Review: Ford SYNC

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
review ford sync

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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  • Firemark Firemark on Dec 16, 2009

    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.

  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Jun 11, 2010

    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.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)