BMW puts the driver in control

* New system controls set-up * Cuts development costs and time * Cross-model technology, too...

BMW puts the driver in control

Technology allows BMW drivers to change their car's set-up in seconds.

BMW's next family of medium-sized models are in line to get the electronic chassis control system developed for the flagship 7 Series.

Within the next couple of years, it will be offered on the forthcoming 5 Series range saloon, Touring (estate) and the Gran Turismo crossover due for launch in September and the 6 Series coup. We also expect to see it on any new versions of the X5 and X6, BMW's large SUVs.

The system, called Integrated Chassis Management, allows drivers to personalise how the car drives, and change it on the move at the touch of a button. It collectively controls the car's variable damping and stability control systems, the throttle and gearshift mapping and the four-wheel active steering.

Put simply, it means owners can change the car to suit their mood, the weather conditions, how they are driving, or the roads they are on.

One global set-up
For BMW, it means one set-up can be offered all around the world, reducing development time and costs. At the touch of a switch you can specify the softer ride favoured in America and the Far East, or the more firmly-controlled set-up that Europeans prefer.

There will no longer be any need to fit different springs, dampers, bushes and anti-roll bars depending on the market the car will be sold in.

The electronics control 43,000 different parameters and 80% of the settings are transferable between different model ranges, speeding up the development time of new cars.

We've been out with BMW engineers in Scotland to see how they can change the set-up of cars to get the characteristics they want at the tap of a few keys on a laptop. It means that test drivers can go from one set-up to another in seconds, helping them feel the changes instantly, whereas in the past there would have been two to three hours' down-time while mechanical changes were made.

Cost restrictions mean the electronic chassis adjustments are unlikely to filter down to BMW's smaller 3 and 1 Series ranges any time soon, but as economies of scale come into force, this could easily change.