BMW and What’s Wrong With Car Tech These Days

2019 BMW X7

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I, generally speaking, like technology.  I also happen to love cars.  So you could logically assume that I would be a fan of technology in cars….and I am.  With one big caveat: it has to make sense and it has to fit the brand.

And more and more it simply does not…and its getting old.

I’ve been feeling this way for a good while now but the catalyst for me writing this post was watching my fellow Southern Californian Doug Demuro’s latest video on the 2019 BMW X7.  After watching that review, I screamed out”this shit has gone too far!”, finished my PB&J and reached for my Dell laptop.

Now, some technology has vastly improved the safety of automobiles and saved innumerable lives and that’s a great thing…I’m looking at you ABS, and traction/stability control.  And I love the simplicity of streaming tunes from my phone via Bluetooth…shit is tight.  But there are new “developments” that feel like the auto makers are just putting them in a lame “me-too” to appear relevant with their peers.  The tech equivalent of fake fender vents if you will.

Let’s tackle some of the things that I saw in the video first…

Backup Assistant

The 2019 BMW X7 has a feature that remembers how you pulled into a parking spot and, at the touch of a button, will autonomously back you out, then disengage so you can pull away…Are you shittin me?  Remembers how you pulled into a parking spot?!  How many ways are there to pull into a parking spot?  Answer: one.  There’s one way.  You…pull…in.  Are there that many people having trouble getting out of parking spots that BMW felt compelled to add this?  Backup cameras?  The old fashion “actually physically turn the fuck around and look”?  These are no good anymore?  Jesus Christ this just pisses me off.

BMW Backup Assistant
Finger Credit: Doug DeMuro

Short-Term Self Driving 

And get ready for this: the X7 also has autonomous driving capabilities!!! Holy hell welcome to the future folks!  Yup, this giant datacenter on wheels can literally drive itself…well, as long as you’re going under 40mph…and on a hiway…and have your eyes squarely fixed on the road ahead (there are cameras in the SUV watching your eyes and if they stray the X7 will require you to take control). OK, so under 40mph but also have to be on a hiway?  Sooooo, slow, bumper-to-bumper traffic I guess? Quite a limited use case but ok.  The eyes part tho. Seriously, what in the holy shit?  Who out there hates the act of driving so much that they’re willing to make the concession “OK, I’m willing to look ahead and pay attention, but I don’t want to touch the steering wheel or pedals.” Who thinks that way?  Doesn’t sound like the target demographic a brand whose mantra is “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. 

If you have to pay attention anyway, why not just fully drive the goddamn car?  Think of the number of sensors and servo motors involved in this.  All things that can fail and cost you in the future.  All so you can not have to touch the steering wheel or pedals for a few seconds…c’mon man..

I know I’m singling BMW out on this just because the video is fresh in my mind, but a lot of auto makers are doing this now…and, just WTF?

Hand Gesture Control

This wasn’t mentioned in the video but BMW has been rolling this out in most of their infotainment systems and its hilariously misguided so here we go.  BMW Gesture Control is I believe what they call this feature. 

If you’re not familiar; basically the 3D space in front of your infotainment screen is monitored by sensors and you can wave your hand around in free space to control certain feature. ie: twirl your index finger clockwise or counterclockwise to raise/lower stereo volume. Kinda like sign language for pretentious douchebags.

BMW Gesture Control
Exhibit A

So instead of, ya know, actually physically touching the screen or button (which is only, what 6-7 inches away?) to accomplish a task, you learn a whole new set of hand gestures and wave your hand around in midair in the hopes that the finicky system recognizes them.  Or you could just turn the volume knob…either way I guess. Honestly, this is criminally stupid. I’ve seen people try to use this system and it works correctly ~60% of the time.  That means 40% of the time, you’re having to pay extra attention to how you’re twirling your hand, making sure its in the sensor “sweet spot” and then looking at the screen to see if the system is picking up on what you want done…. Oh, by the way, you’re now off the road and heading down a rather steep embankment towards a swamp.

BMW Gesture Control just a far more sophisticated manifestation of the also-useless remote controls that come with aftermarket stereos.  Does anyone ever use them?  The damn stereo is literally inches away! Touch it! I used to take the battery out of those dumb remotes and give them to my son when he was 4 so he could have his own “cell phone”.  And in that role, it was genius.

Settings…All the Settings

The 2019 BMW X7 SUV has 5 suspension height settings. 5.  I get the highest would be useful should you ever need to hop a curb at the mall, and the lowest could come in handy for loading in heavy items.  That leaves 3 more settings.  Why?  What affluent soccer mom gets in her X7 in the morning and thinks “You know what, I think I’ll head to hot yoga on the 4 setting, then maybe change it to 2 for the Target run later in the day.”  This…is…madness.

This, once again, is more of an industry problem but I feel it’s especially apt to call BMW out on it because they became who they are today by nailing something no one had accomplished prior: tuning.  Specifically, tuning a sedan to ride comfortably while also retaining nimble and taught handling.  I’ll repeat: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”

The problem today is that BMW hasn’t the foggiest idea what a BMW should drive like.  So, they’ve given every vehicle dynamics system 5 settings and told the customer “You figure it out”.

Multiple adjustments for throttle response, suspension firmness, steering feel. C’mon fuckers!  Have you so completely pivoted away from being a company chocked full of Yoda-level tuning engineers to just a bunch of sensor and software dweebs that you’ve lost your soul.  If I plunk down my hard-earned cash on a new BMW, I want it to drive like a goddamn BMW…no buttons, no settings.  Turn the key (ok, press the Start button) and the car behaves like a BMW should.  This new “How would like the steering to feel today” bullshit is just lazy.  Rehire your old E30 crew and put them back in charge.    

Rant over…but I sincerely do hope at least BMW can put an end to this lazy useless shit and get back to what got them to the dance.  Let Audi and Mercedes have the settings, buttons, autonomous this and that.. Be different…be clever…be BMW

Images: BMW by way of Photoshop

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