Recently, the wonderful people who loan cars to us dropped off a brand spanking new BMW 540I. We’ll post a full-length review a little later on, but we have to talk about the super-cool optional BMW display key first. The key fob features a small touchscreen display as well as a few physical buttons that allow you to see the car’s information and complete specific actions.

We played with the system for a few minutes and mostly had it figured out. You can’t do everything with the display key, but what the little device does do is pretty cool. Here’s a detailed look at the device’s features.

What the Display Key Offers

Display key remote
Once you turn on the display key, this is what you'll see. 

The first and most basic function of the display key is to show you information about the car. Upon turning on and unlocking the device (you swipe up on the touchscreen to unlock it), you’ll see security information (the screen for that is in the top image). This information includes door, security, and window status. By tapping on the individual icons, you can see if the doors and trunk are locked and if the alarm system sensors are on. As far as windows, the car will show you if they’re up or down.

The vehicle information screen
This is the vehicle information screen. You can tap on the light or vehicle icon to see specific info.

Swipe left on the screen and you’ll see the vehicle information screen (pictured above). This screen shows the lighting status and service information. Service information includes engine oil status, vehicle check status, and brake fluid status. If anything needs addressed the device will show that you need to take action. The lighting screen shows what lights are on or off.

Range info
The range indicator is clear and easy to read, giving you everything you need to know. 

Swiping left again shows the mobility information screen (pictured above). This screen shows a gas gauge and how many miles of range you have before you’ll need to fill up.

display key remote
Tapping on the icon allows you to set a specific time for the preconditioning settings.

A third swipe left brings you to the climate control screen. Here you can set a time for the car to precondition the cabin. Once you set a departure time, you can rest assured that when you get in the car it will be the correct temperature. You also have the option to activate the climate control system right then instead of scheduling a time.

remote parking function
Remote parking may sound difficult, but it's extremely easy and straightforward. 

Swiping left for the fourth time brings you to the coolest feature of the whole device, remote parking. The Remote parking feature allows you to park the car while standing outside of the car. Simply hold the remote park button on the right side of the device and then press the arrow buttons on the touchscreen display. 

Remotely parking your BMW sounds like the scene from the 007 movie Tomorrow Never Dies, but it’s considerably less exciting. The car can only move forward or backward. It’s useful for getting into tight parking spaces where you might have trouble getting in and out of the car. With this system, you can exit the vehicle before fully parking, get out and then pull the car into place with the display key remote.

Pitfalls of the Display Key

Display key
The BMW display key gives us a glimpse into what future tech will come with cars, but it isn't perfect.

The device is a neat gadget to have, but it’s not without its faults. BMW claims the display key works a little over 900 ft away from the car, but we noticed that you have to be much closer for most of the key’s special functions to work, which eliminates the usefulness of many of its features.

Also, the remote parking feature is helpful for pulling into tight parking spaces where you may damage the doors upon entry or exit, but if you owned an expensive luxury car, would you really be that willing to slot the car into that tight of a space? 

If we owned a 5-Series or a 7-Series (the display key is available for both cars), we wouldn’t cram the thing into a tight parking space and then hope the numbskull parked next to the car will be extra careful when returning to their ride.

display key
One of the few situations where you wouldn't risk a door ding.

If everyone had a remote parking feature, this wouldn’t be an issue. However, this isn’t the perfect world BMW envisions. People are dumb, and if you pull your car into a tight space with cars next to it, you have to expect that someone will swing a door into the side of your car. The only time the remote parking feature is really useful is when you're parking in a tight space with no other cars around like in the photo above.

Also, while it’s cool having all this on your key fob, it seems a new version of the company's i Remote App for your smartphone would be a smarter use of time and money. This eliminates the need to carry the bulky fob in the first place. The display key is bigger than your average key fob. The last thing we want is another thing to shove into our pockets. Putting all this stuff into an app that we can access from a device we already carry seems like a better solution.

Bottom Line

display key

Even though BMW's display key isn’t perfect, it’s wonderful to see the automaker doing something different. The display key at least feels futuristic, and it can be useful having all that info and capability at your fingertips. While the device and system need a little more brainstorming and fine-tuning, it shows where BMW’s designers’ heads are at, and we like what we see.

BMW is looking to the future. It’s trying to imagine what that future could be. Although the display key is a bit of a fumble from a practicality standpoint, at least it’s genuinely interesting. We’re still a little ways off from piloting your car remotely like James Bond. However, this little remote makes us realize that that reality isn’t too far away. Kudos to BMW for trying.

If you want to see the display key in action, check out the video below from the automaker. 

Find Local Discounts on the BMW 5-Series