Filed Under (Geekstuff, Stuff, Technology) by Sean on June 14th, 2009 at 7:54 pm

As many of you may already know, I’m a beneficiary of Ford’s recent aggressive social media public relations efforts. I was initially contacted by a social media consultancy out of Canada, retained by Ford, through my blog early last month. My first reaction was one of disbelief, thinking this had to be some sort of grand social engineering phishing experiment. With mild trepidation, I responded with an indication if interest. My choices were the Ford Escape and the Lincoln MKS. Being a huge fan of SUVs, I opted for the 2009 Lincoln MKS (plus, I get to experience my brother’s Escape Hybrid every time I visit Florida). I was supposed to get the 2010 version of the MKS, which is all-wheel drive and sports a twin-turbocharged 355 horsepower, 350 lb-ft torque V6, but a shortage of media fleet cars made this impossible. My 2009 version sports a 273 horsepower, normally-aspirated V6 instead. In any case, I’ve been promised by Ford that they will get me a 2010 to drive as soon as one is available. They’ve also promised to get me the new 2011 Ford Fiesta to drive as well!

The Lincoln MKS

Many of you who haven’t known me that long may not know I’ve always been a huge car enthusiast (though it has waned a bit over the years and my current Ford Taurus would certainly give you no indication). I started as a young teenager by going out on a Saturday with my father and test driving just about everything we could get our hands on – sports sedans, luxury autos, exotics, the works. As a card carrying member of the SCCA, I used to participate in various auto sporting events as well. Cars I’ve owned over the years have run the gamut: a VW, a BMW, 2 Mercedes, 5 Hondas, a Porsche, and a Ford.

Herein I will outline some initial impressions of the Lincoln MKS after having it for a few days. Over that time, I’ve managed to spend hours navigating big city traffic, taking a road trip and running high speed laps around the Nuremberg town. I’ve also satiated my inner geek (ok, maybe outer geek) by diving into the Microsoft Sync platform equipped in this car. This post will discuss my initial impressions of Sync; future posts will go into driving impressions and other aspects of the MKS.

Before I do that, however, I will sum up my reactions to the car as pros and cons:

Pros:

  • snappy performance for the size/class of car
  • good balance of ride firmness; corners and tracks well but doesn’t rattle your spine when driving over potholes and railroad tracks
  • good transmission; really responsive at down-shifting quickly. Manual mode available as well. Auto mode good at down-shifting before corners and engine braking when slowing down – something I’ve never seen in an American car. It seems engineers are doing their homework in studying German sports sedans!
  • decent ergonomics; comfortable and usable interior; sporty seats are suitable for long cross-country trips
  • seamless bluetooth integration with your phone and media device (could be the same device or two separate devices)
  • GPS NAV with real-time traffic, weather and other helpful travel information (e.g., gas prices)
  • QUIET. This car is almost devoid of wind noise even at 90+ mph
  • Air. Conditioned. Seats. It’s like lying down on a huge bag of ice. Gone are the sweaty backs Houston summers made famous.
  • SYNC system receives software upgrades and updates through an in-car USB interface where you can download the update on your computer to a USB drive (or your smart phone’s storage) and initiating the upgrade while connected to the car

Cons:

  • though the car sports very nice interior trim, the excessive amount of “shiny chromeplastic” is a little off-putting. The simulated brushed metal helps to counter that, however.
  • center console cup holders can’t accommodate two grande coffees (seems really bizarre the Germans have this figured out while the guys that invented the cup holders don’t!). See picture below.
  • beltline and cowl are really high; you can’t even comfortably rest your arm on the windowsill it’s so high. Obviously this is styling driven and at least there is a rear camera to assist you while you’re backing up since you can’t see shit out the rear window
  • I can’t use certain features of the NAV while driving (yes I know it’s an insurance thing or whatever, but it’s completely silly and promotes even worse behavior for reasons I’ll give below)
  • NAV system doesn’t have proper ICAO or FAA airport codes to use as destination or waypoint; I tried to use KGLS as the destination but it only knew “Scholes Galveston Airport” or selecting Airport point of interest

Of course, I love gadgets and toys. Consequently, I’m always interested in the latest state of automotive technology. Growing up, I benefited from my father being a huge gadget and car freak as well. I’m pretty sure he got the first car on Earth with built in NAV. I have certainly seen how not to implement car gadgetry. In-car technology has developed much of the way consumer electronics has: no standards, no interoperability, black-box proprietary systems and the like. Computer and technology companies have done most of the heavy lifting in changing the status quo in the consumer electronics industry, e.g., Apple. Now they’re attempting the same in the automotive space. I think that Sync is as close as I’ve seen to how it should be done (on another note, technologies based on other platforms such as Google’s Android could be coming to a car near you soon).

