Many drivers will be familiar with the idea of connecting a smartphone to their car over Bluetooth to play music stored on the handset, or even stream it over the phone’s 3G connection - but BMW and British entertainment company Rara have taken this a step further, by beaming your favourite tracks directly to the car itself.
An optional extra on almost all new BMWs - only the Z4 and 1 Series are currently excluded, until they are next updated - and powered by the car’s ConnectedDrive service, Rara works by streaming music to the car’s 3G mobile internet connection, provided by a Vodafone SIM card.
Controlled via the car’s iDrive console, or steering wheel-mounted controls, and viewed on the car’s dashboard screen and (optional) head-up display, Rara has 28 million tracks from all major record labels, as well as many independent names too.
Once streamed to the car, every track is cached on a 20GB hard drive, meaning they are effectively stored in the car after you’ve listened to them once, ready to be played again - even if you don’t have a signal.
Another measure to combat driving through areas of poor reception is how the system is always streaming the next three tracks, so if your signal drops you’ll still get those songs before playback stops - although it’s assumed you’ll have reconnected before then.
We tried out Rara in a shiny new BMW M4 and thought the sound quality was great - an incredible feat, given the tracks are just 64kbps, far below the usual 128 or 256kbps from other services and iTunes. The high-end speakers used by BMW no doubt help here.
We also loved Rara’s use of the head-up display, beaming information about the current track and album art onto the windscreen, next to the car’s speed.
Playlists can be created through Rara’s mobile apps - not in the car, although we wouldn’t suggest making the perfect playlist while driving anyway - and Rara also offers up its own playlists. Songs can be liked as they are played to help Rara understand your preferences.
Although there's no keybiard to search for artist, album and track names, you can scroll through the alphabet using the iDrive's rotating dial (pictured above), or write each letter with your finger on top of the dial. The system starts to provide suggests after you've enetered three letters.
Fitting Rara (and the Vodafone SIM card) is a £325 optional extra on new models. This includes unlimited data and unlimited streaming for a year, so you can listen to as much as you like; after the first 12 months the service costs £225 per year.
Whatever way you look at it, that’s a lot of money for a music streaming service when Spotify costs just under £120 a year. But we like where Rara is going with this. Pairing a phone with your car can be a pain, and many drivers still reach for their handset to control playback instead of using the car’s own controls. A system as integrated as this can only be a good thing as far as road safety is concerned. Rara’s service is a BMW exclusive for now, but we expect to see others follow suit in the near future as the car becomes just another connected device.