By on May 13, 2009

Ford seems to be the only part of the big 3/2.5/1.8 that’s embracing technology as a way to win customers. Their SYNC system got massive airplay in the Blue Oval’s ads. Down at the dealer level, FoMoCo’s been pushing SYNC like crazy. Strange, then, that I’ve noticed a distinct lack of reviews on the SYNC. So I hopped into a Ford Fusion for a week to answer a simple question: it is any good?

In most Ford cars, there’s little to distinguish SYNC-equipped cars from their lesser brethren: a SYNC sticker on the center console somewhere and a USB jack jammed in a cubby. This is exactly as it should be. New technology should be useful, not obtrusive. On the transparency test, Ford’s SYNC scores a 10.

As a car guy with a bad iPod addiction, I demand a place to plug in Cupertino’s finest. Most cars’ iPod compatibility begins and ends with an “AUX in” port. You’re left to discharge your iPod’s battery and fumble around trying to change playlists. SYNC is fully iPod compatible. Best feature? No special cable required, just plug your iPod, Zune or flash drive right into the USB socket with the cable that came with your player. Nice.

As anyone who’s been near a TV in the last year knows, voice recognition and system control lie at the heart of SYNC. And it works extremely well, recognizing commands and executing them without delay. There are, of course, a few limitations.

If you have any songs on your iPod in a language other than English, the system won’t know how to find or pronounce them. Major bummer. There are a plethora of non-English titles in popular music, not to mention car shoppers who listen to non-English music. The key to successfully navigating anything with SYNC is this: you have to pronounce things the way the CAR wants to hear them.

Other than pairing your Bluetooth phone to the SYNC system, the user manual is excess to requirements. Which is just as well—the tome is convoluted (to say the least). Never mind. Device integration with SYNC is easy enough. The system paired easily with my iPhone, Moto RAZR and an old Nokia phone we had laying around. Once you’ve synched with SYNC, the system downloads your address book (if your phone supports it). You can then use voice dialing or just speak a number you want to dial.

SYNC supports both Bluetooth phones and the Bluetooth streaming audio profiles. So you can sync your Bluetooth equipped audio device to the car wirelessly. Now that’s bitchin’. Better still: SYNC employs two Bluetooth interfaces so that your phone and your audio device can be connected at the same time.

Overall call sound quality is very impressive for an in-car system. But again the voice recognition system needs some English lessons, in order to dial “Ed” you have to say “Eeeeed.” Guess Bill Gates thinks I didn’t need to dial him anyway.

I get the push for voice control, but seriously, Ford, why go half way? If I ask to dial “Bob Jones” and Bob has more than one number, the system responds that multiple numbers exist and you have to look at the radio at the bottom of the center stack and use the radio buttons to scroll through the numbers and pick the right one. Since SYNC won’t speak them to you, and the radio is positioned so low on the stack, this negates the whole point of voice control.

Don’t bother with the text messaging feature of the system. Yes it will read the messages, but canned replies are all you can use. The system’s pronunciation problems become far more obvious when dealing with texts. You’re better off just waiting until you park to deal with “ur txt msgs.”

Not all SYNC equipped cars are created equal. The Ford Focus gives the driver the least information and integration with the system, depending almost solely on voice commands for its operation. The Ford Fusion, Milan, Taurus and Escape with the standard SYNC provide a bit more information. But you’re still limited to a very small (and very 1980s) display on the radio. It would be great to see something that could actually display an entire track name without scrolling. The Lincoln systems and any NAV-equipped Ford have the most information available.

So does SYNC matter? Yes, Ford and Microsoft have made the best combined media / phone integrated system on the market. Could it be better? Yes, there’s a great deal of room for improvement; Alan (Mulally) should send SYNC out for some English lessons. So, does it matter? Let me put it this way: I refuse to rent anything but a Ford Fusion now.

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43 Comments on “Review: Ford SYNC...”


  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    I think SYNC is terrible. I was at a dealer recently (so you know there was no ‘outside’ noise), inside a Flex and the thing could not understand me at all. It was terrible.

  • avatar

    I have never heard of sync. This should have been defined early in the review. (No, I don’t watch television.)

  • avatar
    James2

    I’m not surprised voice commands still have a ways to go. When I had a sprained wrist I tried using Dragon voice software for the PC… ugh. I trained it to recognize my speech patterns, trained it again, trained it a third time, bought what I hoped was a better microphone… still ugh.

    Still, Microsoft spends a lot of money on this technology, so…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Maybe you should use some bloody British pronunciation ;)

    Or talk to the system like Fez

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Just remembered how Ozzy tried to talk to the radio in his BMW 745Li. ROFL

  • avatar
    Demetri

    “So, does it matter? Let me put it this way: I refuse to rent anything but a Ford Fusion now. ”

    Although I would guess that you’re probably more of a gadget guy than most of us. Judging from the Iphone. I like the addition of a USB port, but the Honda Civic and Fit have that now as well.

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    I love my Sync system.

    Yes, the voice recognition is imperfect, but it’s darn good considering that it operates in-vehicle. I’ve successfully navigated both phone calls and song shuffling riding down the freeway in my Mustang with both side windows open. That’s pretty robust in my book.

    In addition to using an iPod or MP3 player, you can also just plug in a USB thumbdrive with MP3 files on it, and Sync will mimic iPod behavior pretty well.

    The system will keep getting better. V.2 adds an automatic ‘dial 911 after a crash’ function, and (I think) a vehicle health report function that queries the vehicle for DTCs and sends you an e-mail with the results. Future systems will allow 3rd parties to develop apps . . . I’ve seen internally developed demos that pull info off the web via the phone and read back results, etc. It’s a cool system.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Kudos to Ford and Microsoft for getting this thing off the dime. Sorry OnStar, your old tech way of doing things is going the way of the dino.

    One thing about having Microsoft involved is that you know new versions are coming. One thing which disappoints me about the Alpine sourced Sat-Nav system in our 2003 Accord is that even when I pay $185 for an updated DVD-ROM, all that gets updated is the map and the yellow pages, underlying software problems never get improved.

  • avatar
    Gregg

    Alex, I think you’re going to have to re-review sync soon. I’m pretty sure that I read the the new version of Sync can be downloaded on May 18th. To me, being able to download software, put it on a USB stick and upgrading your car, is in itself pretty cool.

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    Except for handling in-car phone (OnStar Personal Calling must die….) Sync and OnStar don’t serve the same purpose. Turn by Turn Navigation is the killer app if you actually need directions to somewhere that you kinda, sorta know the name of. And what, exactly, does Sync do when you are hanging upside down by your seatbelts?

    I do lust, however, for a good voice activated system to navigate through my music. Fumbling with any handheld player does suck.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    They key to my love of SYNC is in not wanting to **rent** a car without it… I think that if SYNC made its way to Jag and Volvo, it would be a great thing. By itself it certainly will make a case against the competition, but will that trump a better interior? Probably not.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I get the push for voice control, but seriously Ford, why go half way? If I ask to dial “Bob Jones” and Bob has more than one number, the system responds that multiple numbers exist and you have to look at the radio at the bottom of the centre stack and use the radio buttons to scroll thru the numbers and pick the right one. Since SYNC won’t speak them to you, and the radio positioned so low on the stack, this negates the whole point of voice control.

    I don’t know about that. When SYNC has more than one number for a contact, it asks me “On cell, at home, or at work?” I say “on cell” and it dials. That simple. I never look anywhere.

  • avatar
    Gregg

    Jaguar (Nassar’s Folly) was a money pit for Ford. I think they put a bil per year in it. Sync couldn’t make it profitable. Volvo is a different story.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Don’t know if Ford offers Bose systems in their cars, but if they do/did I’d definitely be sold on the Sync.

  • avatar
    V6

    personally i do not require this kind of stuff. an AUX cable works fine for me for my iPod and i’ve also found it much quicker and easier to just use the iPod than the slow Alpine iPod dedicated headunit i had in a previous car.

    personally i miss the days of cars using generic headunits that were easy to upgrade, not the integrated units of today. there are a whoooole bunch of cars i cannot even consider buying because the headunit cannot be replaced and there is no way to connect an iPod. and no, FM transmitters are not a suitable substitute

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    I have a USB Audio interface in my BMW. It’s good but not perfect. For example, if I want to listen to something by Zwan on my 160 GB iPod, I hit the “Artist” button and scroll for a few minutes, until I arrive at Zwan. A kind of “A-Z” first letter preselection would be nice.

    But.. voice control that would force me to pronounce artist’s names as a computer wants to hear them? There has to be a better way.

    @reclusive_in_nature :
    Don’t know if Ford offers Bose systems in their cars, but if they do/did I’d definitely be sold on the Sync.

    I have yet the hear a Bose system I like – the old saying still holds some truth. (No mids, no lows – must be Bose).
    The nastiest version is the one in the Mazda3.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    A team effort between Ford and Microsoft? Two companies well known for shafting the consumer getting together seems like a bad thing to get involved with. Getting infected with a virus takes on a whole new meaning at 70mph…

  • avatar

    THE ONLY shortcoming of sync is that the voice technology isn’t there yet. Its decent for finding song titles and authors quickly but to set A/C temp and Navigation addresses – its horrible.

