2015 BMW M235i: BMW Controls And The Human Brain
by Jonathan Elfalan, Road Test Editor on December 2, 2015
Road Test Editor Carlos Lago expounded on the smart design of the 2015 BMW M235i shifter some weeks ago, but stopped short of explaining the logic behind the manual shift orientation. I'll pick it up from here in a second.
There is also a small debate in our office regarding the most intuitive approach to navigation system control knobs. This critical issue must be resolved before society can move forward, so maybe you, good citizen, can help.
But first, back to the shifter.
If you grew up playing some form of arcade racing game, then you most likely had a perplexed look on your face the first time you saw a "reverse pattern" shifter like the one in our BMW.
Ignoring the high-tech simulators of today, the virtual world was originally one without force feedback. Pressing a lever forward to upshift made sense because that's the direction your virtual vehicle was traveling. Pulling back on that lever to the downshift was also intuitive because you're trying to slow down. Adapting this logic to real vehicles with shiftable automatic transmissions maintains what we perceive as natural intuition.
In the real world however, forces are acting on us at all times. And if you're driving a vehicle with considerable performance potential, these forces are even more pronounced.
Mash the throttle in the M235i, and 330 pound-feet of engine torque presses you back into the seat, opposite the direction you're traveling. The same goes for slamming on the brakes, when you're suddenly reminded about the case of beer in the trunk. Taking another look at the BMW shifter, the pattern now makes much more sense, as it coincides with the direction of forces. This is also how it's done in race cars with sequential gearboxes, assuming they don't have steering wheel paddle shifters.
With the navigation system, intuition is a little more subjective. The debate revolves around whether it's more intuitive to rotate the knob clockwise or counterclockwise to zoom in or out.
Take a moment here to decide before reading on.
The system in our BMW M235i, like many German systems before it, has trained me to react in a specific manner. To zoom out, I think of twisting the knob away from me (clockwise) and vice versa to zoom in, where the knob is moving towards me.
Carlos and company tend to think of this in terms of nuts and bolts, namely that you are screwing (zooming) a nut (knob) in by turning it clockwise, and out by turning counterclockwise.
I don't truly believe there is a right or wrong answer. But chances are the first rationalization you're exposed to, to help you remember the action, will feel most natural.
Jonathan Elfalan, Road Test Editor