In the most recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, the Ford and Lincoln brands suffered a major setback. Ford dropped from 5th place to 23rd, and Lincoln dropped from 8th place to 17th. Ouch.
Does this mean that new Fords and Lincolns are shedding parts all over the driveway? Not necessarily. The IQS score doesn’t just tally mechanical failures; it’s also affected by any frustrations that owners are having with their cars. And for Ford and Lincoln, a big source of frustration is their MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch electronic interface. After spending a week in an MKX with MyLincoln Touch, I can see why.
While I did not experience any of system failures or freezing up that some others have, the functionality of the system alone was problem enough.
Great expectations Ford had such high hopes for this system. The company announced the technology in January 2010 at the Consumer Electronics Show, which has sort of become what the world fair used to be: a great window into the future. At that unveiling, Ford VP and head of global product development, Derrick Kuzak, said that this new technology “creates an experience that will cause people to fall in love with their vehicles again.”
Um, not quite.
How it works The system centers around three LCD color screens. Two 4.2-inch screens on either side of the speedometer display information. 5-way controllers on the steering-wheel spokes select what is to be displayed. Vehicle information (fuel economy, engine RPMs, trip computer, etc.) is on the left, infotainment (phone, audio system, navigation, etc.) on the right. So far, so good.
The problems start with the large, 8-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash. You can call up home screens for navigation, audio, phone, and climate control at any time, by touching one of the four corners of the screen. That’s good. What’s also good is the modern appearance and high resolution of the displays. What’s bad is how many functions have been sucked into the screen. It’s especially bad because the spots you need to touch to operate them are very small, requiring lots of eyes-off-the-road time to use. And the touch spots don’t always react reliably, often needing a second or third jab.
A few functions have redundant buttons on the steering wheel, and you end up using those a lot. And yes, there are also voice controls, but talking to a computer in your car is about as satisfying as talking to an automated voicemail tree on the phone. “Please say or enter your 13-digit account number…”
Still more touchiness Below the screen, additional buttons handle the most-used chores for the audio and climate-control systems—tasks like changing the temperature, tuning stations, and switching among preset stations. Unfortunately, Ford here has gone to capacitive, touch-sensitive “buttons,” which really are not buttons at all, but are touch-sensitive areas, demarked by tiny raised nubs. They present no advantage whatsoever over traditional switches, and suffer several disadvantages. Like the on-screen buttons, these demand a lot of attention to hit the right spot, and they don’t always react immediately.
Lincoln, on the leading edge Lincoln takes the touch-madness one step further, by replacing volume and fan-speed knobs with touch-sensitive slide bars. You’re supposed to swipe your finger across these horizontal raised sections, while an on-screen graphic shows how much you’re raising or lowering fan speed or audio volume. In practice, not only is this again far more demanding of a driver’s attention than the traditional system would be, but even when concentrating, it’s almost impossible to get the outcome you want because of the system’s time lag and its hit-or-miss sensitivity. The slider swipe bar ends up being far less precise to operate than any normal solution; you’re sort of herding the volume or the fan speed in the direction you want it to go, and hoping that it ends up somewhere near where you intended.
No wonder owners are not thrilled.
Totem of the high-tech age It would appear that the iPhone and iPad and their ilk have made the touch-screen the customer-dazzling technology of the moment. Although that might be fine for many consumer objects, it is—so far, at least—very poorly adapted to in-car use.
(One exception would be the draw-your-own letters and numbers touch-pad on Audi’s latest navigation system, which requires less eyes-away-from-the-road time than any other method of input.)
Despite the problems with touch-screens, however, automakers have embraced them as a hallmark of modernity. Touch-screens are the tail fins of today, except that their benefits are even more dubious.