BMW's Reversing Assistant: does it work?

Published: 21 May 2019

► BMW's reversing tech tested
► Reversing Assistant turns back time
► Tried on a new 8-series

Here's the scenario: your garage is at the end of a narrow, winding path without space to turn around, meaning you have to reverse the whole way down it every day. Or maybe you're on a slender, twisty country lane and meet an impatient vehicle coming the other way, forcing you to back up. Normally this would be a stressful exercise in wheelmanship and spatial awareness, but BMW has a hack named Reversing Assistant.

We tested the system in an 8-series but it's also available on the new 3-series, X5 and X7, provided buyers stump up for the optional Parking Assistant Plus pack. Pricing varies: for the 8-series it's included in the £2800 Technology Pack, while it's part of the £1995 pack of the same name for the X5 and is available solo at £500 for the 3-series.

Select reverse, prod the Reversing Assistant icon on the touchscreen, let go of the wheel and it'll steer itself to retrace the last 50 metres of the exact path you've just taken. You still operate the pedals yourself (BMW couldn't allow the system to be fully autonomous for insurance rather than technical reasons) and, as you reach the trajectory's final few metres, a warning alerts you to take over complete control once more.

It's quite a spooky experience from the cockpit, watching the wheel spin itself like the helm of a ghost ship while the car unerringly rewinds in time, but having control of the throttle and brakes gives you confidence. If you take over the steering, or drive too fast (the system only operates below 22mph), the manoeuvre is cancelled. You don't need to do anything in advance as the system is always on at low speeds, constantly recording the last 50 metres of travel to a hard drive. It's not linked to the sat-nav system; the vectors and driving inputs are recorded separately.

BMW claims you could leave the car parked up, start the engine 'months later', assuming the battery hasn't gone flat, and the system would still recall the last 50 metres as soon as reverse gear was selected. If a new obstacle has turned up in the car's path (for example, one of your children leaves a bike behind it) the parking camera and sensors should detect it, in which case they'll flash up a warning before it's too late to avoid a collision.
We wondered, naturally, if you could do reverse donuts, but were disappointed to be told that the wheel-speed sensors ensure that isn't possible.

Select reverse

BMW 8-series gearlever

No need to program the system in advance as it constantly records the last 50 metres you've travelled to a hard drive, ready to go.

Good point

BMW reverse camera

Press the Reversing Assistant on the touchscreen. It appears there by the side of the camera views when you select reverse.

Rewind it back

BMW reverse hands off

Let go of the wheel, work the pedals yourself and travel backwards in time. You're required to take over the wheel again for the last few metres.

BMW Reversing Assistant: does it work?

Yes. It might appear to be little more than a gimmick, but it can be useful in certain situations, and its accuracy is uncanny. It's just a pity that it can't cope with three-point turns; the system only functions in one direction, and swapping between forward and reverse gears cancels the operation.

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By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer