Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Auto Reviewer Feeling Out of Sync

To hear the Ford commercials tell it, the new Sync with MyFord Touch is revolutionizing the way you interact with your vehicle. Because that's the slogan on their Web site: "Revolutionizing the way you interact with your vehicle."
But I didn't want a revolution. I just wanted the radio.

Auto Reviewer Feeling Out of Sync

To hear the Ford commercials tell it, the new Sync with MyFord Touch is revolutionizing the way you interact with your vehicle.
 
Because that's the slogan on their Web site: "Revolutionizing the way you interact with your vehicle."
 
But I didn't want a revolution. I just wanted the radio.
 
I hopped into the 2011 Ford Explorer delivered to my driveway and eagerly anticipated trying out this new technology. I'd driven a Ford Fiesta with a less high-tech version of Sync and was pretty pleased with how things worked, and I thought this would have to be even better, right?
 
When I started up the SUV, all Sync wanted to do was find my phone. I didn't have any use for my phone, and generally don't when I'm driving. I just wanted to set up a CD and the radio. I need Traffic on the 2s or the trip from West Chester to Center City is going to be a long one.
 
Ah, blast it, fine. I run my first errand, thinking maybe it will work itself out later.
 
After five miles, no such luck. And I'm going to crash this blasted Ford if I keep playing around with it.
 
After my errand, I park off to the side and start trying to find the radio.
 
No button to press on the dash. Nothing on the screen looks obvious. Just a lot of questions about setting up my phone.
 
OK, OK, fine, you can have my phone. Set the phone, type in the code. Happy now, Sync?
 
Still, the display wasn't changing. I look around. Two buttons on the steering wheel say "OK" and have four arrows attached. I hit the left one and change my trip odometer. I hit the right one and get a menu that includes "Entertainment." But it's not changing what I want.
 
Now Sync goes blank. And the power is off. OK, I killed it.
 
After a few seconds, I hear a murmur of life from Sync. Then the display makes everything clear: Sync from Microsoft. And a bar that says "Performing system maintenance."
 
Oh, right, now I remember, this is Microsoft. And it works about as well as every Microsoft product I've encountered so far. (Yes, I'm a Mac man, something that's caused trouble in Sturgis nerdland, as Mrs. Passenger Seat and Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 3.0 are PC lovers.)
 
At some point I managed to get a display that listed CD, am/fm and other functions. But I can't for the life of me remember how now that I'm away from the dashboard.
 
But even now that I've found what I want, the hard work is far from over. Simply changing the radio station requires me to press a button to set the station manually and then type in the radio call letters. If I hit "Scan" it'll stop at the station I want but then move after a few seconds. And I don't know how to stop it.
 
Sure, at some point I'll get used to this system and it'll all work. But it seems ludicrous that something as simple as turning on and tuning in the radio should require 10 minutes to do. And even when I have the screen menu I want, I absolutely HAVE to look at the screen -- and look AWAY from the Schuylkill Expressway -- to hit the right button. And the touch screen doesn't seem to work seamlessly with Mr. Driver's Seat's fingers, somehow.
 
I talked with a security guard on the way in to the office who admired the Explorer. "Oh, man," I thought to myself. "He's going to tell me what an idiot I am."
 
I told him about how Sync sunk me. He said he has an F150 and got the $2,500 option only because it came on the truck he picked out. But he still hasn't figured out how to work it yet.
 
This is starting to remind me of VIC, the crazed Visual Information Center of the 1989 Oldsmobile Trofeo. Or some uncooperative version of KITT from "Knight Rider."
Ford reports that it's making changes to the software, and offering classes, a special web site and a hotline to help owners ovecome the trouble with its system. (See my column, www.philly.com/driversseat, for a recent report on J.D. Power's initial quality survey falling in large part because of trouble with these systems.)
Hopefully, Ford will get this system straightened out, because its recent new and redesigned vehicles have been pretty strong offerings otherwise.
Scott Sturgis For The Inquirer
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Scott Sturgis For The Inquirer