Our Smart Car – 2017 Ford Escape
For years, we have been looking at new cars without finding anything that compelled us to upgrade. These days it feels like most new cars are pretty decent, especially once you get to a certain price point, but the thing that always holds us back is the technology. Even though car manufacturers have been investing more than ever, car infotainment still seems two to three years behind our smart phones.
When Apple CarPlay was announced, we were fascinated, reading about it, even considering upgrading the stereo with an aftermarket device. But when we visited the car dealers, most of the salespeople didn’t have a clue what it was, and instead tried to sell us on whatever lame tech their cars had, claiming it was just as good. Finally late last year, we visited a VW dealership with a young salesman who found the car with CarPlay and showed us how it worked. It wasn’t the car we wanted, but after we saw it working, we could not settle for less.
So this summer, when the 2017 Ford Escape arrived, we were finally ready to upgrade, ironically, our 2006 Ford Escape. We wound up getting one of the very first shipped into our area so we finally fulfilled our dream of Apple CarPlay.
CarPlay works by plugging in your iPhone into a USB port which connects it to the large touchscreen in the dash. Once it’s connected, it basically takes over your infotainment system, integrating with Siri by pushing a button on the steering wheel, using Apple Maps and your music library, as well as third party apps like Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, MLB, NPR, etc. Siri works great in the car, you can make phone calls, ask for information, directions, read and dictate text messages, etc, all without ever touching your phone. If you have two drivers who share the car, CarPlay can use either phone, which means you can have the car personalized just to you while you are driving.
CarPlay is not perfect, sometimes the phone doesn’t connect for some reason and you need to unplug and plug in. It would also be nice if it would connect via Bluetooth to CarPlay – it does stream music and do phone calls without being plugged in so not sure why the USB is required. Some of the apps are a bit buggy still, and it would be nice if more apps were available (Waze would be great, for instance), but for the most part, CarPlay is wonderful, and light years ahead of any other infotainment systems we have seen over the last few years.
Backing up CarPlay is Ford’s Sync 3 technology with a large 8 inch touch screen that is really easy to navigate and a great entertainment center for the car. The Sync3 can update itself over the air through our home wifi. It delivers all the data about the car, the maintenance, the location, all the telematics about the car directly to Ford so there is a complete record of our car in their system.
Ford also has an iPhone app (Android as well), Ford Pass, that connects to the car’s cellular radio, allowing you to find out where your car is parked, how much gas you have left, remote start the car (very handy on a hot summer day) and to lock/unlock your doors. It also knows your primary service location making it easy to contact your dealer for service. The app also includes access to all the manuals and you can open up a chat session or directly call Ford customer service, and based on the few times we have called so far, the service is fantastic and with friendly and knowledgeable staff. The app still feels early, for instance, adding the state of things in the car, are the doors locked, are the windows and sunroof closed, etc, would be really handy. It would also be great to get access to our own data about the car and our driving, much like we used to have using the Automatic app.
A nice thing about the Ford Escape is that you can get the Car Play even on entry level models, without needed to have the built-in navigation. As it turns out, we have both, and the Ford navigation is really nice, easier to use and often more accurate than Apple Maps once you get it going. However, the voice control is really cumbersome and clunky, much more difficult than just asking Siri.
The technology doesn’t stop in the navigation system. The Escape has sensors all around the car, enabling lots of other cool features, like adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, lane keeping and lane warning which, while not perfect, makes driving less stressful. The car warns you when other cars or objects are too close and has a great quality backup camera.
One disappointing thing for us is that the Escape is no longer available in a hybrid model like the 2006 version we replaced, so the mileage is not nearly as good as we were used to. Perhaps someday there will be an electric car in our future, but for now, we are really happy with our new high tech Ford Escape.