BMW in recent years started offering features via subscription, which allows a vehicle's owner to unlock features already built into the vehicle, typically via an over-the-air update.

Previously, feature subscriptions were mostly limited to markets outside the U.S., but that is no longer the case. First noted by Car and Driver during a recent test drive of the redesigned 2023 BMW X1, there are now several features available via subscription in the U.S.

BMW on Wednesday provided Motor Authority with a breakdown of what's on offer, and it's not all bad news.

For all but one of the features, a vehicle's owner has the choice of buying the feature outright via a one-time payment. The alternatives, depending on the feature, include one-month, one-year, and three-year subscriptions. For a customer who may only keep a vehicle for three years or less, the subscription model can actually work out to be the cheaper option, though it may hurt resale value when potential buyers discover they'll have to add the features back.

BMW feature subscriptions

BMW feature subscriptions

The features currently available via subscription include Remote Engine Start, Drive Recorder, Traffic Camera, Driving Assistant Plus with Stop&Go, and Parking Assistant Professional. Traffic Camera, BMW's feature for warning drivers about fixed and mobile speed cameras, is the only feature that can't be purchased outright. Instead, it is offered exclusively via a $25 annual subscription. The Drive Recorder, which has a camera that constantly records a drive and will automatically save the final 20 seconds prior to a crash, has been available via subscription since 2020.

More and more automakers are starting to introduce feature subscriptions. Mercedes-Benz recently started offering a $1,200 annual subscription for certain EQ-badged electric vehicles to unlock maximum performance.

Volvo, which pioneered a subscription model as an alternative to purchasing or leasing a car, is also looking at subscriptions for features but said it will limit the subscriptions to substantial items, such as an advanced driver-assist system.

Not everyone is keen on the idea of a subscription being required for features, especially when they're already built into the vehicle and only require software to unlock. Two members of the New Jersey General Assembly, Paul Moriarty and Joe Danielsen, last September introduced bill No. 4519 that aims to make it illegal for automakers and dealers to sell subscriptions for features that use hardware already installed in the vehicle at the time of purchase. However, the bill leaves a caveat for features that require ongoing expenses to the automaker, dealer, or any third-party service provider, such as content streaming services and newer driver-assist systems that are upgraded over time.