Ford’s frustrating high-tech controls

Last reviewed: February 2011
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Our Ford Edge (available to subscribers) has the optional MyFord Touch system, a new driver interface for operating the radio, climate control, and navigation system, as well as interfacing with cell phones and portable music players. The system does away with most knobs and buttons. The Lincoln version, MyLincoln Touch, comes standard on the MKX (available to subscribers) and does away with knobs altogether. But those systems are a complicated distraction when driving.

The driver’s interface systems use an 8-inch video touch screen in the center of the dashboard, with a panel of touch-sensitive buttons under it. It also includes two 4.2-inch dashboard displays flanking the speedometer that can be configured to show different gauges and perform some of the same functions as the center screen. Those screens are controlled by two steering-wheel-mounted five-way switches not unlike those found on a television remote or cell phone.

If that sounds confusing, it gets worse: The system also recognizes and responds to voice commands. It all adds up to three or four ways to make what should be simple adjustments. None of the options works as well or is as easy to use as old-fashioned knobs and switches, and they can be more time-consuming and distracting to operate. First-time users might find it impossible to comprehend.

The center screen’s cluttered pages, tiny buttons, and small fonts make choosing the right spot to touch difficult. The screen can be slow to respond.

Touch-sensitive buttons are designed to respond to a finger tap or swipe across their surface. They look high tech but tend either to make bigger adjustments than you want or not respond at all—especially if you’re wearing gloves. Their small size make them difficult to find at a glance.

The steering-wheel-mounted buttons control screens closer to your line of sight, which saves some looking away to the center screen. But there is a learning curve to their layered menus, and they take more time to operate than a dedicated button.

The Sync voice commands generally work. Ford says the system has a vocabulary of more than 10,000 words, and we found it to be the easiest way to control an iPod or program the navigation system while driving. But voice commands for simple functions are slow and tedious. Sync isn’t perfect, so you might find yourself uttering some words not found in the system’s vocabulary.

Bottom line

We hope Ford returns to using tactile buttons and knobs again. Improving the touch-screen interface would also help.