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BMW places digital screen on new M Performance steering wheel

The display shows lap times and other info, plus it lights up like a Ferrari when it’s time to shift.

By Douglas Newcomb Nov 6, 2012 12:53PM

BMW M Performance Steering Wheel. Image courtesy of BMW.Modern steering wheels, packed with all sorts of multifunction controls, are already a handful for drivers. Now, thanks to BMW's M Performance steering wheel, they're also an eyeful and a potential distraction.

An embedded digital screen sits at the top of the new M Performance wheel, an optional steering wheel that BMW is marketing to track enthusiasts. The wheel also features embedded LEDs that indicate when it’s time to shift and can mimic the "Christmas tree" starting lights used at drag strips.

The digital wheel is part of a new M Performance line of factory accessories debuting at the 2012 Essen Auto Show, which is sort of a German version of SEMA. There are three modes: Efficient Dynamics, Sport and Race. In Efficient Dynamics mode, the screen displays information such as average fuel consumption, trip time, oil and water temperature and how close a driver comes to meeting a set fuel-consumption goal.

In Sport mode, the screen shows lateral G-forces, which would be a challenge for the driver to read in the twisties, so the information is stored for later access. LEDs that flank the screen light up and then blink when it’s time to upshift.

In Race mode, the screen can be used to clock lap times or to break a lap into individual timed sections. It will also record quarter-mile times and kick them off using the "Christmas tree" starting sequence in the wheel. The wheel can also capture the driver’s reaction time off the start and top speed, and can divide a quarter-mile run into various sections for post-race analysis.

BMW has released a video showing German racer Tim Schrick putting the M Performance steering wheel through its paces on the track, although the automaker hasn’t announced pricing or said if it would release the wheel in the U.S. While the M Performance may go over well in Europe and elsewhere, it could trigger hand-wringing over distraction here in the U.S.

At least it’s more logically laid out than the multipurpose steering wheel on the Ferrari 458 Italia, which has turn-signal buttons on either side that the driver has to click on and off, and push/pull switches on the bottom for the windshield washer controls and headlight dimmer. Compared with this complicated wheel, the BMW M Performance version seems simple and intuitive.

But with the $200K-plus price of the Ferrari -- and, to a lesser degree, the high cost of a BMW and a replacement M Performance steering wheel  -- chances are we won’t see too many of these on the road anyway.

[Source: Inside Line]

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