In fact, Tesla has made having a giant touchscreen in an electric car mandatory. Polestar has certainly followed that lead, and Rivian plans to go that way too. In Europe, the cute Honda E has screens running the width of the dashboard.
Still, the car most likely to challenge Tesla’s dominance in both screen size and overall desirability of electric cars has the outstanding 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, the biggest of them all. Measuring 15.5 inches, the Model Y and Model 3 touchscreen is even half an inch smaller. It is believed that this was not accidental. Unlike the Tesla’s screen, the Mach-E is vertically oriented and doesn’t have to double as an instrument cluster, as it has a separate 10.5-inch letterbox widescreen display for the steering wheel. You know where instruments should be.
Let’s take a closer look at the Mach-E’s jumbo display, but in short, it improves functionality over Ford’s smaller infotainment touchscreens. The same cannot be said for other enlarged screens, including those in Ford’s own Explorer and F-150.
Having a giant screen is one thing, but that could mean car manufacturers will try to cram as much on the screen as possible. You get information overload and hungry eyes on the screen … and not on the road. You can also have small icons that are the same color as their background such as Mercedes MBUX, leaving you with the same distraction problem.
Now let’s take a look at the Mach-E. The buttons are huge. They are clearly outlined and there is color variation. Like the Ram 1500, satellite radio stations are presented by the colorful, easy-to-read logos of each station. They are clearly visible and easy to access. In fact, those icons can shrink a bit to fit another one or two and still be bigger and more readable than those found in most other infotainment systems.
While this uses Ford’s latest Sync 4 software, the same as the new F-150 and others, the user interface is unique to this display and the Mach-E. It is officially called Sync 4A. I have and will mainly focus on the functionality, but in terms of responses and speed I had no complaints. I don’t like such things either. For example, I’ve never had a problem with Toyota’s systems and everyone always says they are freezing cold.
Now, I haven’t used Apple CarPlay in the Mach-E because, like other Fords, I don’t like how many features are locked out during use (like the car’s own navigation system or your entire playlist selection). If you do use CarPlay, only the top part is taken over – the various other menu tiles, climate controls and menu buttons remain at the top of the screen. This is in contrast to so many interfaces where CarPlay takes over the entire screen, often requiring multiple touchscreen presses to go back to the car’s original system (as in most other Fords, which is another problem I have with it. wedding).
Someone at Ford clearly hates tapping a virtual volume slider like all of us, because the Mach-E has this physical wheel embedded on the screen.
There was apparently no comparable aversion to tapping on temperature changes, but that’s more tolerable, too. In general, these touchscreen-based climate controls work fine, but there is one exception: the recirculation is buried in a submenu. There are only two icons at the bottom right; there seems to have been space. As it is now, if a stinky diesel thing pops up in front of you, or if you suddenly hit I-5 through California’s Central Valley, you’ll need to expand that submenu. #cows
So far you have seen the screen in dark mode. This is how the car was set up when I received the car and stayed that way until I discovered there was a “Light” option.
Wait a minute, give me a minute for this burning white spot to disappear from my sight.
Holy crap, this thing is smart. And worse, as mentioned before, the screen is gigantic. Granted, it wasn’t a sunny day when I took this photo, but it wasn’t dark either.
This is too much light shining on a driver who needs to focus on the road. Seriously, who thought it would be a good idea to have a 15.5-inch light panel aimed at the driver? Do they expect the driver to do interviews on CNN while driving?
I also think it is much more difficult to read. Remember when I talked about the importance of contrasting colors? Not so much with the Light mode. The fonts are suddenly too small and light in color.
The instrument panel display also alternates between Light and Dark mode.
Again, dark mode is so much more readable than light mode, even during the day. (Note that I had to change the camera setting to make the light curtain look right before my eyes.)
That said, it would be nice if there was a way to change the layout of this screen. In addition to the light and dark modes, selecting the Mach-E’s “rampant” sport mode adds some small orange lines in the top corners, but that’s it. For example, you cannot move the speedometer to the center or remove the driver assistance icon, let alone change the whole design aesthetic, as you can with Mercedes MBUX and many others. Heck, even with the regular Mustang you can change the colors of its gauges. This really seems like a missed opportunity.
You can see here how the Driver Assistance icon changes when you have activated the adaptive cruise control with steering assist. It basically shows that the car is extending its shields. Or the silhouette of BB-8.
Here is a menu for different vehicle systems. This is usually a detailed menu with a small font that many car manufacturers obscure when moving. In the Mach-E, these buttons are huge again.
So yes, the screen is large, which can be distracting, but the size, design and layout allow your eyes to quickly find what they need, saving you time on the screen.
Away from screens, the Mach-E has a USB-A and USB-C port, plus a wireless charging pad on the front. There is also a second, free pad next door for a second phone. Both are grippy and have walls on either side to prevent them from flying over the car. There is a few more USB ports on the back.
The Mach-E also has a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, so you can use your phone as a key and use the FordPass app to check charging, find chargers, and easily pay for the chargers found. If there is a nitpick, I couldn’t think of a way to send the address of a charger from the app to the car’s own navigation system. If it isn’t possible, it certainly should be. The app gives you the option to access the directions in Waze, but why can’t I use the giant navigation screen built into the car? Again, maybe there is a way, but I couldn’t find it.
And indeed, I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of what Mach-E’s Sync4A system can do. I’ve really only stuck to the basics, and refreshingly it does the basics really well. This layout and design is so good that Ford should consider applying it to other vehicles like the Explorer, even if the vertically-oriented screen isn’t as large as Tesla.