The car was delivered to my office by Becky, a super friendly Communications and Media Fleet Manager from Ford. She handed me the keys and said, “Enjoy! We look forward to reading what you have to say!” The first thing I did after parking it in my office parking garage downtown was pair up my G1 via bluetooth. I figured if I could make hands free phone calls and listen to my media library through the car’s audio system within a couple of minutes without opening a manual, that would be a good sign of things to come. That’s just what happened. I chose Phone from the console, selected the Add Devices button from the bright color touch screen, and a woman with what seemed like a slightly British accent instructed me to enter the PIN displayed on the screen when prompted by my phone when pairing with SYNC. Voila! The screen displayed a message asking me if I wanted my phonebook and call history to be loaded. I selected Yes. Not content to stop there, I then chose the Media button on the console. Within about 3 seconds the audio system started playing the current playlist on my G1. Sweet. While delighting in all this, the phone rang. On the color touch screen, the Caller ID and phone book entry of the caller is displayed along with a choice to answer or deny the call. The weird thing about this was it was my phone’s ring tone playing in stereo on top of the slightly-reduced-in-volume music through the stereo. It was a business call, so I answered and carried on the discussion for a few minutes before deciding I needed to continue this conversation on the way to my desk. I turned the key off, opened the door, and the call seamlessly transferred to my handset without the slightest hiccup. Too cool. In a similar vein, if I’m rocking out to some streaming music through my phone through bluetooth and turn off the car, remove the key and open the door, the phone automatically pauses the media stream. When you get back in the car and start it, the music automatically resumes once the bluetooth connection is reestablished. Similarly, if you’re talking on your handset and get in and start the car, the phone conversation seamlessly transitions to hands-free mid sentence without hesitation. You have the option to choose privacy mode where the phone call continues on your handset. Someone really paid attention to usability when designing this system.

The GPS-based NAV is one of the best I’ve seen. Adding to its touch-screen ease of use is the fact that it gets real time traffic information via Sirius satellite, even if you don’t pay for a Sirius subscription (Ford apparently hadn’t paid for it in this car, which I thought was somewhat puzzling). The first thing you do is choose a destination by pushing the DEST button on the dashboard and selecting the destination through a variety of methods (nearest points of interest, street address, yellow page categories, phone book) or selecting the voice command button on the steering wheel and using voice commands to tell the system where you would like to go (and you don’t even need to train the system for your voice!). You then choose the shortest or fastest route and you’re on your way. The system provides you with turn-by-turn directions along with graphical depictions of each turn on the display. For upcoming turns, the screen is split with a map on the left and the detailed turn depicted on the right (see the photos below for an example). Additionally, it counts down the distance to the next turn or waypoint and displays a progress timer bar to help you determine your arrival to the next instruction. The bottom of the display shows your current location and speed limit, if available. If an accident or other incident happens along your route, a notice is displayed on the screen where you can review details  of it and choose an option to avoid at which point it accordingly reroutes you. One of the exercises I like to do is test out how resilient a NAV system is when you inadvertently (or purposely) miss a turn. Some of them incessantly complain and ask you to make a U-turn to get back on track. The system in the Lincoln, however, doesn’t miss a beat. Virtually the instant after you miss a turn instruction, it recalculates the route such that you can continue your general direction of travel. It’s so seamless that if you blinked you may have missed that anything happened at all. Information available at your fingertips also includes the weather (forecast, satellite images) and gasoline prices at nearby gas stations (see photos below).

There were a few hiccups in the system. Every now and again my phone would become “un-paired” or stop playing audio. Sometimes the device got out of sync where I would be listening to audio on my phone through  wired ear buds, and upon starting the car the phone would pair and stop the stream; I would have to start it up again manually (apparently the command to autoplay/autostop is a change of state and not discreet play/stop commands). It is important to note that you must have an A2DP capable media device in order to stream bluetooth audio through the audio system. If your device isn’t capable, you won’t be able to pair it at all as an audio device (this doesn’t impact the phone pairing, however). I learned this the hard way after I replaced my G1 under warranty that had an older version of the OS before they added AD2P extensions. There is a mini-phono jack if you want to connect an older iPod or mp3 player. My main complaint is that you cannot browse the phonebook while the car is moving over 15 mph or so, which seems silly since that requires you to pick up your phone an lookdown and scroll through its phonebook instead (yes I know you shouldn’t do either). At least you can use voice commands to make calls.

Microsoft SYNC definitely adds huge value to the MKS. Ford and Microsoft mention in some of their public relations material that SYNC is increasingly becoming a major contributing factor in the car purchasing decision process. I don’t quite know how exclusive the arrangement is between Microsoft and Ford, but I could see how SYNC would tip your decision towards a Ford or Lincoln when comparing makes of cars. It will be exciting to see what other manufacturers do in adopting future competing systems as well as what those competing systems will look like. The connected automobile is here and here to stay. After my experience with this car, I can see where having the capabilities SYNC provides makes your life easier and would be a driver in choosing a particular car over another. In today’s hyper-connected world where your information is living in the cloud and accessible through your smart phone, this Lincoln is not only a pleasure to drive but can help keep your connected world, dare I say it, in sync.

That’s it for the first installment! Look for my driving impressions coming soon. Check out some of the pictures below.

Lincoln MKS

NAV System

Travel Information

Cup Holders

 

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Comments
Gary T Murphy on July 4th, 2009 at 9:49 am #

Sean,

GREAT report! Gee, how do I get on this program?! You must be in the know…

Happppy 4th!

Charley Hsy on July 15th, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

I really appreciate what you write here, very insightful and smart. One problem though, I’m running Firefox on Linux and parts of your site structure are a little broken. I know it’s not a common setup, but it’s still something to watch out for. Just tossing you a heads up.

Sean on July 26th, 2010 at 2:51 am #

@Charley –

That is curious since I run Linux exclusively and Firefox (up until a few months ago when I switched to Chrome). Do you have any specific examples? I appreciate it!

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