BMW 320d M Sport saloon : On board infotainment

  • Our BMW 3 Series drags our man into the 21st century with its on-board infotainment
  • Multitude of technologies makes daily life easier and journeys more pleasurable
  • BMW Professional Media system adds £1,990 to price, we'd add Harmon Kardon stereo upgrade

Not long after learning to drive, it seemed like a good idea to invest in a tape-deck adaptor for my parent’s car. This cassette-on-the-end-of-a-wire allowed me to listen bit-rate-tunes on the move, courtesy of the headphone jack on my portable MINIDISC player. It was the highest of hi-fidelity technology, at the time. Or so I told myself.

That era of hiss, crackle and constant flip-flopping of the auto-reverse deck couldn’t be further behind us, though and now you’ll find even in-car CD players are falling by the wayside. 

BMW 320 i-drive

And there’s no long-term test car on our fleet further away from that late nineties infotainment age than our BMW 320d M Sport.

Like all other BMW’s our 320d is fitted with the firm’s infamous I-Drive central controller, which at launch back in 2002 was as complicated as a Rubik’s cube with a missing tile. Thankfully nowadays it’s a little simpler, though familiarity helps more than intuition with its operation. Regardless, when I jump from the BMW into something else I often find myself jabbing furiously at a touchscreen while longing for the 3 Series’ controller.

BMW Professional Media system

There is something that sets our 3 Series out from others in the line up though, and that’s the addition of the Professional Media system fitted to YH14 VHP. It’s loaded with technology to make my experience on the move richer, though back pockets take a hit thanks to its £1,990 pricetag.

The most noticeable difference this upgrade brings to the standard system is the 8.8-inch colour screen. Sat proudly on top of, rather than integrated into, the dashboard it looks like a widescreen tablet, though it's not removable. Graphics are crisp, clear and seemingly hi-definition, while the glossy glass-like surface looks more high-end TV than low-rent TomTom.

BMW online search

For me it’s the sat-nav that is the particular highlight, and it’s the feature I probably use most in the car. Apart from clear mapping and turn-by-turn directions – essential for someone like myself who by default turns off voice guidance when using such systems – it also boasts Real Time Traffic Information.

By using information from mobile phone GPS movement data, vehicle fleets, police reports and smartphone apps it gathers information far quicker than the traditional TMC data often used by portable sat-navs and other car manufacturers. That means you’re alerted to potentially appointment-missing traffic information in time to miss it and arrive at your destination on schedule. More than a few times it’s saved my bacon in the face of traffic-jam onslaught.

BMW 320d music

Alongside this there’s BMW’s Emergency Call, Online Services, Information Plus and Remote Services. Thankfully we’ve never used the former, but Online services proves especially useful when trying to locate obscure points of interest through a Google-style Internet search.

Our car also came with Enhanced Bluetooth telephone with USB and voice control, which has actually proved something of a mixed bag. Making calls in the car is simple, and the speaker/microphone pairing appears clear and detailed, and once paired the 320d automatically re-pairs with my iPhone. It proved especially useful when calling the emergency services recently, having just witnessed a pile-up on the M25 in front of me.

BMW telephone

However, the USB port doesn’t like charging my iPhone 5. I’ve tried various cables, and have finally had to resort to a portable USB powerbrick charger used in-line in a bid to stop the 320d from flip-flopping (One second it charges, the next it doesn’t and repeat ad nauseam) its power to my device.

This unstable connection means listening to Spotify from my iPhone through the car requires Bluetooth streaming instead. Again it connects automatically, but it fails in a number of other key areas – the on-screen information never updates past the first song and occasionally there is a skip in the track not present on the original MP3. To make matters worse the sound quality from the standard speakers could be better – having tried a 4 Series with the Harmon Kardon upgrade it’s the one option I really wish VJP arrived with.

BMW 320d interior

Still, most of the BMW’s on-board infotainment system works incredibly well, and regardless of my audio quality short-fall it’s still far better than a tape-deck and a re-recorded Maxell 90 with sellotape over the recording tab…


Mileage: 6,068 miles                                   Economy: 46.7mpg (calculated)