Does the BMW 'connected car' make more sense than an iPhone in your pocket?

While Google messes about with a self-driving car, BMW is bringing the digital world to the driver in its newly released Connected Drive system. Already available in many parts of the globe, the onboard internet and SOS service comes standard with all new beemers in New Zealand, with optional subscriber services such as a 24/7 concierge phone service and a series of apps for integrating the car with your phone and home computer.

But, um, why? Many of the features, such as GPS navigation, phone, internet and digital radio are available on all smart phones. So are AA, tow trucks and ambulances. So why not just bluetooth your brick and flick on the hands free?

“You could do that, and actually Connected Drive is designed to integrate with iOS and Android [not Windows by the way],” says BMW communications manager Ed Finn. “But the purpose of the Connected Drive is to provide seamless experience from your home and work into the car, so that you don’t have to use your phone while driving. Which is illegal, by the way.”

I took the Connected Drive for a spin in the newly released X3 (very nice) and discovered that while driving is perfectly possible without BMW’s latest schizzle, the Connected Drive system could become the car version of Flappy Birds and Netflix – that is, how did we ever live without it? .

Three reasons.

I called the SOS centre (the Batman button above the windscreen) and got through to a call centre in Manila. Maria (let’s just call her that) asked if I was okay and then proceeded to tell me where I was (GPS location), who I was (registered owner), the colour of my car, the status of the oil, tyre pressure, fuel and brake pads. She told me that I was the right way up, that I was not in a ditch but in the BMW carpark, the direction I was pointing was north and that I had Vogels with marmite for breakfast. Had I been in a ditch near Kaeo I would have found Maria’s knowledge and genial disposition assuring. 

True, it’s not often you’ll need SOS service, but that same data is available, upon subscription, to the BMW service centre which can call when the car pings a warning about said oil, brakes or even faulty bulbs. Very handy for when I’m rich enough to have someone else worry about all that stuff.

The Manila call centre also offers a concierge service, for all those moments when all you really want is a navigator in the passenger seat. “Hi Maria, can you tell me where the nearest organic coffee roasters are, please?” That kind of thing. 

The handiest aspect is the ability to control your car remotely. Using the BMW app you can find your X3 when lost in a carpark, lock it remotely and send map instructions to it for your next destination. 

As I said some of these things can be done by your smart phone. And the lack of it won’t stop you from nipping down to the bach for a relaxing weekend. But I suspect the Connected Car will become just one of those things we didn’t know we needed.