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BMW’s Lighted Gear Lever Is a Great Little Quirk

Here’s a cool feature you may not have known about: In BMW models, the gear pattern lights up on the top of the shift lever. As a connoisseur of weird and unusual automotive quirks, I absolutely love this, and I think it’s one of the best examples of attention to detail in the entire car industry.

If you drive an automatic transmission, you might not find this especially interesting — largely because automakers already have to light up the gears at the base of an automatic transmission lever so you can see what gear you’re shifting into at night. But in manual cars, the gear pattern is usually on the top of the shift knob, rather than at the base of the shifter — and that top is never illuminated.

Except in BMWs.

Generally speaking, lighting up this portion of the gear lever is unnecessary, because most manual drivers know the gear pattern without having to look at it — so it’s not important to see it at night. It’s also expensive to do, since it requires running wiring and lighting to the gear lever, which is a piece that’s normally cheap and simple. You also have to ensure that the gear pattern is clearly visible during the day, though it’s backlit at night.

And, indeed, BMW does all that. I’m not sure if this feature is on every single BMW with a manual transmission, or just some of them. But I know I’ve seen it before, and I absolutely love it: an unnecessary quirk that’s probably expensive — but very cool. For that reason, I figured it was worth sharing with you.

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  1. Most German and Japanese cars I’ve driven have ambient lights in the ceiling near the rear view mirror which gives just enough light on the center console to see the gear pattern, cup holders, and whatever else.  Still, a lighted shifter would be nice for rentals and whatnot

  2. My 2012 Toyota Prius had a white light on the ceiling that projected onto the blue gear shifter.  It was kinda a neat feature.  My current Santa fe has a similar white light, but it mainly for illuminating the cup holders, and honestly it really is not all that bright.

  3. It was very common in the late 90’s and early 2000’s BMWs, not sure if they still do that to this day. I usually remove the lighted shifters and replace them with ZHP knobs… I think the lighting is pretty tacky, honestly.

  4. I remember reading about the new E39 M5 in Sports Car International and they highlighted that feature. To this day it is the first thing that pops into my mind when I see an E39 M5!

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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