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72 hours with a BMW that comes with a 24/7 personal concierge

By Kenny Yeo - on 23 Jul 2017, 9:20am

My ride for 72 hours. A BMW 528i Gran Turismo Luxury.

For some people, their idea of luxury is to have people do things for you. If that's right up your alley, then BMW is the car for you. If you buy a BMW today, chances are it will come with a personal concierge.

How is that possible? Wait, do you mean you have a personal concierge sitting in the passenger seat 24/7? How can I sign up for one? Woah, hold your horses. Before we can get down to the personal concierge, we need to back track a little and talk about ConnectedDrive.

ConnectedDrive refers to BMW’s suite of connected car technologies and services. I think the best way to think of it is that with ConnectedDrive, your BMW essentially turns into a massive smartphone with wheels and an engine. Apart from making and taking calls and connecting to the Internet, ConnectedDrive also introduces apps that really makes the BMW ownership experience that little bit more unique, special and convenient.

This is the menu that greets every owner of a new BMW.

To go through ConnectedDrive in its entirety will take a 10-page long feature, so I’m just going to direct you to BMW’s ConnectDrive webpage.

But I will tell you some of the nifty things that I like. For instance, I like how the navigation system incorporates real time traffic information, so it’s clever enough to suggest routes to avoid traffic jams, major road works and such. The other cool feature is the Intelligent Emergency Call. If you were unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, the car can automatically call for assistance and alert the local BMW dealership. Using the car’s built-in sensors, it can even approximate which part of the driver or passenger is likely to be injured and notify emergencies accordingly. Another cool feature is BMW Teleservice, which can remind owners when it’s time for servicing. It can even conduct diagnostic tests on itself and notify the dealership if something has gone awry.

Concierge Services is arguably the most interesting feature of ConnectedDrive. It gives you a personal assistant in your car.

Now while the features that I have mentioned are useful and convenient to have, the one that I’m most curious about is the Concierge Services. Now, tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft all have their own digital personal assistants in the form of Siri, Google and Cortana respectively. But we all know that some times, there’s just no substitute for a living, breathing personal assistant. Here's a video of me demonstrating to my colleagues how it works as well as other features of ConnectedDrive (Just for the record, I had no idea I was being filmed -.-)


How does Concierge Services work?

Unfortunately that image you see in the top right corner is not the operator you're speaking to. It's just a generic operator photo.

Simply select concierge services and you’d be put through to a operator. This service is available 24 hours a day, ready on demand, and there’s no limits on the number of times you can call in. This service even works overseas when you are abroad. Driving into Malaysia, no problem. Feeling adventurous and found yourself so far north that you are into Thailand? Concierge services will work there too.

What can concierge services do?

The concierge services can do many things. On the simplest level, it can help you find directions to destinations you might be searching for. For instance, you could ask the concierge for directions to the nearest Starbucks, McDonalds or even more vague requests like the nearest chinese restaurant. The concierge will then look up your request and send directions straight to your in-car navigation system. Really neat and convenient.

And once that it was found the restaurant that you’re looking for it can even call ahead to find out if there’s tables available or help make a reservation. Additionally, you can ask it for directions to other things like the nearest petrol station, pharmacy, shopping center and so forth. You can even use it to look up movie timings, flight times and even hotels and use it to book a room ahead of your arrival.

Does it work?

Yes and no. It works insofar as it can give you directions to places, but whether the directions and options are accurate or the best is another matter. When I tested it in office and asked for directions to the nearest Esso petrol station, it gave me directions to one along Dunearn Road. Problem is my office is just off MacPherson Road and I know for a fact that there are three Esso petrol stations that are within a kilometer radius. 

Another time was when I asked for directions to the nearest McDonald's when I was along Tampines Street 42. The operator informed me that the nearest McDonald's was at Bedok Interchange. It's not exactly far, but as readers familiar with Tampines will know, there are numerous alternatives that are closer.

I experienced the same problem when asking for directions to other places such as Starbucks, KFC or ATMs as well. The option given to me isn’t always the nearest. That said, credit must be given where it is due, and I must commend the operators on their politeness and promptness.

I was along Tampines Street 42 when I asked for directions to the nearest McDonald's and this was the result I got from concierge services.

Bedok Interchange isn't exactly far, but there are certainly closer alternatives.

Why does this happen?

One must understand that this concierge service is new and was only recently implemented by BMW. As such, teething issues such as these are understandable. Hopefully, they’ll find ways to improve on the relevance of their search results.

Secondly, we suspect that the call center isn’t necessarily located in Singapore and it doesn’t serve BMW owners in Singapore alone - even if we buy lots of BMW (it was the third best-selling brand last year). Our guess is that the call center is located somewhere in the region and it serves all BMW owners in the region. As such, the operators are unlikely to be as familiar with our country as we are.


Final Thoughts

Despite the problems I faced, I still found the concierge service to be useful. It may not be super accurate in providing options to places, but it is infinitely more convenient than pulling out your smartphone or a map directory to look up directions yourself. However, it’s probably most useful when driving overseas, like in Malaysia where you may not be entirely familiar with the area and there's an emergency where you need to get to the nearest pharmacy or doctor, for example.

In spite of the advances in voice recognition technology today, I still find it really unreliable. And while BMW’s in-car control interface is rather intuitive, it’s still quite a hassle to use especially if you need to input a really long address. So call me lazy if you want, but I also really enjoyed using the concierge service to input the address into the car’s navigation system for me. And the best thing about it is that despite the menial nature of this task, the operators never once sounded flummoxed or annoyed and always helped me with my request promptly and happily.

Finally, the good thing about the concierge service is that it is offered as part of BMW’s ConnectedDrive, and right now, all cars purchased through the official BMW dealership in Singapore will come with ConnectedDrive services as standard for three-years. This means new owners will be able to try and experience all of ConnectedDrive’s features and services at no cost. However, after the three years are up, owners will need to pay a a yearly subscription fee to continue enjoying all of these. As of now, we were told that the annual fee would be in the region of S$450. It’s no small sum, but it could be worthwhile if you find ConnectedDrive useful.

Note: This article was first published on 4th November 2015.

Kenny Yeo

Kenny Yeo / Associate Editor

Specifications are not everything. It's what you do with what you have that matters.