Ford is about to change what drivers see when they get behind the wheel of some of its vehicles.
A new electronic system and instrument panel – in a vehicle that extends the width of the windshield – aims to reinvent how drivers receive information. This includes the speedometer and other important gauges, navigation and apps like Spotify, streaming video and auto-racing games.
There will also be a traditional touchscreen. It is mounted below the dash, between the front seats.
Ford engineers developed a new electronic system and instrument panel. It debuted earlier this year in the 2024 Lincoln Nautilus luxury SUV.
Among other priorities for customer acceptance, the new displays will work well with Apple CarPlay, contrary to the direction General Motors has chosen for its upcoming electric vehicles.
The system will be called the Ford or Lincoln Digital Experience, depending on the brand of vehicle it is.
“The new digital experience represents a major step forward in Ford's ongoing software developments and promises significant improvements over its existing sync systems,” said AutoPacific analyst Paul Wattie. “It's faster, more intuitive, more customizable, and delivers the most important information to drivers' eyes in a way that's easy to digest.”
Here are some highlights of the new system:
Instrument panel, yes, but also TV screens
The 2024 Nautilus will have a 48-inch screen that will run the full width of the windshield. It is located at the bottom of the windshield, farthest from the driver and several inches lower than traditional speedometers and other instruments. It is intended to make it easier for the driver to focus on a view from the road ahead. The display has 4K resolution, matching high-end TV screens.
The screen on the Nautilus measures 4.3 inches from top to bottom. It looks small, but when the screen was shown in a recent demonstration, it appeared large enough for the driver to easily see speed, navigation and other information.
Other vehicles have screens of different sizes. Only Lincolns offer a full-width or panoramic view, at least initially.
Three types of information
From left to right across the car, Ford divides the display into three types of information: critical, support and overview.
The most important information – speed, for example – is directly in front of the driver. Slightly less urgent features, such as the navigation screen's map, are on the driver's side of the vehicle, albeit on the right. There are three windows on the passenger side to display information such as weather, trip computer and entertainment. Drivers can customize what to display in those windows and the long list of apps available on the touchscreen.
Programmable from the steering wheel
Each side of the steering wheel has a four-way rocker switch with four dimples to activate different functions. The switches are programmable for any function the driver wants readily available. Audio volume, tuning and mode will be the best choice.
Once the driver touches one of the switches, an icon showing its features appears on the driver's front display.
The vehicle remembers each driver's preferences for views, temperature, seat and mirror settings, audio and other applications, and more. It also has access to the driver's Google profiles. Owners of iPhones can access their apps, contacts and music through CarPlay. Android owners will also get all the features they're used to, as Ford uses Google's system.
The system will receive over-the-air software updates and have access to Google's library of apps.
While the vehicle is parked, the system can stream video or video games – including a Ford-exclusive version of “Asphalt Nitro 2”.
The computer is compatible with Bluetooth devices including keyboards for web browsing.
“It's a huge convenience to be able to log into Google and have all your information available,” Wattie said.
Speech commands for almost everything
Ford wants drivers to use spoken commands for almost everything. Google's voice assistant is built-in. It's also a control for climate and other vehicle functions, as well as setting navigation destinations and playing audio. The driver can also choose to use Amazon's Alexa assistant or Apple's Siri.
The touchscreen will have icons for adjusting the temperature, fan, track/tuning and more, but Ford is firmly trying to get drivers to use spoken commands instead.
Further:What's next for auto shows? A rescheduled 2025 Detroit show could point the way.
Built to work with Apple CarPlay
Although General Motors is using its new Google-based infotainment system to lock out Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Ford's research shows that half of customers regularly use smartphone interfaces and expect them in a new vehicle. That's why the system works for both Ford and Lincoln, adding features the automaker said it hopes customers will appreciate.
Different panel sizes and features for different models
Not every vehicle gets a full width view. It's expensive, which is why Ford is introducing it in Lincoln's new SUV. The new Ford Explorer arriving later this year will use a new electronic architecture, but with a look and features more appropriate for that brand and price range. Expect to see variations of the system in every all-new vehicle that brands introduce, but not necessarily in vehicles that receive minor updates..
A 48-inch panoramic display is standard on the 2024 Lincoln Nautilus.
Will the panoramic view change the game?
It will take a few months to tell if Ford has really come up with a better way to manage common features and tasks. I'll be testing the 2024 Nautilus when it launches in March, but it'll take more than a day to tell if new features like these really make an improvement. It takes time to get used to the customization offered, and more time to figure out whether complaints are simply problems with how the system works, or problems with the natural learning curve, such as your first few days with a new smartphone or television.
I expect to find out when I drive the Nautilus in a week or so, though my first couple of days and many other owners' days will have some disappointments.
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