2013 BMW 3-Series fitted with M Performance accessoriesEnlarge Photo
BMW could have changed course after its once much-maligned iDrive was introduced more than a decade ago on the 7-Series. But BMW stuck with it, and several iterations later it's much-improved.
That said, iDrive still requires a steep learning curve, and for those who are first getting into a car with without having first watched a video on it, gotten a presentation, or perused an owner's manual, it's hardly straightforward. At the same time, others of us appreciate how the core interface of iDrive—involving first pushing the knob in a particular direction, then twisting it (with haptic feedback) to navigate the menus, hasn't changed in many years. If you've learned it once, it's familiar across their models.
Even on recent versions of iDrive, voice commands are limited while there's still no physical way to shortcut the knob interface and hard keys.
Curiously—and against the very reason for its existence in the first place—BMW, in order to make iDrive more functional, has actually brought some buttons back.
2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe. Image: Mercedes-BenzEnlarge Photo
Mercedes-Benz starts with a simple rotary or toggle controls for its so-called COMAND in-dash system. But almost anyone who's used a smartphone or tablet will find that the menu system here is a confusing mess at times. Main menus appear up high, with submenus down low (sometimes additional options appear to the left or right); the screen doesn't allow touch; and using voice controls to their best requires you to pre-record yourself saying a long set of commands. Some things like navigation place-name entry and phone pairing are more complicated than they need to be, too.
“COMAND is the worst interface of the modern crew, but one of the easiest to actually use,” summed one of our editors, who noted that despite its odd, unintuitive organization, nothing is more than a couple of levels deep in the menu structure.