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It’s been a big month for car tech, and most of the news hasn’t been good. It started with NHTSA halting Tesla’s full-self driving feature and continued with Mercedes-Benz announcing an in-car app store including TikTok. Suffice it to say, car-based tech has taken a beating so far. BMW showed off its infotainment system this week, and it has made us feel a bit better about the future of in-car technology.

New BMW iDrive 8.5 system
The new BMW infotainment system | BMW

A smartphone-like appearance

The evolution of BMW’s iDrive system started in 2001 and has continuously evolved over the years. Designed to mimic the popular technology of the time, each iDrive update is built with user functionality in mind. So when it came time to design the updated iDrive8 system, BMW turned to the world of smartphones for inspiration.

Depending on which pundit you listen to, smartphones are either unlocking the world for everyone or causing never-ending brain rot. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but that’s not the point. 

No matter how you feel about them, everyone is familiar with how a smartphone works. BMW’s iDrive 8.5 interface takes advantage of exactly that.

With a more phone-like setup, the feel of the iDrive 8.5 system will feel more instantly familiar to anyone jumping into a BMW for the first time. In a world of increasingly complex in-car infotainment systems, that’s a change we’re happy to embrace.

The new BMW infotainment system offers easy adaptability

The new BMW infotainment system with smartphone-like icons
BMW iDrive 8.5 | BMW
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Volvo attempted something similar with its Android-based infotainment upgrade in 2023, though the finicky underpinnings of the previous system remain. The Mercedes-Benz User Experience is decent enough, but a sea of menus makes for a confusing interface.

With the BMW iDrive 8.5 system though, a simple icon layout and familiar setup make for a much more intuitive experience overall.

Even better, the new interface allows users to customize the home screen display with ease. The system uses a familiar mechanism to put the most relevant icons up front. Similar to a smartphone, press and hold an icon to rearrange the front screen, then press home to set it.

Perhaps the most exciting update is the reduction of menus in the iDrive 8.5 system. Getting lost in menus when trying to change a setting is frustrating at best. BMW’s new infotainment system helps make that a bit easier.

Which BMW models get the iDrive 8.5 infotainment update?

All EVs, BMW X5, X6, and X7 SUVs, plus the flagship 7 Series sedan will come with the iDrive 8.5 infotainment system from the beginning.

Those who already own BMW models with the older iDrive 8 architecture have two options for the free upgrade. Connected cars can get an over-the-air update that will replace the current system with the updated 8.5 software. And for everyone else, BMW dealerships will be able to update the software in-house. The timing for that update is not yet known, but owners will be notified when their vehicles become eligible for the new software.