Not 'syncing' with MyFord
A handful of opportunities to 'life test' Ford vehicles for a couple of weeks at a time has left Shaun Conlin with the vague impression that MyFord sucks.
Posted July 31, 2012
By SHAUN CONLIN, EVERGEEK MEDIA
Over the last couple of years, I've the journalistic privilege to drive a few Ford vehicles in the Motor Company's "Media Fleet" program. This has included a fully-loaded 2012 Ford Explorer Limited featuring a 2.0 Litre EcoBoost engine; a 2011 Lincoln MKX (Lincoln is Ford's "luxury" brand); a 2011 Ford Explorer Limited featuring the complete "tech" package, and a humble 2011 Ford Fiesta.
In a nutshell, Ford loaned me these vehicles for a couple of weeks at a time so I could get to know each intimately, fiddle with its wares and otherwise use it as my daily driver, document the affair and write up my (presumably-favorable) findings. Nice rides all and each with debatable engineering pros and cons (EcoBoost is a wash in my books; adaptive cruise control should be called "adaptive tailgating," ...I could go on, but not today), but all featuring varying levels of computerized assistance and safety features, sometimes referred to as MyFord Sync or, more recently, Sync MyFord Touch - stay on it, branding team! Something's gotta stick!
Unfortunately, in each and every case, something invariably sucked.
Backing up my backing up
Commonly among the Explorers and the MKX, I got a kick out of the self-parking technology, which turned out to be surprisingly effective. Then again, I only tested it one time each, being much too proud to let a computer do what I can do better in a swift and manly fashion.
But what I found dangerously irksome what the whole back-up system, complete with rearward video on the forward console screen - with wheel tracking overlays to boot - while sensors encompassing the vehicle watched for cars and cross traffic when backing out of driveways or parking stalls.
First of all, the entire system inadvertently encourages driver to fixate on the video screen and rely chirps and alarms to declare an object approaching from the sides. But it chirps the same warning for a curbside garbage can as it does a kid on a trike. Learn to ignore the garbage chirp and you might mow over the neighbor's kid. Plus, you kind of forget to watch your font end, which is moving laterally if you're maneuvering. The argument, of course, is that drivers are still required to pay attention to their surroundings and that the back-up video is only there to assist. But it's not really assisting if it's adding to your list of things to watch. It's adding a step to an already delicate process. Back-up cameras are good for panel vans or for hitching a boat trailer to your pickup truck, but they encourage lazy reversing in cars.
Ironically, it seems most new vehicles equipped with reverse cameras and sensors are also designed with more blind spots than a submarine. Go figure.
The back-up sensors are part of Ford's "Blind Spot Information System," or BLIS. This is also the system that blinks a little light in your side view mirrors if there's a car in your blind spot. Good thing, too, because if you're in the habit of actually checking your blind spots, all you'll see is a door post - go design team! - so it's not really "shoulder check" anymore but a "torso check." Regardless, it's way too easy to become reliant on these "helpful" blind spot lights. Hop into a car that doesn't have them - a rental car or dad's classic Duster, say - and they're not there but neither is your lapsed habit of shoulder checking. It's worrisome dependence, to say the least.
Voice Activated Surrealism
MyFord Sync Touch MyLiconln (or whatever they're calling it today) is a fairly companionably technology in that it can automatically pair with your smartphone, enabling hands free calls, reading and dictaphoning text messages, and playing music stored therein. MyFord is also synced with in-car features to allow for voice activated climate control, GPS navigation and the like.
Unfortunately, despite what commercials and promos imply, talking to your Ford is beastly experience. The technology did show modest improvement from one model year tested to the next, but I still had to talk to my Fords as if scolding a willful toddler: slowly, deliberately and with exaggerated enunciation and no uncertain terms. Half the time, that didn't even work - and half of that half-the-time, the thing kicked me over to the touch screen display to make a selection manually despite being locked out of such tactile activation because I was in motion. If MyFord technology was supposed to make me a safer, hands-free driver, the effect was contrary. I was more distracted than ever. I'd rather argue with a toddler.
I can readily admit I'm getting older, but it's a little harder for me to admit my memory is failing. Nonetheless, there was a time when I could read a map in a gas station, commit directions to memory and be on my way for the next 10-hour stretch of driving, but now I need GPS to guide me around the block.
Alas, Ford's built-in navigation was wanting in this department, too. Last year, a 900km round trip in the 2011 Explorer had me doing the Lewis and Clark thing, with many roads and all expected waypoints not even programmed into the thing. More recently, a second, leisurely business/pleasure trip over the course of a week in the MKX netted me a GPS that was mis-calibrated and showing me as plowing through farmer's fields and suburban backyards about 30 meters west of my actual position. Whenever I hit a supposed cross street, the thing would quickly suggest a right turn and new set of directions before plunging again into marshland and land survey terrain. I left it on for comedic effect in an otherwise long, lonely drive in a really nice Lincoln.
Most recently, navigation in the 2012 Explorer was uneventful, save for a POI search for Starbucks putting me squarely in a Tim Horton's drive thru. I didn't even say "coffee," let alone "donut," but there I was. My inner conspiracy theorist is thinking Tim Horton's has a rerouting deal with Ford. Or perhaps Ford was trying to be helpful and assumed any Canadian looking for a quick coffee obviously means "Timmy's" even though they said "maple syrup" or "factory dog sled outlet."
Out of tunes
I was pleasantly surprised to see a USB port accommodating thumb drives full of MP3s to play out on the rather spiffy sound systems in the Explorers and MKX. For an automaker that was still putting VHS tape players in its minivans in 2006, this is radical thinking.
As it happens, I broke it.
We had something of a tailgate party in my driveway with the 2012 Explorer. The neighbors came over and talked cars while my tunes played off the thumb drive. With the engine off, it took about 2 hours to drain the battery enough trigger a warning. After that, it never played the thumb drive again. Worse, it continued to think there was broken thumb drive in there and would not display any other audio type on the console screen or instrument cluster, though I could sometimes get it to switch over to FM despite its manic insistence that the thumb drive playlist was on deck.
I admit I broke it; under-powering any computer controlled device is potentially disastrous, but it's not like my driveway tailgate party was unpredictable or unprecedented. Then again, the move from VHS to pure digital entertainment may have taxed Fords debugging team more than I thought.
As for the Ford Fiesta, which I haven't yet listed for glitches, was the glitchiest of the lot - retro, old school glitchy, at least. It was kindly delivered to my door in the middle of a Canadian winter along with an apology that the battery had just been charged after the previous user had run it dead. No big deal. I took the thing for a rip around the block to see how well its summer tires (?!) could handle the snow covered roads of Alberta. Not very well, as it turns out (go figure) but if I ever enter a sewing machine in a rally car race, I'll be somewhat prepared. The next morning the battery was dead again and so were any further attempts to test drive it.
It can be argued, of course, that vehicles from a "media fleet" are going to be more prone to glitching out because they're put through uncommonly vigorous paces by said "media." It can also be argued that Ford can't expect anything less from testers left to their own devices, especially tech journalists like myself who just want to crank the tunes in the driveway and then maybe grab a Grande-Black-French-Roast before heading out on a land survey through trampolines and kiddie pools.