I always take note of new advancements with car companies. In some ways, the strict safety standards and semi-annual refresh schedule for new cars makes it difficult to add something totally new.
Recently, I was able to test the new 2016 Ford Escape with Sync 3, a much improved touchscreen, voice control, and driver interaction system. It’s a big leap forward and a good reason to consider this small, compact SUV that’s a blast to drive.
One of the biggest changes has to do with the responsive, capacitive touchscreen. I tend to overtest in cars, and I put this one through the ringer. I swiped through my contacts list (synced to my iPhone 6 over USB) and the screen never paused or jerked. I drove to an urban area and tried out the nav screen, which now supports pinch to zoom. I flicked around trying to find a specific intersection and found my destination easily enough. In many ways, this one advancement -- making the screen more responsive -- is a smart safety feature. When the screen doesn't quite work, it becomes distracting and even dangerous. All of the climate controls, radio settings, and even the options for configuring the text messaging feature worked flawlessly. (The car can read your incoming texts, which is another way to minimize distractions).
For voice input, I like how Ford has moved to more natural language searches. You still need to know the command phrases -- for example, asking it to find a destination or intersection. However, my searches all worked, even when I asked about Green Mill Pizza or just generically for pizza. (In the past and in other cars, when I’ve searched for pizza places, the voice assistant usually gets confused.)
Ford has moved away from the “magic quadrant” approach to interface design. In the past, you have to click in a corner to access the radio or climate settings. It wasn’t always obvious that you had to look there. Now, it’s much easier to understand because all of the main buttons are located on the lower part of the screen, just as they are on a tablet.
I also managed to get several of my apps working through Sync 3. My favorite was Pandora Radio, because you can interact with the app from the dashboard. For example, if you like a song, you can press the voice button and say thumbs up to like a song. You can even create a station from the current track, skip tracks, and list your stations. It means the old days of just creating a connection to apps are gone. Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Slacker, MOG and other apps all support voice commands. In my tests, the voice control worked with no problems.
I have to hand it to Ford on this one. I haven’t always been a big fan of the older touchscreen controls and voice commands, but I’m warming up to them now. The screen was responsive and easier to understand, which led to few distracted driving issues during my tests.
The 2016 Ford Escape Titanium is brand new at dealers and costs $29,505 with Sync 3.
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