iDrive version 8 back in spring 2021 – it’s the new operating system that will be used in every new car from the brand, starting with the all-electric iX SUV.

Naturally, the new OS is full of buzzwords designed to move the brand’s technology forward – it’s more connected in various ways, offers a more sophisticated voice assistant and offers more personalisation.

What is it all based on?

BMW’s new curved display – again, first seen on the new iX. Sizing of the screens may differ in future models but, for the iX, the display is essentially two screens linked together – a 12.3-inch one for the instruments and a larger 14.9-inch one used in the centre.

Frank Weber, head of development at BMW, says the new iDrive 8 has five ‘super-brains’ controlling the software, which allows between 20 and 30 times the processing power of iDrive 7.

idrive 8 map

One of the key benefits of this new system is better over-the-air update capabilities, with Weber pointing out that BMW will have the largest fleet of updateable cars on the roads by the end of 2021 – more than 2.5 million.

I still spot a rotary controller…

One of the few things that remains from previous generations, the iDrive’s tactile rotary controller lives on. But more functions have been moved to the screens, including the air-con. BMW says that it thinks users actually use ventilation controls so infrequently that it can get away with not incorporating separate switchgear for the ventilation controls.

idrive rotary

While individuals can set these controls via the screen, BMW also points out that iDrive 8 will actually automate as much of the climate control as it can, based on data from more than 400 million journeys around the world in BMWs. If it’s cold, the seat, steering and air heating will turn on automatically, for example.

How else can I control it?

By voice, for a start. That in itself is nothing new, but BMW says it has developed a new, more natural voice assistant akin to Merc’s MBUX. You can name the assistant whatever you like, and appears like a bunch of orbs on the screen when it’s awake. It distinguishes who is asking it and from what seat of the car, and respond to that area more accurately.

idrive voice

Gesture control, a gimmick of iDrive 7, has taken a back seat, with Weber saying it’s ‘not a primary way’ of controlling the car and only useful for certain functions. You’ll still be able to twiddle your fingers to turn up or down the audio volume, or answer a call with it, but BMW is focusing more on voice control here.

How is it more personal?

On top of the voice assistant recognising individuals, the new OS introduces BMW ID, locked via a PIN. The account is set up via the My BMW app, and the car responds personally to each person with an ID account. When they get in the car, their personal settings (like climate preferences) are applied.

idrive 8 dials

There is also something called ‘Great Entrance Moments’. Ultra-wideband radio tech means the car will unlock when you get within 1.5 metres of it, slowly switches on both the exterior and interior lights and activates the climate control to your personal preferences.

Along with this, iDrive 8 introduces My Modes. Gone are the usual BMW drive modes of EcoPro, Comfort and Sport, replaced with Efficient, Sport and Personal. They still work roughly the same way; Efficient will be designed to maximise fuel and/or electric range, Sport is for driving situations that require sharper handling dynamics and Personal allows you to tweak parameters to your liking.

Read our BMW reviews

By Tom Wiltshire

Bauer Automotive staff writer; enjoys Peugeots, naturally-aspirated diesels, column shifts and steel wheels