    Otherwise, its easy to use after training on it a week or too.

    Its easier to use than many of the systems in luxury car’s over $80,000.

    i-Drive isn’t as easy. (its a nightmare)
    COMMAND isn’t as easy. (and I have an S550 so I know)

    The only other Navigation system I like is the one in the Chrysler 300 though it doesn’t have as many features as SYNC does.

    Say what you will about it, but Sync in a 2010 Fusion or Taurus is a great deal and helps the fun factor a great deal.

  • avatar
    Vorenus

    I am looking forward to trying SYNC out; it seems like (while some hate to admit it), Ford was near the cutting edge on this one.

  • avatar

    One of the nice things about SYNC is that the car and can be setup to automaticaly transfer calls from phone to in-car stereo so this way, if you are talking to someone on thee phone and walking to the car, as soon as you get in and hit the steering wheel button, it transfers. That’s cool.

    I think manufacturers can just stop bothering to offer voice control altogether until they can get it to work for everyone regardless how poorly they speak english.

    For now, I like the fact Ford/Lincoln put enough buttons on the steering wheel to control most things with hands on steering. Lincolns have a [ Fan +/-] button for example.

  • avatar

    Vorenus

    For what many manufacturers charge for this level of technology, FORD did get alot of things right.

  • avatar
    tib

    Sync is brilliant. I wish I could get it retrofitted in my other car. I haven’t experienced too many pronuciation/ recognition problems except when the sunroof is open as the microphone is located on the rear view mirror. To the naysayers, I suggest that you try it.

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    I have Sync in my Flex, and overall it’s pretty good. It does a great job with IPods (I’ve only found one artist that Sync gets confused on), and it mostly works fine with my phone (the voice menus a have a few too many unnecessary commands and it refuses to download “Home” from my phone book, ugh).

    My 2005 TL had voice navigation and bluetooth phone intergration. It was generally a good system, but Sync does a much better job at getting commands right.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    Yup – SYNC is a huge order winner. I would ALMOST buy a Fusion over a TSX just for this reason.

  • avatar
    Bancho

    BMWnut :

    As much fun as it is to bash Microsoft, their products are orders of magnitude better than they once were (and I’m a Mac user). The Sync system is particularly good and I’m not aware of another manufacturer offering a similar system on as wide a range of models as Ford is.

    Things like Sync will have an influence on my next car purchase and would push a new fusion way up on my list.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    SYNC really is very good, if you can get past the voice recognition/ICE integration, which, quite frankly, sucks on every car. And every PC or Smartphone, for that matter.

    Voice recognition is one of those things that computers have and always will do badly. Machines don’t do this well, and frankly never will until someone manages to do in hardware and software the same tasks that a much-more-complex human brain is capable of performing effortlessly. Good luck with that—I’m expecting hydrogen fuel cells will be done first.

    Everything else about the system is well done. It’s quick, simple, works with anything thrown at it and, despite that, has pretty rich functionality. It utterly shames MMI/COMAND/iDrive. It also shames Windows Mobile, which shares much of the same codebase.

  • avatar
    heaven_on_mars

    SYNC is something that gets people to consider Ford again. Most people I know who have SYNC in their vehicles say it is good, not perfect, not outstanding, but good. Considering how awful some people speak of voice systems in other brands, good is impressive.

    If Toyota or Honda adds SYNC to their options list, it will be a blow to Ford and the rest of the business who lacks SYNC already. It seems sad to me that Ford would be beating companies like Honda and Toyota to technology like this. Toyota needs better iPod intergration and help with their voice command tech.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Voice recognition is getting much better in the later systems, especially those with the hard drive based nav system (which includes the option to make a custom voice profile for even better results). The 2010 update to Sync includes turn by turn directions on non-Nav equipped cars, as well as real time traffic and info like 411 and sports scores (free for the first three years of ownership).

    Sync can be set to accept input in spanish or French as well as English, but as stated above certain foreign words still need to be pronounced like they would be in English.

    Anything in all caps is treated as an acronym, so, if Bob is in your cell phone as BOB, you have to say ‘Call B – O – B’. Also, with all 2009+ cars, and even later 2008s, you can say ‘Call Bob on cell’ or ‘Call Bob at work’ if you have multiple numbers under one name, and the car will do what you want it to.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    Hell, voice recognition is something that many of us don’t do well. Huh?

