Modern infotainment systems that provide myriad audio choices and connect with a smart phone for hands-free calling and data services are attracting tech-enthused shoppers, but the ownership experience is proving frustrating for many. Sixty percent of those drivers who purchased a car equipped with an infotainment system from Cadillac, Honda, Ford, and Lincoln were challenged to learn how to operate it during the first weeks of ownership. And just over a third of owners experienced one or more problems, according to new survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Age plays a significant role in respondents’ initial reactions to using infotainment systems. Respondents 65 and older who owned a car with an installed infotainment system were significantly more likely to have trouble operating them (68 percent), compared to similar respondents aged 45 to 64 years (52 percent) and those 18 to 44 years old (37 percent). However, as we have seen in a previous survey, drivers consider the systems easier to use over time, as they become accustomed to their operation.
To better understand the infotainment ownership experience, and dig deeper into their reliability and satisfaction, we contacted 11,550 ConsumerReports.org subscribers earlier this month who in our 2013 Annual Auto Survey reported owning a Cadillac, Ford, Lincoln, or Honda model offered with a factory infotainment system. From this group, we collected data from 3,148 subscribers who had such systems.
The car models included in this recontact survey were the 2013 Cadillac ATS and XTS; 2013 Honda Accord and Crosstour; 2013 Lincoln MKS and MKT; 2011 to 2013 Lincoln MKX; 2013 Ford C-Max, Escape, Flex, Fusion (hybrid and non-hybrid versions) and Taurus; and 2011 to 2013 Ford Edge and Explorer.
Learn more about our latest reliability survey including best and worst models in our reliability guide.
Among the systems surveyed, just 37 percent of those who had initial difficulties learning HondaLink stated that they grew much more accustomed to its operation over time. In contrast, 47 percent of similar Ford/Lincoln owners and 51 percent of Cadillac owners said those systems became a lot easier to use with experience.
Even though older drivers were more apt to cite challenges in operating their systems initially, this group was less likely to report experiencing problems overall. In fact, reports of problems followed the opposite demographic pattern as the learning curve, with 46 percent of drivers 44 years and younger reporting a problem compared to 36 percent among drivers between the ages of 45 and 64 and 28 percent among those 65 years and older. It may be that younger drivers were likely to use the systems more often and depend on more features, whereas older drivers may not be relying on such a broad spectrum of functions.
With HondaLink, the most commonly reported problems were associated with the system’s communication component (43 percent of defective systems), radio (32 percent), CD/DVD player (21 percent), and touch screen (16 percent).
Likewise, the most commonly reported problems drivers experienced with the MyFord/MyLincoln Touch system focused on the communication facet of the system. In addition, around two in five Ford and Lincoln owners who reported problems operating the system had difficulties with the CD/DVD and touch screen, respectively. Among those with touch screen problems, 56 percent complained that the screen was unresponsive to their touch, 47 percent experienced screen freezes, and 43 percent had to deal with blank screens. (Due to sample size, we do not have this detail for the Cadillac CUE.)
Lucky for these owners, most Ford and Lincoln dealerships repaired the faulty components and when they did, the problems, more often than not, did not reoccur. Yet, regardless of the component, around a quarter of those experiencing a specific Touch problem said the dealer not only didn’t fix the system, they didn’t even take the time to explain how to properly operate it. Reading into the results, a detailed walk-through of the systems may accelerate the learning curve, but clearly there are problems with these advanced systems that need to be addressed.
Owners with HondaLink were the most likely to be highly satisfied with their car’s infotainment system, at 61 percent, among the surveyed group. Cadillac and its CUE system saw high satisfaction among 56 percent of owners, while Ford and Lincoln had thrilled 52 percent.
Compared with other satisfaction surveys conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, these figures are all relatively low.
It is interesting that despite the steeper learning curve for HondaLink, the majority of owners were satisfied as a whole. But looking closer, 79 percent of car owners who didn’t originally consider these systems to be complicated were highly satisfied with them. In contrast, just 10 percent of owners who found they systems to be complicated yet were very satisfied. Ease of use does matter, and in the long run, so does the reliability.
As found in our large-scale 2013 Annual Auto Survey, based on 1.1 million vehicles, in-car electronics such as audio, communication, and navigation carry reliability risks. Of the 17 problem areas we ask about, the category including in-car electronics generated more complaints for the newest model year than any other areas. The prevalence of such problems has hurt the predicted reliability score for Cadillac XTS, most Ford, and Lincoln models, as well as the Honda Accord V6 sedan and coupes specifically. Since that survey was conducted, the automakers have issued software updates that may address some problems.
We conducted this follow-up survey because this exciting, fast-moving area has been trouble prone. We will continue to monitor trends.
More from Consumer Reports:
Consumer Reports' top scoring cars
Best & worst new cars
Guide to the best small SUVs
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.