2012 Ford Explorer: Ownership Viewpoint of MyFord Touch
November 16, 2011
While we have our Explorer for a year, I think Sync and MyFord Touch are the most difficult features for us to evaluate. Most of our staff rotates daily in our long-term cars, and the occasional nighttime commute home isn't really enough time to learn everything there is about MyFord Touch.
Fortunately, my schedule typically gives me multiple days with a vehicle, and this better replicates the ownership experience. So I've spend some time focused on Sync and MyFord Touch to figure out if I can alleviate some of our prior complaints.
Just to clarify, Sync is the voice-command system that allows you to control your phone, your MP3 player and some vehicle systems through voice commands. (There is also more to Sync, such as things like turn-by-turn navigation and emergency response). MyFord Touch (MFT) is the optional touchscreen interface that also equips the Explorer with a different center stack design and two additional LCD display screens flanking the speedometer.
As with any technology, one of the first questions you have to ask is: what does it do for me? In the case of MFT, there are two answers: design and customization. Essentially, MFT is Ford's electronic interface, just as BMW has iDrive, Mercedes has COMAND and Audi has its MMI. Each of these automakers is looking for a way to integrate modern technology and more customization possibility. The main difference here for Ford is that while the German automakers have gone with a rotating knob and button arrangement, Ford has chosen to primarily utilize a large touchscreen.
In concept, MFT makes a lot of sense. If you look at cars that try and pack in a lot of technology with a conventional button layout, you get, well, a lot of buttons. Honda is the main example here, and we've often complained that Honda and Acura's button-heavy dashes are not all that aesthetically pleasing and, while generally intuitive, still take some button hunting to get what you want. In contrast, MFT, is clean-looking and modern.
Plus, MFT allows levels of customization you could never get away with a button system. You can change the way the flanking display screens look. You can customize the arrangement of the touchscreen. You can do all sorts of things with the navigation system and audio system. You can display incoming text messages. Heck, if you want to load up an image of your favorite Edmunds/Inside Line Editors and have it as your Explorer's wallpaper image, you can do that, too.
The main downside to MFT -- and this is something that Dan covered really well earlier in this post -- is that you lose tactile confirmation when pressing a touchscreen button. Occasionally you'll press a button and, due to lag or a non-response, you're left staring at the screen wondering whether your button press actually worked. Rather than keeping your eyes on the road, you're keeping your eyes on the screen. Not good. Most of the virtual buttons do light up graphically when you've activated them, but since you're finger is on them when pressing, it's usually not all that helpful.
If you're just sitting in your driveway, working your way though MFT isn't a problem (just as it's not a problem when you can apply concentration to your cell phone). But when youre driving, MFT can be aggravating, and that's the crux of the complaints.
I will say, however, that having spent some time playing around with our Explorer, I've realized that this issue isn't as bad as it seems. At first, I thought the right-hand button controller on the steering wheel will do the trick, but as Dan said in his post, the buttons are mostly for the flanking support screen in the gauge cluster, not the main MFT screen. They certainly come in handy and are useful, but they don't fix the MFT issue.
The answer is Sync. With Sync, you can use voice activation to do many things, such as change radio stations, queue up artists on your MP3 player, bring up the nav map, enter a destination or adjust the temperature. With Sync, your eyes are always on the road. Basically, you can utilize Sync while you're driving and then utilize MFT when you're parked or not moving to take advantage of MFT's customization possibilities. Sync and MFT make a pretty good combination.
To be honest, though, it's kind of a workaround. And "workaround" implies there's a significant problem. Not everybody wants dive into a manual to understand how things work. And not everybody will want to talk to their car. And if you don't want to talk, you're left with MFT. Overall, I think the German automakers' knob-and-button arrangements work better, particularly from a while-you're-driving standpoint.
But I also think Ford deserves a lot of credit for pushing the technology envelope. The company also has a lot of support to help owners, including a website, live chats and phone lines. Yes, MFT could certainly be better. But remember the German interfaces haven taken a lot of heat as well, and its only through several revisions that they've gotten good. Hopefully Ford's future fixes to MFT will be worthwhile, as there is a lot of promise.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor