BMW may be most famous for its high-revving inline-six engines and luxurious V8-powered Autobahn cruisers, but it's actually nailing the electric vehicle transition better than most. EV sales made up a good chunk of the group's total volume, models like the i4 and i5 are critical hits, and even BMW's software game is pretty solid.

But as we've covered in our own long-term tests, it could be better. Now, an updated version of iDrive that's powered by Google's Android Automotive OS instead of Linux is being rolled out among BMW's smaller offerings. And after testing the software on some European models, we think it's good and very similar to operate—even if it brings some bigger changes.

BMW iDrive 9

What Is iDrive 9?

BMW's most recent iteration of its in-car operating system may be called iDrive 9, but it’s not just an evolution of iDrive 8.5. The two systems will coexist in parallel in different models, and the code that underpins them is actually completely different.

Both versions of iDrive look remarkably similar, but version 8.5 is developed by BMW based on the Linux operating system, while version 9 is based on Android Open Source Project (AOSP) software (which is also Linux-based but quite different).

Smaller BMWs like the 2 Series Active Tourer, the X1 and X2 built after November 2023 should have iDrive 9, as will the future 1 Series. Anything larger than a 3 Series gets iDrive 8.5, except the 2 Series coupe, which gets the same setup as all the larger BMWs.

Name: BMW iDrive 9.0
Version Tested: 04/2024.30
Release Date: November 2023
Specs: Qualcomm Snapdragon processors
Base Price/As Tested: Standard equipment for BMW X1, X2 and 2 Series Active Tourer

BMW has not made any official announcements, but it will likely continue to use a Linux-based infotainment system in the future in all its models built on the CLAR rear-wheel drive platform (including the i4, i5 and i7). Interestingly, there will be one exception to the rule and that's the upcoming BMW X3, which will get the Android-based system and the physical control knob. It will be the only BMW to have this configuration.

The upcoming Neue Klasse line of models will get a new version called iDrive X (or iDrive 10), which is also based on AOSP. We've seen what it's going to look like in the Vision Neue Klasse concepts.

If you didn’t know this fundamental difference, switching from a car that has one to one that has the other would feel very natural, and if you didn’t pay attention or know what to look for, you might think it’s the same system.

BMW iDrive 9

How iDrive 9 Works

It has the same app drawer that will have you scrolling down through dozens of small icons before you find what you’re looking for. You can now sort the car’s built-in apps into several categories (All, Infotainment, Vehicle, Recently Used and Digital Premium), and this does make navigating through them easier—long-pressing on one of the icons will allow you to add it as a shortcut in the menu that you can pull down from the top of the screen.

Having tried iDrive 9 in the new BMW iX2, it feels novel when compared to iDrive 8.5. Firstly, the layout is slightly different; it runs on a smaller screen. You can add frequently used features to the home screen using what is called the QuickSelect function.

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Farewell, old friend.

Unlike iDrive 8.5, which has a physical rotary control and shortcut buttons to go through the infotainment menus, iDrive 9 is touchscreen only. That's a big, big change from past BMWs; since its inception more than 20 years ago now, iDrive has pretty much always had a rotary control knob. It's a nice physical touchpoint for a system that's only gotten more complex over the years, and losing it is a big show of faith for BMW's voice and touch controls. 

This isn't an issue since the screen is quick and responsive, but it also feels like a step down from what you get in larger BMWs. 

BMW iDrive 9

Being based on Android Automotive, iDrive 9 is compatible with a wide range of applications. It comes with a couple of pre-installed games, but you can download more games and features if you pay for the BMW Digital Premium subscription (you can choose a $9.99 monthly plan or pay for an entire year to get a small discount.)

You can even download and play split-screen games and connect Bluetooth controllers to give you a very console-like experience in your car. You can also use your smartphone as a controller. Other automakers already offer this feature in their cars, but now you can do it in a BMW too. I didn’t connect a controller, but I did play pool and a hack-and-slash game on the infotainment display only by touching the screen and it felt pretty good.

