"BMW might have a simpler, easier approach with iDrive."
We've been driving the BMW 328i Luxury since February, and spent most of that time focusing on the car's performance, stopping occasionally to muse about its excellent engine and less-than-optimal tires, suspension, and steering. This month, we turn to the 3-series' myriad technological features.
Our 328i Luxury came with a long list of gadgets, and we'd expect nothing less from a $49,870 BMW. The parking package includes rear, side, and front mounted cameras which can show a simulated top view of the car (like Nissan's Around View Monitor) or a simple rear view, and also uses the front quarter panel-mounted cameras to peer left or right into blind intersections. There's also passive keyless entry (part of the premium package); a Harmon Kardon surround sound system; GPS navigation and a heads-up display (part of the technology package); and BMW Apps, which adds Twitter, Facebook, Pandora Internet Radio, and MOG connectivity, among other things. Finally, we added a special armrest-mounted iPhone dock.
With such a dizzying array of tech on board, it wasn't uncommon to hear "our BMW has that?" from our editors. Those who did plug in their phones or access the internet had mostly positive things to say.
"As much credit as we give Audi's MMI infotainment system [which also uses a rotary dial and a series of buttons], BMW might have a simpler, easier approach with iDrive," wrote senior editor Eric Tingwall. Keen readers will know that both iDrive -- and our opinion of it -- has come a long way since 2003, when the first-generation iDrive system in the Four Seasons 2003 BMW 745Li inspired logbook comments like "Yuck" and "Ridiculous."
We were mixed on the optional iPhone cradle, which supplants a typical USB cord connection. "I've heard some of us have had their phones overheat and enter cool-down mode while connected this way," Associate web editor Evan McCausland wrote, "mine didn't, but I did pull it from the car several times extremely hot." For Tingwall, who isn't a fan of the BMW's stock iPod interface, the cradle was an excellent decision because it unlocks PlugIn mode, which shows an iPod Classic-like menu to let you browse your tunes. "It's so much better using it that way," he said.
But the high-tech gadgets weren't the only ones that got praise; we liked many simpler features, including the keyless entry system. "I've always been a big fan of the way BMW does it," Holmes wrote. "You simply grab the door handle, and by the time you pull it, the car is unlocked. Locking is easy because the raised bumps above the keyhole show you where to push. It's much quicker than similar systems on other brands." The keyless ignition, which requires two presses of the stop/start button to leave the car (one to shut off the engine and put the car in accessory mode, another to kill all power) didn't win as many fans, but copy editor Rusty Blackwell liked its ability to keep the radio going for so-called driveway moments: "I often like having the radio stay on, perhaps to hear the rest of a song or an at-bat, without keeping the engine running, wasting gas. Also, the accessories turn off once you close the doors and lock the car, so it's not always necessary to push the button twice."
One not-so-cool issue has been the "low coolant" warnings we've been getting recently. Althoughthe temperature gauge shows the 328i running cool, the cooling system developed a bug. "I drove no more than 15 minutes away from work on Friday before an error message warned me of low coolant -- but the reservoir tank was full," said McCausland. Others were occasionally getting the message as well.
Wetook the 328i to BMW of Ann Arbor twice for this issue, but both times the car came back with a clean bill of health. Most recently, the technicians said that they checked the car's fault codes and code history but didn't see anything unusual, then bled the system, topped it off with fluids, and double-checked the sensor. Since then, we haven't seen a recurrence.
With the cooling system issue settled (we hope), we'll next turn our attention to the 328i's Luxury Line trim package, as a Sport Line version is due in the office, allowing for a direct comparison. Did we make the right decision going for the Luxury Line? Check back next month.