  • avatar

    Spent a few days with a Lincoln MKS with Nav and Sync. Once I got it figured out it was very good. It sucked up my Ipod info and searching songs by voice worked well. Phone calls were easy to make using bluetooth and my iphone. Of course, I have a perfect mid-Atlantic accent (see national tv announcer speech to understand) which is probably the easiest for the system to understand. My MKS was by far the quietest car I have ever driven, so with the windows up and a/c on low, it was dead quiet in the car.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Sync can be set to accept input in spanish or French as well as English, but as stated above certain foreign words still need to be pronounced like they would be in English.

    How do you pronounce “Notre Dame” or “Grand Prix”?

    On a funnier note, ask someone from Newfoundland to say “I saw a bear on the way to the bar”, or someone from certain parts of New York or New England “Tidy Thirty Toddies” and you’ll start to see the problem.

    You’ll fully appreciate it when you have to get your boss’ 760Li to work with his new cell phone, whilst avoiding telling him that the problem is his brick-thick Punjabi accent.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    psarhjinian –

    You know, I have never tried testing it with foreign terms adopted into English with their foreign pronunciation. If I have some down time tomorrow I am going to jump in a car and try it out though, just to see what happens, and will report back the results.

    As far as thick accents go, the best bet for Sync is to get the car with the HD nav system, as it has (as I mentioned above) a voice profile setup steps the user through pronouncing lots of words, and lets the car ‘learn’ the accent. I did it with a customer who had a very thick German accent and it worked like a charm after setting up the voice profile.

  • avatar
    derek533

    Two Ford’s and two Sync systems. One is a 09 Escape (co. car) paired with my iPhone. The other is our personal Flex with a Zune hooked to it.

    Both Sync systems work well enough considering the point is to try and keep your eyes on the road. The basic commands are almost flawless (play artist Joe Satriani for example, play album Crystal Planet, call XXXX on cell or call XXXX at home, etc.). Also, beyond just voice commands, you can use the radio controls to access all of your music and playlists. Both systems charge the players respectively too. My only complaint about the Escape’s Sync system, is that the USB input is located under the radio stack in a cubbie and not in the console as in the Flex.

    BTW, P71_CrownVic, your hatred of everything that is Ford (it appears this way at least) is evident in all of your comments. You’re the only person whom I’ve seen said the Sync system couldn’t recognize a voice. Are you sure you were pushing the talk button? It’s not perfect, but it sure beats the living piss out of what else is out there right now.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    I am wondering when you will see 3G/WAN antennas built into the car integrated with 802.11 spec router? Then everything can interface with the vehicle being the access point, and you can access wide area networks – keeping you in the Interwebs pretty much everywhere you go.

    I am also wondering when the key ignition on the car will become a USB port for your encrypted starter-code carried on your thumbdrive, perhaps?

    If the car biz utilized industry-standard connectors for the vehicle’s electronics, costs would come down so much. No more billion-dollar ECU; with standardized connectors you could build a Linux box to run the whole car and plug all the sensors in with standardized connectors.

    Plus, home diagnosis of problems would be feasible just by going to your dealer’s or mechanic’s website so the car can “talk” to them. McLaren had a primitive version of a setup like that with the F1 waaay back in the 90′s.

  • avatar
    bluecat

    I have a 2010 Fusion Hybrid with SYNC and I think it’s great. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect — you have to pronounce some words the way a computer can understand. And for some non-English, you can forget about using voice commands (e.g. – if I try to voice dial a colleague with an Indian name from the address book it thinks I’m saying something else).

    But on the whole, the voice commands work really well for most words. Beyond that, the system is just incredibly easy to setup. Pairing my iPhone and downloading my complete address book and call history took all of about 20 seconds over bluetooth. And connecting my 80 GB iPod was as simple as plugging it into the USB port under the armrest. It seems that any band or artist name works with the voice command, and few of them are really long, like 9 or 10 words.

    If I had one complaint, it would be that the SYNC integrated navigation system takes awhile to set a ‘point of interest’ destination using voice commands. I wish there was a way to simplify this, as it seems like I often have to go through a series of hoops to find the POI. The Garmin GPS menu system is easier to use except that it’s not voice operated (and not as pretty).

    That said, SYNC was a selling point for me. Not ‘THE’ selling point, but that along with the hybrid fuel economy and a couple other things steered me away from getting a premium fuel gulping Acura or other foreign make and surprisingly enough into buying my first Ford.

  • avatar
    ptensioned

    Having used SYNC in rented Fusions just like the reviewer, I agree with the gist of it, though I had fewer problems with the voice recognition.

