‘Consumer Reports’: Cars better, infotainment not – USA TODAY
Cars are getting better, but infotainment systems are getting worse, causing huge reliability problems and dragging down some makers’ overall scores, auto experts at Consumer Reports say.
In some cases it’s because of “features creep,” in which automakers keep adding to the menu of things the electronic systems will do — but wind up making the systems more complicated and difficult to use, say Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for CR, and RikPaul, team leader in CR‘s auto coverage.
In other cases, it’s simply that the infotainment systems don’t always work properly.
The result of the confounding or flawed infotainment systems is documented in Consumer Reports‘ annual look at new and used cars. The report is available beginning today online as the 2014 Auto Spotlight, and in printed format as the Annual Auto Issue on sale starting March 4.
Some shoppers trust CR’s word more than other evaluations, because the publication accepts no advertising and buys the cars it tests, instead of borrowing them from the automakers.
Ford is a striking example of the damage an awkward-to-use infotainment can do. Ford’s vehicles, in general, score about as well in driving tests as those sold by highly rated brands Honda and Toyota, and even are close to CR‘s No. 1 brand, Lexus, according to a listing of 23 brands in the publication’s annual April auto issue.
But Ford’s Microsoft-based Sync system, and the MyFord Touch suite of voice and touch controls based on it, wreck Ford’s reliability, CR data show. Ford winds up 22nd, ahead of only Jeep.
“Ford Fusion is a good one to point to,” Fisher says. “A very competitive vehicle that looks and drives like a European sports sedan. But a major downfall is a frustrating and buggy control system. We’ve had a lot of complaints about the systems locking up or rebooting or going blank.”
Ford hopes to eliminate that, eventually, by shifting away from a Microsoft-based system to one by BlackBerry’s QNX. Good move, Fisher says. BMW and Audi use that with good success.
Too, Ford said last June it will begin returning to simple knobs as part of its array of dashboard controls. Its trucks never eliminated them, but Ford cars largely have.
In the most recent J.D. Power survey of new-car quality, Ford ranked 27th among 33 nameplates listed. Problems with MyFord Touch were among the issues that kept Ford in the cellar.
Cadillac’s in the same situation, Fisher says.
“The Cadillac CTS, arguably one of the most desirable vehicles in its class, drives brilliantly, is gorgeous inside, but has controls that are extremely frustrating. Even adjusting the volume of the radio is difficult,” Fisher says.
Caddy winds up 20th in CR’s overall ranking of 23 brands, “dragged down both in testing and reliability by the complicated controls.”
Even Honda, which finished seventh as a brand, was hobbled by its HondaLink, a system that connects via smartphone to applications available on the Internet.
“Honda Accord V-6 is one the most competitive midsize sedans we can’t recommend, because of problems with the HondaLink system,” Fisher says.
“Reliability problems, where it won’t always function the way it’s supposed to, means a lot of our subscribers have to take the car back to the dealer, and you don’t want to have to take a new car back to the dealer,” Fisher says.
He notes that high-tech cars needn’t be undermined by reliability issues.
The Tesla S electric luxury sedan, which CR calls the “best overall” car on the market, shows that “cars and computers (can) coexist in seamless harmony.”
The car has a huge, 17-inch touch-screen for easy comprehension and use, and it avoids trying to do too much, Fisher says.