German luxury automakers have slowly been turning their vehicles into computers on wheels over the past few years, putting a plethora of buttons and screens never more than a few inches away from a driver or passenger. Yet there's still unexplored frontiers, as BMW has revealed with a steering wheel that keeps track of your fuel efficiency, lap times and even tells drivers when to shift. It's like having a mini race engineer sitting on the rim -- although his services don't come cheap.
Available as a dealer-installed option on several BMW M and traditional models, the $1,600 BMW M Performance Steering Wheel comes wrapped in Alcantara suede for that fractional improvement in grip that true drivers crave. The screen at the top of the wheel can be set to three modes; one to measure efficiency, a Sport mode that tracks lap times and holds a g-meter to measure the forces in turns, and a Race mode with more extensive timing and acceleration measures, such as how long it takes to reach 62 mph.
On either side of the screen lie a row of LEDs that flash green and red to suggest optimal shifting points for the wannabe racer. It's one of those innovations that sounds silly at first, but offers some usability the more you see it in action. And yet $1,600 buys a lot of accelerometers, stopwatches and gasoline. You can see the wheel in action below: