The centerpiece of the 7-series' user interface is, of course, its iDrive controller. Thankfully, the old iDrive's menu structures have been ditched completely, replaced by a new, much more user-friendly menu structure. First and foremost, the new iDrive's menu structures are consistent-they all look the same and work the same.
The iDrive controller is smaller than the old one, and no longer uses force-feedback, but it doesn't really need to. It can be moved in all the same directions as the old controller (twisted, pressed, or shoved in any direction).
The main menu is no longer a north/south/east/west affair - it's a logical list of the iDrive's functions, organized circularly. You select a function by, for example, twisting the controller to the correct spot and then pressing it in. The submenus are clear, concise, and easy to figure out - and more important, they are stacked on top of one another visually on the screen. At any time, pressing the controller to the left accesses the previous menu. To the right, the next. It reminds us of a TiVo in its user-friendliness. You enter names in the navigation system by using a circular speller on the display, which is much easier and faster. As a bonus, a preview of the destination is displayed as you're typing, so in case there are multiple destinations with similar names, you're sure you've entered the correct one.
The direct-access buttons arranged around the iDrive controller are another bonus. Made in different sizes and shapes to help the user find the right button without needing to take his or her eyes off the road, they allow a quick jump to specific functions-such as going back to the radio controls or to the navigation map. There are two other function buttons that are key-one is labeled BACK, which mimics the eponymous button on your Internet browser, going back one step. The other is a button labeled OPTION, which gives a context-sensitive menu of functions like the right-click button on a PC mouse.
The unusually bright and clear screen is enlarged to 10.2 inches on the 7-series, with a resolution of 1280 x 480 pixels. There are eight favorite buttons located on the dash, and they can be programmed to operate almost any functions-from something simple as "play 92.7 FM" to "navigate home" to something as complicated as storing your favorite map display orientation and scale. As before, the iDrive screen can be split into two displays, with a larger display on the left and a smaller section on the right. However, unlike before, the smaller screen can simultaneously display a map with a different scale or orientation, or even music information, leaving the bigger, widescreen portion of the display for the navigation map.