BMW’s 4 Series vehicles are the ones that seem to be in reach for those who either look to finance or lease them. The 2018 models finally bring in features that trickled down from the automaker’s best cars.
A great deal of what was in the 2018 440i xDrive Coupé I test drove was first introduced in the 2016 7 Series, a vehicle made more for the executive than the everyman. That wasn’t only because of the technology inside, but because BMW’s iDrive infotainment system sported a bit of a facelift with version 6.0, that meant changes were coming for the brand’s other vehicles.
Still, there was something missing. While capable at the time, the automaker refrained from flicking the proverbial switch to let Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto run on iDrive. What is available in the 4 Series isn’t a full commitment to both brands, but is certainly a step in the right direction.
Despite making its head unit screen touch-sensitive in the higher models, the 440i Coupé is older school in that it doesn’t recognize touch input at all. That means the rotary dial and shortcut buttons around are the only navigation method.
That’s in line with how iDrive has always functioned — capacitive touchscreens were just added last year — only touch-sensitivity hasn’t trickled down to the 4 Series yet. Only the 5 Series and above currently offer it. Also missing from this series are the gesture controls, which were first introduced in the 7 Series last year, and now currently offered down to the 5.
The rest of the layout is clearly based on what was introduced in the 7 Series. An in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and Qi wireless charging pad are now included in the infotainment package. Like other automakers, BMW offers 3GB for three months to start, whichever expires first. Prepaid data plans are available beyond that, which are really no different in price than competitors.
The ConnectedDrive interface and feature set will feel like an improvement to anyone with an older BMW, though the 4 Series doesn’t add anything from what the 7 Series first unveiled.
The biggest addition here is CarPlay, part of the $750 smartphone connectivity package from the dealer. For whatever reason, BMW chose not to include it last year when it had the opportunity. Siri Eyes Free worked through the onboard voice control when connected via Bluetooth, and certain apps, like Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and Yelp were well-integrated too.
Bringing Apple into the dashboard was a pill BMW arguably didn’t want to swallow, but it fits in so well here that the platform works wirelessly. I didn’t have to plug my iPhone in once I first set it up.
CarPlay’s inclusion does make for some interesting integration. It will work wirelessly while the phone isn’t being charged, or is charging via the charging pad.
The lack of touch on the display makes the rotary dial the key navigation method, which felt strange at first when cycling through CarPlay’s interface. Normally, it would be as simple as tapping an icon to launch an app, but in this case, I had to spin the dial to highlight the icon I wanted.
It took some getting used to, yet felt surprisingly seamless after a short while. The one problem is the extra time it takes to look at and confirm a selection. Tapping something on a screen is pretty instant. This isn’t. It was as if I had to count how many clicks the wheel made before knowing where I was on the screen without really looking.
These are anecdotal nuances, of course, but they speak to how Apple will adapt CarPlay to accommodate different automakers. Cycling through Spotify, TuneIn or Apple Music was very similar, only the dial was better at sifting through playlists than swiping up or down. It would be great if Siri already had an index of the music on these music apps, so that drivers could simply say what they wanted to hear, but Apple still hasn’t done that. However, I do appreciate that Siri can at least launch CarPlay apps by voice now.
The level of integration here has its ups and downs. I thought it was neat that the Map button would go to Apple Maps whenever CarPlay was running, instead of the factory navigation map. Siri works really well when CarPlay is running, except BMW’s own voice assistant got finicky under those circumstances. Audio playback would stop instead of pausing, forcing me to press play again every time I used it.
The width of the 6.5-inch display is such that it can allocate a third of the display to something else. It’s one of the rare instances where a playlist can appear on CarPlay’s side, and an map on the other.
Where’s Android Auto?
BMW purposely left out Android Auto from its current system, even though it can more than handle it. Why the cold shoulder? In keeping with its mantra about privacy, the automaker is apparently unsatisfied with how much personal data and tracking Google does through the platform.
They have a point, but it’s also something that can be rectified. Using a VPN before launching Android Auto helps cover tracks and anonymizes usage. Granted, not everyone knows that, but it’s one workaround, in case that’s an issue.
The lack of Android support extends to Google Now and Assistant. As I expected, neither voice assistant worked for me in this car. And without Android support, there is no way to get Google Maps onto the infotainment screen.
The irony in holding out is that BMW is also shunning BlackBerry users who have since switched to an Android-based device. The two companies have long worked together, and QNX software does figure into ConnectedDrive’s performance, but Android devices like the Priv and KEYone are outliers here. Deep integration with BlackBerry 10 remains, so if you are one of those users, iDrive is clearly one of the friendliest infotainment systems for you.
In lieu of the integrated version, there is always the option of running the Android Auto app alone on a phone or tablet and using that in tandem with the rest of iDrive.
There were certain tidbits I liked about this version of the system. If I was listening to music via Bluetooth streaming, pressing the back button would cycle me back to the other audio playback setting I was on. This way, I could switch between my phone’s audio and satellite or terrestrial radio, for instance.
The numbers on the dash were not so much about radio presets as they were about the interface itself. For example, I could set a number to go to the screen showing car diagnostic information, or to the messages section. This only works within ConnectedDrive, so doesn’t apply to CarPlay. I tried to make CarPlay a shortcut but to no avail.
The big omission here is a new ConnectedDrive app for iOS and Android. Drivers in the United States have it, but Canada is still being left out. The newer version has also been out going back over 18 months, so the delay is pretty inexcusable for such a luxury brand.
It’s an app that helps facilitate third-party app integration and helps drivers send navigation information to the car, among other things. The current version, most recently updated in October 2016, is terribly outdated by comparison. BMW Canada has been mum about when the new app will roll out in the Great White North because it’s a decision that has to be made in Germany first.
Either way, the current system is usable, and the new app would ostensibly work with it should it be made available in the near future. Without being able to test it, however, it’s hard to say for sure.
Adding CarPlay was necessary for BMW to be serious about iDrive’s ability. In the true sense of German efficiency, the automaker waited until the proverbial last minute to be sure it would work well enough.
Android users are the ones left out, however, and that cuts out a lot of users because it doesn’t really matter who manufactured the phone. Bluetooth audio streaming works fine, but even ConnectedDrive was paltry compared to what the iOS version offered.
Still, this is a confidence-building step toward customers for a brand that is supposed to be a trend-setter.
"Adding CarPlay was necessary for BMW to be serious about iDrive’s ability"