Editor’s Note: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Byron Hurd of SpeedSportLife, in his TTAC debut.
There has been an almost-palpable sensation of glee propagating through the various import-leaning car communities I frequent. For nearly two years, they’ve had to sit back and listen to the other guys relentlessly gushing about domestic brand turnarounds. With only a few notable speed bumps, it has been a pretty good run so far for post-bailout Detroit. Market share is up; buyers are coming back; product is improving–a sad state of affairs for the import fanboy. Then, out of nowhere, those cunning deviants over at Motor Trend—known of course for setting the magazine landscape ablaze with their out-of-left-field criticisms and take-no-prisoners, “gotcha”-style journalism—dropped a Molotov cocktail into this Texas-desert-dry landscape of domestic love.
The 2011 Explorer, they said, quite simply sucks.
“Now hold on,” you might protest, “they didn’t say that.” And maybe they didn’t in so many words, but as Jonny’s follow-up makes clear, it’s pretty much how they felt about the example they tested. And really, does it matter what anybody said? The finishing order of a comparison test is much like that of a race (or if you’re an Orioles fan like me, the AL East standings). First place is the winner, second place is the first loser, and last place is reserved for cars purchased only by the uneducated, unworthy co-workers whom you spend so much time slandering in the company of your Audi-driving Internet friends. I can only speculate as to the exact details (I don’t drive an Audi) but I’d assume the conversations largely revolve around themes such as poverty, racial discrimination, and—like any discussion about anything on the Internet, ever—pornography.
But I digress. While much to-do was made about their Explorer’s pre-production status, there was another recurring theme that I’d rather talk about, one that has been in the news a bit lately in flammable proximity to phrases like “technical service bulletin” and “frustrated owners.” I’m referring of course to MyFord Touch, Ford’s latest and flashiest SYNC-cessory.
Yes, accessory. For all the press Ford has been getting, positive or negative, there’s a serious absence of understanding as to what MyFord Touch actually is, and for that matter, what it does. MyFord Touch is essentially an extension of MyFord, the interior settings customization option that Ford has been offering for several model years in some variation or another. MyFord lets you select ambient lighting colors and brightness, display functions and colors, and other nifty settings that have little or nothing to do with anything related to the functionality of the car.
MyFord Touch extends that customization to the gauge cluster and infotainment system and offers you a pretty LCD touch-screen (hence the “Touch”) interface from which to control, well, almost everything. But wait, there’s more. Depending on the car and the trim, the Touch option also replaces many center stack controls with either raised, touch-sensitive faux-buttons or a glossy, piano-black touch panel on which more frequently-needed controls such as audio adjustments, HVAC settings and their various on/off switches are duplicated.
Remember too that all of these functions can be controlled by voice through the SYNC interface—triple redundancy. And that sums it up pretty well. By the time you’ve optioned your Ford up to the point where Touch even enters into the equation, you have probably already purchased at least two alternative control interfaces. That’s because MyFord Touch is not SYNC. It’s just a pretty interface that adds another layer of visual panache and techno-gee-whizardry to an already robust infotainment package. You don’t need MyFord Touch if you don’t want MyFord Touch.
And why would you? Well, for one thing, it’s cool. It’s the automotive entertainment equivalent of the iPad—pointless, redundant and expensive. You may know this concept by its more common colloquialism: luxury. That’s what MyFord Touch is, a luxury. It’s a premium option designed for buyers who need to be seen with an expensive gadget, and like any expensive gadget, it will have its share of growing pains. Just learning how to touch the screen properly takes practice (The trick? Just fat-finger it. Hovering delicately over the option you want, waiting for the road surface and suspension to fall into perfect harmony before jabbing daintily at the ¼”-thick bar representing your favorite Lady Gaga single is an exercise in anal-retentive futility. Aim in the general direction of what you want and mash that sucker with ham-fisted authority. You’re welcome.)
That’s not to say that MyFord Touch itself is faultless. Learning the proper technique for prodding at the interface is just the start. Even with several weeks’ worth Touch-equipped press cars under my belt, I still have to stop and think about what it is I’m trying to do. Sometimes, the interface is so unintuitive that I jab at the SYNC button with frustration and curtly inform the synthetic slave girl behind the dash what exactly it is I want “her” to do.
There are plenty of “hey, neat” moments too. The touch-screen provides a handy interface for managing Bluetooth devices, allowing you to connect multiple gadgets simultaneously, assigning each a priority and function. Want to stream music from your iPod touch but make calls from your Blackberry? Stream music from your Droid but use your passenger’s iPhone for phone calls? No sweat. It’s all right there in the phone settings menu. Tech geeks can tweak to their hearts’ content.
Well-executed too are the customizable LCD displays flaking the speedometer (Certain models get only one, mounted dead-center. Focus buyers, I’m looking at you). They share the duties of the typical center-mounted multifunction display that has recently become somewhat of a staple. The left-side screen focuses on vehicle systems (tachometer, fuel economy display, trip info, vehicle health, etc.) and the right is a further extension of the infotainment system, allowing the driver to choose quickly from different audio/video sources or adjust those already selected using wheel-mounted buttons—yes, another layer of control.
The truth is, the story of MyFord Touch is much like that of any other fancy gadget. Early adopters get the worst of it, dealing with patches and updates and pesky issues that never seem to go away. Such is the way of modern software, unfortunately. To most of us, it’ll never matter. Nobody’s forcing it on us, and we’re content to choose something else. To fanboys, it’ll be a reminder of why they’re so certain that Ford can’t build a good car.
Hey, everybody needs something to hang on to.
Byron Hurd’s “Lord Byron” column can be found here at SpeedSportLife