Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel.
With almost 100 years of pushing the envelope of engineering and design innovation, BMW steering and control technology has come a long way. Read on as we recap the highlights and historical BMW innovations, from the very first BMW 3/15 to the all new BMW iX – a string of ideas that have come to define the unique BMW driving experience.
All stories must begin somewhere, and for us this beginning can be found almost 100 years ago as the very first BMW 3/15 saw the day of light in 1929 — the BMW that started it all. Typical of its time, its steering concept was relatively simple, and featured little more than the basics: a prominent steering wheel took up most of the driver’s view, supported by a simple dashboard and a centrally placed ignition. Still, one thing was clear already: focus was put on drivers and their needs, something which would come to play a crucial role in the years to come.
Fast forward to the fast-paced seventies, and things would really begin to speed up for BMW design and engineering. When BMW introduced the world to the by-now truly classic 1972 BMW Turbo show car, a nod to the BMW image as a premium and sporty brand for real drivers found its way to the Turbo’s interior, too: the driver-oriented instrument panel.
This moment is crucial. The introduction of driver-oriented car cockpit elements was a powerful statement of intent. By shifting, or indeed tilting, the central control elements of the cockpit in the direction of the driver, BMW made its position very clear: BMW cars are built for the driving experience, and while the co-driver or other passengers should never feel excluded, this shift of attention towards the driver behind the wheel made this position unmistakably clear.
With the launch of the third generation of the BMW 7 Series in 1994, BMW took things one step further, bundling everything any driver would need in one place, right at the tip of their fingers. The introduction of buttons on the steering wheel itself in the 1994 flagship BMW 7 Series gave drivers full control of everything from entertainment to phone calls, cruise control, switching between driving modes, and many more customizable options.
Another important addition was voice control, which allowed BMW drivers to effortlessly communicate for example navigation input to the center console for the very first time. This first saw the light of day in the 2001 BMW 7 Series, which became a major milestone in its own right.
All said and done, it was another major innovation, also introduced in the 2001 BMW 7 Series, that perhaps more than anything else came to mark the most radical shift thus far for BMW interior design: the introduction of iDrive. This was further emphasized by the introduction of the very first
head-up display to be included in a German production car, which projected all needed information directly to the windshield, right in front of the driver’s eyes. Two years had now gone by, and the first HUD was introduced with the launch of the 2003 BMW 5 Series, the E60.
Recent years have seen a rapid development of a number of digital additions to the BMW in-cockpit experience. Of these, the replacement of analogue gauges in favour of highly intuitive digital display technologies is perhaps the most groundbreaking. To achieve this, the digital design, which combines 2D and 3D graphics, is tailored perfectly to the user’s needs. The aim is to focus the driver’s attention on the given driving situation, while always providing the relevant information
So, where are we now? And what comes next? To a certain extent, we already know. With the launch of the all-new BMW iDrive in 2021, nearly 100 years of interior design, technology innovations and engineering excellence come together to offer tomorrow’s ever-more demanding drivers a truly state-of-the-art driving experience, geared for an increasingly digital future.
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