The screen that iDrive 9 runs on is smaller (10.25-inch) than the one for iDrive 8.5 (14.9-inch) and it doesn’t look quite as good. Even though the smaller screen is curved, looks great and has excellent color, contrast and sharpness, if you compare it to the screen in larger BMWs, it feels small and cheap.

BMW iDrive 9

Another thing I noticed with iDrive 9 that I never saw while using iDrive 8.5 was lag. It’s not consistent, so I can’t say when exactly it occurs, but sometimes, when switching from one menu to another, the system seems to sputter and hang for about a second. This is likely just software-related, and it will be ironed out over time, but when I tried the system in May 2024, I experienced this many times.

Climate, Changed

When BMW first released iDrive 8 on models like the i4, one of the main points of criticism was the climate screen. It had big tiles that you had to swipe left or right through, and if you were driving something like a 7 Series with lots of climate features (like the 750e that we recently reviewed), it was quite infuriating to use. BMW took note of the negative feedback and vastly improved things for iDrive 8.5, and a very similar layout is used in iDrive 9.

BMW iDrive 8

BMW iDrive 8

You don’t have to access the climate panel if you want to change basic settings, such as the temperature for the two zones, or enable seat and steering wheel heating. BMW you wants to use the personal voice assistant to change climate settings, and it works quite well.

You can ask it to lower the temperature for a specific zone, or just say “I’m cold,” and it will adjust things automatically (including heating the steering wheel and seat.)

BMW is putting a lot of emphasis on how good its voice assistant is and it encourages users to rely on it instead of having to go through menus on the touchscreen. Some of the things I've asked the voice assistant include finding the nearest charging station and telling me what the tire pressures are. I even asked it several times to tell me a joke twice, and it always served up a different joke that was quite amusing.

Having experienced both the Android-based iDrive 9 and the Linux-based iDrive 8.5 used in larger BMWs, I didn't notice any difference between the personal assistants. They have the same functions and work just as well in both systems.

BMW iDrive 9

The climate screen in iDrive 9 is about as good as it can be in a car that has no physical climate controls. Now, when you tap on the climate menu, it opens up a very intuitive screen that has all the functions in one place and is very intuitive to use. The only issue I had with it was when I put the climate into the “manual” setting, while you can select which vents you want air to come out of, the up and down arrows that control fan speed are too small and tricky to tap while driving.

With iDrive 9, BMW has also introduced a more advanced route planner for electric vehicles. Now if you set a certain destination in your small electric BMW, it will not only calculate the best route taking into consideration traffic and potential hazards, but it will also automatically include charging stops and give you details about each stop, like how long you have to charge at each location.

Navigation And Traffic

BMW iDrive 9

Traffic data only works if you pay extra for BMW Digital Premium, but it will be displayed on the map even if you haven’t set a destination.

You can interact with the map exactly as you would on a smartphone. You can pinch to zoom, and you can also change the viewing angle with certain two-finger gestures on the screen. If you long-press on the arrow that shows your current position on the map, it will turn into an orange BMW M1. This is not quite up to the same level as Tesla’s infotainment Easter eggs, but it’s a fun feature and I had the M1 instead of the arrow on the map the entire time I drove the iX2.

BMW also introduced seamless over-the-air updates, not only for the infotainment itself but also for the various apps you can download. The car has its own data connection included in the BMW Digital Premium subscription, allowing for music streaming on the move or video streaming via Xperi TiVo when stationary.

Early Verdict

Whereas before, there was less differentiation between the infotainment experience in BMW’s smaller and larger models—the difference in screen size was the biggest distinguishing factor—now that it’s introduced 14.9-inch screens in its larger models, the difference is much more evident.

With iDrive 9, the manufacturer has done a pretty good job and created an easy-to-use system that can be upgraded and enhanced in the future via over-the-air updates. It's a welcome addition to its new crop of EVs, as well as its hybrid and purely ICE options. 

Aside from the slight lag that I occasionally observed and the cluttered app drawer, I found using iDrive 9 a very pleasant experience that feels like a step up compared to previous systems both visually and in terms of functionality.

Gallery: BMW iDrive 9

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