BMW starts selling seat heating, steering wheel warming as monthly subscriptions

The BMW logo
The hardware is already installed, but payment is needed to access the software. Photo credit: Getty Images

We've become used to paying subscriptions to stream movies and listen to music - but BMW is taking that to a new level with subscriptions to unlock car functions.

The German carmaker is now offering a number of options for drivers in Aotearoa and some other countries to upgrade their driving experience in certain cars - but it comes at a cost.

Anyone who wants to warm their bum up, for example, faces paying $30 per month for front seat heating. 

According to the company, the three adjustable levels "keeps you comfortable and helps relax sore back muscles".

Drivers who want longer-term warmth can subscribe for a year for $290, $450 for three years or buy an unlimited licence for $640.

Charging for better functionality in a car isn't new, of course. Upgrades have always been available. But paying monthly fees to unlock functionality already built into the car is much newer.

How about hearing the engine purring away just as you like it? That'll set you back a one-off $250 fee in Aotearoa.

"When you're in the vehicle interior you will always be able to hear the engine sound that matches the current vehicle dynamics. You can also adjust the intensity of the experience to suit your own preferences," the website states.

"The hardware required for this feature comes ready-installed in your vehicle when it leaves the factory, at no extra cost. This gives you even more flexibility when it comes to configuring your vehicle."

Other features that can be paid to be unlocked include the drive recorder, which allows you to film your surroundings for up to 40 seconds at a cost of $19 per month, and steering wheel heating.

BMW describes that latter function as making "driving safer", and promises a driver's rim will be heated to a pleasant temperature "in no time at all", but still charges $20 per month to do so. An unlimited subscription will set you back $350.

Drivers can even make their car drive smoother by paying more to unlock the software, with Adaptive M suspension costing $850.

"You no longer have to decide between comfort and performance. It is sensor-controlled and adapts to the respective conditions in split seconds, delivering complete safety even in difficult driving situations," the website states.

Unsurprisingly there's been a backlash on social media to the news.

"At this point, heated seats are basic functionality that's already padded into the price of the car. It's beyond greedy to try and get a subscription out of it," one person wrote on Twitter.

"You can now use the features we locked behind software despite being literally built into the car, thanks BMW, how generous of you, lol, what's next, turn signals?" wrote another.

A third was less polite.

"BMW can eat a bag of dicks; hope people hack the shit out of their software and they don't see a penny."