Wards 10 Best UX Judges’ Log for Aug. 19: Ford Explorer, Lexus ES350, Mazda3

Editors praise Explorer’s wireless phone charger placement and vertical infotainment screen, are mixed on ES350’s touchpad interface and disappointed with the Mazda3’s lack of USB ports.

Doug Newcomb

August 19, 2019

4 Min Read
Explorer center screen closeup - Copy
Ford Explorer's brilliant color graphics illuminate center console and instrument cluster, reinforcing adventure theme.Tom Murphy

As part of the 2019 10 Best UX awards, WardsAuto editors are sharing their impressions of vehicles we’re testing. In this installment we cover highlights of the Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD, Lexus ES350 Ultra Lux and Mazda3 Sedan with Premium Package.

Previous installments focused on the GMC Sierra Denali Carbon fullsize pickup, Honda Insight hybrid, Lexus UX 200 F Sport small CUV, Chevy Blazer, Nissan Altima and Toyota RAV4 and the BMW 330i, Nissan Kicks and Volkswagen Arteon.

For the UX competition we evaluate the user experience behind the wheel and test all-new vehicles. We assess a vehicle’s connectivity, design, controls, displays, navigation and maps, ADAS functionality, infotainment, overall value and elements that surprise and delight, and we give high marks for features that are easy to use and for intuitively integrated technology.

We’re wrapping up testing for 10 Best UX in the next few weeks and will reveal the winners in September, with trophies presented Oct. 1 at the WardsAuto User Experience Conference at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI.

Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD

James Amend: The mountain landscape startup isn’t just stunning, it invokes a feeling of adventure and that’s really what the Explorer has been about since it popularized the segment 30 years ago. 

Doug Newcomb: Convenient placement of the wireless phone charger just below the center console armrest neatly stows a device and saves valuable console space. There’s even a visual alert on the dashboard display to indicate charging. 

Bob Gritzinger: I count at least six USB ports running all the way back to the third row.  

Dave Zoia: Crazy-fast phone pairing. Everyone else needs to find out Ford’s secret and steal it. 

Amy Alexander: Very easy infotainment system to navigate. I liked the home screen and how it was divided.

Drew Winter: Kudos to Ford for having the courage to be a little different. The tall tablet design is a bit shocking at first, but Tesla’s tablet shocked everybody and Mercedes was criticized when it introduced the horizontal tablets on top of the IP. Then it became an industry standard.

Newcomb: ACC has a new Speed Sign Recognition feature that adjusts speed according to the posted limit. But I love that it also allows setting a tolerance of plus or minus 9 mph (14 km/h) to override the posted limit.

Lexus ES350 Ultra Lux

Zoia: The menus are convoluted. And the touchpad takes too much focus.

Winter: I may be the only here that likes the Lexus touchpad. Once I got the hang of it, I found it easy to keep my eyes on the road while jogging through the various menus.  

Tom Murphy: The user experience is overall positive, if you don’t mind extra clicks to sync a smartphone or if you have come to appreciate the Lexus touchpad, which can be customized for volume and touch sensitivity. 

Newcomb: Although the haptic feedback of the touchpad can be adjusted, it’s still easy to overshoot a desired icon unless you’re paying close attention to the screen.

Jim Irwin: Turn-by-turn mapping on instrument panel complements HUD info nicely.

Lexus EX 350 wireless phone charging in armrest - Copy.jpg

Lexus EX 350 wireless phone charging in armrest - Copy

Newcomb: The 17-speaker/1,800-watt Mark Levison surround-sound system still sets the benchmark in premium OEM audio, and with the ES’s restyled door speaker grilles the setup looks as good as it sounds. 

Murphy: ACC works well, avoiding sudden harsh braking if another vehicle changes lanes in front of you. But it holds in brake mode too long when light turns green and car ahead has started moving.

Alexander: I really hate the wireless charger hidden in the armrest (see photo above). I understand it’s a distraction/safety thing from their perspective, but I could never see using it on a normal basis.

Mazda3 Sedan with Premium Package

Winter: Controls are simple and intuitive (see instrument panel below), but everything is a generation behind.  

Newcomb: The lack of a touchscreen makes entering an address into navigation system more time consuming.

Murphy: Checks most, if not all, of our required ADAS boxes.

Christie Schweinsberg: Some pretty pokey restarts with adaptive cruise control on, to the point I felt bad for the people behind me.

Newcomb: The HUD projects onto the windshield instead of using a flimsy plastic lens above the instrument panel in the previous generation. But adjusting the head-up display requires digging into a menu via the center console controller-dashboard screen combo.

Gritzinger: Short on USB ports, but it’s a small car so backseat riders likely would use the center console plug without much problem.

Schweinsberg: Lots of tech (even though it doesn’t all work well) and style in sub-$30k vehicle. Could be a lot more family friendly, but in a C-car how many times do owners have kids or anybody in the back?

Mazda3 hvac controls - Copy.JPG

Mazda3 hvac controls - Copy_0

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