I got to drive the brand-new 2011 Ford Explorer in San Diego this week, on- and off-road, as a guest of the Ford Motor Co. I wanted to learn about its connected car solution called MyFordTouch, an upgrade to the SYNC system Ford released last year.
Jennifer Brace, the User Interface Engineer responsible for MyFordTouch, accompanied me on a long, pretty drive out to a country ranch where the off-road trials were held. Along the way, I got to play with MyFordTouch, such as calling Peggy Smedley and finding the closest Costco, all without having to take my hands off of the wheel or eyes off of the road. The navigation system is easy to use and provides clear instructions, though I would have liked to receive verbal warnings of upcoming turns in urban areas with more than 0.1 mile’s running room.
Initiating an action by voice is as simple as pressing a button on the steering wheel, saying a command such as “Play Message” or “Call.” I also played music from multiple audio sources, including satellite radio, my iPhone, and music stored on the car’s SD card, all using voice commands. Album cover art from Gracenote and the ability to tag songs in iTunes enhanced the experience of listening to music in the car.
The system requires some learning, and it didn’t always understand my speech. It’s a really good user experience overall, however, and a big improvement in safety for those who need to stay in touch while on the move. MyFordTouch is significantly better than the voice recognition system available in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which I drove in a competitive road trial. The Jeep system is also initiated with a button-press on the wheel, but it recognizes a smaller set of commands and relies heavily on driver selections made by tapping a menu options presented on the center console. I took my eyes off the road and my hand off the wheel to use it, and the forced set of menu picks often didn’t present the information I was looking for on the second, third, or even fourth screens. It was distracting and less useful than I expected.
Lastly, while I went to the drive trials to discover MyFordTouch, I found that it resides within a well-built and fun-to-drive vehicle. Ford pulled all of the stops out with the redesign of the Explorer, adding unique safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, curve control to help keep the car on the road during too-fast turns, and inflatable rear seatbelts to reduce injury to back seat passengers in a collision. Adaptive cruise control – which maintains a set distance from the car in front of you – will make long driving trips more enjoyable and also enable eco-driving in the city. TeleNav’s navigation service for the car includes an eco-route option, in which factors that affect energy efficiency are taken into account such as inclines, number of stops, and average speed of travel.
Explorer’s off-road performance was impeccable. The terrain management system controls the car’s performance in sand, mud, snow, and steep downhill inclines — and I put all of these systems through their paces during the off-road trials. The sand course was especially fun, with the car maintaining traction, momentum, and steering control while I made the tightest figure-eights I could manage with the gas pedal floored.
Thanks to the Ford Motor Co. for inviting me to drive the new 2011 Explorer with MyFordTouch. I got into the car to see MyFordTouch, but stayed inside because of the car’s comfort, safety, and great styling. Congrats, Ford, on the launch of the 2011 Explorer. Nicely done.