I had a chance to try out the latest 2011 model Ford Edge, a crossover SUV vehicle that comes with the latest electronics package. Usually, I get to review products that I can’t explain to my family what they do (intrusion detection appliances, anyone?) but having a press loaner car was a nice change of pace. My overall review is that while Sync is better than ever, it is still too pricey and too limited when compared to after-market options.
Ford has four different option packages of tech for its cars: There is the Sync features which allow you to connect your cell phone and music players to the car ($395). There is a navigation package that adds graphical maps to the basic turn-by-turn directions ($795). There is a rearview video camera ($240) which shows you what is going on when you are in reverse, and a touch screen for controlling audio, climate, and other cabin operations ($365). That adds up quickly and is also confusing to sort out. So my first suggestion is make it all a single priced option.
I test-drove a 2011 Edge that came with three video screens: two four-inch LCDs on either side of the speedometer and an 8 incher in the middle of the dash. This configuration will also be available in the 2011 models of the Lincoln MKX hybrids, and eventually on other cars too. The car retails for $30,000 and in my driving it was very comfortable and got about 22 mpg.
Ford has sold more than two million cars since 2007 with Sync installed: sadly, they are not available for this 2011 upgrade. The best bits are the phone connectivity and how the touch screen and voice-activated controls work, although it will take some getting used to. When I first got the car it spent more time running in my garage than on the street, as I went back and forth between my office’s Internet connection and gathering various bits and pieces of gear to try out in the car.
The car comes with a plethora of ports: two USBs, one three-RCA audio/video jacks and an SD slot for you to plug various stuff in. If you have an iPod or a USB memory stick with MP3 tunes on it, as soon as you attach it to your car it will start playing the music. All the connectors are located in the console between the two front seats, so you can stow all your gear out of sight too.
As soon as you pair your phone with the car via Bluetooth, it will attempt to download your address book so you can set up speed dialing of your most frequently called contacts. These are graphically displayed on the main screen and with a touch of a button or using voice commands you can interrupt your music and dial or answer a call. The sound quality was acceptable according to my listeners. Again, this isn’t anything all that new, with the exception of the graphical display. To play your music you’ll want to use the USB connection rather than Bluetooth.
Some downsides? If you have an iPhone, you will most likely need an upgrade to its firmware to work with your car. You can’t receive text messages (on other phones the system will process them and speak them to you over the car’s audio) on the car’s screen, which depends on a new Bluetooth profile that is as yet unsupported by Apple but is supported for Blackberry users.
The standard navigation package with Sync doesn’t show you a map of your surroundings, unlike all of the GPS’s that cost about $150 that are sold nowadays. I ended up bringing along my own GPS on a couple of trips, just because the Sync’s features were so abysmal. The $795 upcharge buys you a SD card with the maps included, which is probably the highest price you can pay for an SD card of any size these days.
Also built-in to the car is a Wifi radio, and with the addition of a broadband USB modem you can turn your car into a mobile hot spot, in case your laptop-toting passengers want to be online when on the road. Ford uses the Wifi radio to download software updates and actually provision the electronics software on the assembly line while they are making the car. You can watch this brief video about how they do it here.
If your phone supports tethering via Bluetooth, you can share and drive its Internet connectivity this way. I couldn’t get this to work on my Android phone, however.
Ford makes another electronics package for just its pickup truck line called Ford Work Solutions to run Office applications and Web browsing. This is based on a Windows CE in-dash PC, and a Sprint broadband data modem. Ford has stated that we might see some merging of functionality in the future, such as having a Web browser built into Sync so you can surf when not moving. They are also working on other Sync apps including Pandora radio and Twitter clients that will be available next year.
Speaking of Web browsing, each Sync-equipped car comes with a Web reporting system so you can keep track of any mechanical issues from the comfort of your own browser. (A screenshot is shown above)
This brings up the point of distracted driving, and certainly if you are going to buy this electronics package you should spend several hours understanding what you have before you venture out on the road. The glass cockpit is a bit daunting at first, and even for the geek in me was a bit too much information to deal with on a busy city street, let alone going 65 mph on the freeways. Ford has a “do not disturb” option to block incoming calls and texts, which is a good idea.
While I liked a lot of the features in my Sync-enabled Edge, overall I think it is still has a few rough, well, edges. Maybe if the enhanced navigation card was free I would be more favorably inclined to recommend it. And if you were to collect a GPS, a notebook PC or iPad, and a broadband modem, you can replicate most of this technology for about $600, or about a third of what you would pay for the various Ford Sync options. But you would be missing the integrated voice/touch controls for all these devices.