    The main advantage to SYNC to me is that it works extremely well with just about every MP3 player on the market, not just iPods. As an avowed Apple hater, this alone is a great feature.

  • avatar
    jamie1

    P71_CrownVic :
    May 13th, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    I think SYNC is terrible. I was at a dealer recently (so you know there was no ‘outside’ noise), inside a Flex and the thing could not understand me at all. It was terrible.

    Wow – have you seen the light and realized the greatness of Ford product at last – I hope you have decided to buy a Flex – ours is brilliant.

    SYNC is fantastic! 1 million customers would seem to agree – that is democratization of technology at work!
    To those that reckon an AUX in point is better so that they can play with their ipod as they drive along at 80mph I ask you (politely) to do the following:
    - Grow up!
    - Don’t drive anywhere near me
    - Consider the huge implication of what you are doing.
    - Buy a car with SYNC quick. If you get a 2010MY vehicle, you also get (free) Traffic, Directions and Information which is simple to use and set up.

  • avatar
    bluecat

    To those that reckon an AUX in point is better so that they can play with their ipod as they drive along at 80mph I ask you (politely) to do the following:

    The Fusion has an AUX jack as well, but I’ve never used it. Like you say, not only is it dangerous to be browsing your MP3 player while driving, it’s also not really any faster. SYNC allows you to verbally specify the artist, the track, playlist, etc., so it’s really quick.

    To CrownVic, it may be that you weren’t saying the commands correctly. It takes a little while at first, but once you know the proper commands it works like a charm.

  • avatar
    roldham

    I have the SYNC system in my EPA Certified 2008 CNG Focus SES and I absolutely love it. Was impressed with the voice recognition as soon as I paired the Bluetooth with my iPhone. One I plugged the iPhone into the USB port, WOW. BTW, I have the audiophile sound system too. Not bad for OEM, really.

    The CNG system is also available for the Fusion and Milan.

  • avatar
    Accords

    This is going to sound REALLY petty…

    But this system just like the one Honda has in its CIVIC / cars.. is the reason why I refuse to buy either.

    It looks like its just been stuffed in there. The least ya could do is get / build a panel better so this device / waste of 300bux doesn’t get yanked out in some easy car theft.

  • avatar
    johnny5

    I have had Ford SYNC in my 2009 F150 since June.  In that time, I have experienced numerous software issues, and compatibility problems with devices that were listed as compatible.  The SYNC customer service is non-existant, and when I try to go through Ford, or my local dealership, they have been of no help to me whatsoever.  Overall, my experience with SYNC has been a nightmare, and I’m not the only one.  Before you consider buying this system, check out the SYNC user forums to see just how many people are having issues with this program: http://boards.synccommunity.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?webtag=fordsyncmb&listMode=0

  • avatar
    Firemark

    I have a 2009 F150 with their top of line version of Sync.  It worked fine for about 9 months.   The Bluetooth connection for Cell Calls was actually the best I’ve ever experienced, even for the people on the other end of the line while I was driving on a highway.

    HOWEVER, the last 3 months have been a nightmare since applying their upgrade patch.  The phone now goes into Privacy Mode on incoming phone calls, most of the time.  I did post on the MyFordSync community website and got nowhere.  All the moderators do is ask your phone model and software version, then admit they don’t really have anything to do with the system for Ford or Microsoft.  The moderators imply the problem is with your phone… typical of software interface designers.. it’s always the other guy.  My bluetooth earbud still works so it’s NOT my PHONE!

    My dealer spent a day and a half trying to get the system to work, calling Ford HQ for tech support.  The result… It worked ONCE on the first incoming call.  Now it’s back to Privacy Mode on Incoming Calls 90% of the time.

    Ford is spending millions on advertising their Sync system, which until a few months ago proved to be a smart move.  However, they’ve lost their way by introducing bugs into the Bluetooth and have ZERO useful support.  They need to spend some money on Tech Support and development to fix the problems with their system instead.

    At this point, DON”T Buy a FORD with the Sync system.  You’ll be paying a lot of extra money for a non functional system.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    My friend is very frustrated with SYNC on his new Edge. It worked ok for me, his wife and daughter had no major issues with it, but he has an odd voice, both high pitched and low pitched at the same time, and it was totally confused no matter how he pronounced things. He tried to change his voice but that didn’t really help much. The funniest thing was when he yelled “Eat shit and die!” and it started playing “C’mon Eileen”, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, who his wife had added that morning. It was repeatable, it played it about half the time he yelled it. I tried it, and I couldn’t get it to do anything like that at all.

    I wouldn’t want it in my car in it’s present form, unless it was free.


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