Love the Ford Fusion Hybrid, don't like Sync March 27, 2011
A bit of background on me... I've been a "car guy" since I could remember. Cars have always excited and intrigued me. I've owned lots and lots of cars and am always happy to help friends buy cars.
When I was younger, my take on horsepower was, "if more is better, then too much is just right."
My two previous cars were a 2004 Acura TL and a 2001 BMW 540i. Both cars were very similar performance-wise, but very different in temperament. The Acura was marginally slower and marginally less stable at the handling limits than the BMW. On the other hand, the Acura had a spectacular engine with a melodious engine sound and was comfortable cruising or burning up the back roads. The BMW was better at the edge, but really didn't thrive unless it was at the edge and the rest of the time it felt sullen and stiff.
I drove the Acrua for 7 1/2 years... because I just couldn't find a better blend of car... sure I could buy faster or more prestigious or more something, but I could never find a car that justified the $20K-$60K difference from the Acura.
But being the car-boy that I am, I was pining for something new given that my Acura was where I put my butt for more than twice as long as any other car I've ever owned.
I looked around at a broad range of cars... then I drove a 412hp Mustang GT. It was the fastest car I've ever driven (yes, I've driven Porsche and Ferrari, etc.) It was so sick fast from the vast amounts of torque right off the line to the "hey, I'm doing 90 and this thing still has lots of get up and go." I realized that there was no place that I ever drive or ever could drive that would allow me to make use of the power. I realized that the 250-280hp that my last two cars had created all the acceleration that I could use.
So, I started looking elsewhere. And I found the Fusion Hybrid.
The Fusion drives just like a normal car, although it's much quieter and smoother than almost any other car I've driven (it reminds me of my friend's Rolls Royce.) It's not the "you're in a hybrid" feel of the Toyota Prius. It's a car. It's a very practical car (which is nice having a couple of kids I cart around a fair amount.) It handles reasonably well (although it feels heavy compared to the Acura.) The power delivery is smooth and linear in the Fusion. Both the handling and the linear power delivery are significant deviations from the feel of the Honda Insight and the Prius... both of which handle poorly and have very jumpy power delivery as the various parts of the drive train transition on and off.
The Fusion has acceleration that feels a lot like an Acura TSX automatic.
So far the Fusion is delivering well over 30MPG in mixed driving. This compares with about 17MPG for the Acura on the same mix and 22MPG for my wife's Mini convertible. I've managed 44MPG on one 22 mile drive. The things that negatively impact the Fusion's mileage are: cold-starts (the Fusion runs the gas engine until it warms up, so quick 2 or 3 mile drives are bad); hills (I'm not sure the terrain the EPA uses for its mileage tests, but it's not likely the hills of San Francisco and the regenerative brakes do not recover much of the energy required to climb the hills); heavy braking (maximizing the energy recovered by the brakes means not hitting them hard).
So, from the car part of the car, the Ford Fusion delivers reasonable acceleration, near-excellent handling (relative to family hauler front wheel drive cars), amazingly quiet interior, excellent noise vibration and harshness characteristics, and tons of utility with spectacular gas mileage.
But the ugly downside: Sync.
Ford is trying to create the iPod of cars... mobile entertainment units... traveling interactive mobile devices. This is based on a partnership with Microsoft and is branded as Sync (and more recently, My Ford Touch.)
Ford has missed the mark by a wide margin.
The navigation system is just plain weak. Yes, it's better than the 7 year old nav system in my Acura. On the other hand, my $200 TomTom has a better user interface, has a more responsive user interface, and has better routing than the unit in my Fusion. This is just plain inexcusable (a word I'll be using a lot in this post regarding Sync.) The TomTom is a cheap, low power device, yet it is better than the unit built into the car that can consume more power. The fact that the Sync navigation system can't do accurate trip time estimation is also inexcusable. It has some fixed rate of travel for highway and city driving that it uses for time estimation rather than the kind of real-world data that the TomTom and my Android phone use for estimation and routing. "But," you say, "the Android is hooked up to the cloud and the TomTom syncs to the cloud." Well, so does my Kindle. It's possible for Ford to include cellular data communication with the Sync system and given that I paid $4K for the option and given that I have to start paying for the service after 3 years anyway, it's very reasonable for Ford to make live updating via a cellular data network a part of the Sync system.
Speaking of data transfer to Sync... it's possible via a USB data stick. The problem. The big, huge, absolutely inexcusable problem is that the Ford Sync site only works with Windows and Internet Explorer. You Linux users. You Firefox users. You Mac users are out of luck. No Sync for you. This is just plain gratuitously stupid on Ford's part. I almost returned the car when I discovered this and if it weren't for the car part of the car working so well, I would have.
The Sync music system doesn't work with FLAC formatted music. Yeah, I'm weird... I rip my music to a loss-less format rather than MP3 or AAC... but I can't play this ripped music on my Sync.
And the Sync Bluetooth is supposed to work with the phone as a phone or as a streaming music system. This is something that a $25 Motorola Bluetooth headset can do. But Sync keeps losing connection with the phone if it's set to both do phone functions and do music functions... so I turned off the music streaming part of the Bluetooth connection on my phone. Once again, this is something that Motorola can get right on a $25 piece of hardware, why can't Ford get it right on a $4,000 computer?
Speaking of music, the Sync screen draw is painfully slow. This means that switching pushing the "radio" "hard button" to switch from FM to satellite takes 3 seconds of eyes off the road and then another 3 seconds to actually switch from FM to satellite... this is in marked contrast to the Acura's hard button for FM and hard button for satellite radio. A single button push with eyes always on the road is much better. At the very least, Sync should be able to draw screens faster than an Apple ][.
Sync's voice recognition is truly horrid. It's just terrible. The system always dials the wrong number when I call by name. This contrasts with my phone's voice support with has been > 95% accurate. So, if my low-power-consumption phone can get voice recognition right, why can't my car? This is just inexcusable. And, yes, I spent the 20 minutes training the voice system in the car.
In addition to usually getting the voice commands wrong, Sync also has the worst voice interface that I've ever interacted with. The important things, like "Call Wife" require two prior menu invocations: "Phone" and then "Call" and then "Wife" rather than having "Call xxx" and "Dial xxx" at the top level of the menu. Things that are at the top level include changing the radio station and setting the car's temperature... two things that there are buttons for and the are better suited to fingers rather than voice.
Oh... and one more thing about the voice system... there's a mode where you can confirm voice commands before they're executed... but in that mode, "Call Wife" will still result in calling Aaron Williams or William Hughs without confirmation. For some reason the "Call" command is never verified.
Ford did such a good job with the Fusion Hybrid. It's just an amazing car. It's everything I want in a family hauling, commuiting around the Bay Area, taking a weekend trip with the wife, and save some gas while I'm at it car. It's almost an anti-mid-life crisis car because it's so amazingly good at being practical. It's too bad Ford shipped such a great car with such an awful nav/entertainment system.
PS -- To be fair to Sync, it sucks less in most ways than the other in-car systems I've seen including those from BMW, Acura and Mercedes. It's just that it stands in such marked contrast with third party systems like the TomTom and Motorola Bluetooth headsets and my cell phone.