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.