With the coronavirus pandemic causing CES to be held virtually this year, some exhibitors have been looking for different ways to capture our attention. Take BMW for example. In CESes of yore, the German automaker often had a large presence, showing off concepts and even providing a fleet of cars for five-minute test drives. Obviously that won’t work in 2021, which is a shame for BMW because this year marks the 20th anniversary of its very first iDrive infotainment system, which debuted in the 7 Series in 2001.
So instead, the automaker made this short film to mark the occasion. Warning: it’s pretty weird, but at the same time I think it’s kind of charming, featuring an old graybeard 7 Series meeting a young whippersnapper iX SUV one night at the BMW museum.
Back in 2001 the 7 Series was BMW’s flagship sedan, loaded to the gunnels with the latest and greatest technology the Bavarians could muster. In previous generations that meant powered reclining rear seats and maybe a car phone. But that year the new 7 Series arrived with something called iDrive, combining the car’s entertainment equipment with navigation and a way to interact with the car’s settings. A pair of screens—one in the main instrument display, one in the center stack—displayed information, and to interact with it all, a rotary controller sat on the center console. In short, it was one of the first true infotainment systems.
iDrive 1.0 could be a bit clunky to use, and no doubt the comment thread will be full of recollections of how much everyone hated it. But the system got much better over time, and the current version, iDrive 7.0, is perfectly fine. It even supports Android Auto now, and you no longer have to pay a yearly fee to use Apple CarPlay.
But flagship sedans don’t resonate with the public quite the same way they did 20 or even 10 years ago, thanks to the inexorable rise of the SUV. That’s why BMW’s next flagship is an electric SUV called the iX, and when it arrives later this year, it brings iDrive 8.0 along for the ride. In time, we’ll get our hands on a car with iDrive 8.0 so we can see if it’s any good. But for now, let’s all just wonder exactly how the boardroom discussion went, when some brave BMWer told them about this one great idea they had for CES 2021.
Listing image by BMW