Oakville, ON – For the better part of the last decade, Ford has taken it upon themselves to master the infotainment game. With technology, smartphones, and tablets having such a strong presence in today’s world, automakers are going to have to go the extra mile to stay ahead or even just keep up with competition. The first SYNC system boasted decent connectivity (for its time), and the MyFordTouch system that shortly followed brought even more integration into your Ford vehicle. Now though, Ford graciously invited me to their assembly plant in Oakville, ON to sample the latest in technology – yet another milestone for a domestic automaker. Ford’s SYNC 3 is packed with connectivity features, ease of use, and offers gizmos never before seen in vehicles from the blue oval.
Our demonstrator for the event was the 2016 Ford Escape, a huge volume seller for Ford. Now in its third generation (introduced for 2013), the Escape offers all of the gizmos we now expect from Ford. This starts with the simple driver aids that are standard issue across the lineup, including a blind spot information system, push-button start, stability control, and rear-view camera. The key point here is Ford’s Active Park Assist, which can identify an appropriately-sized parallel park spot and self-park the Escape with minimal input from the driver.
Ford’s SYNC 3 is an all-new system from the ground up. It incorporates fresh hardware, brand-new software, and even HMI that has never been seen before. Its enhanced capabilities include lightning-quick response time, voice recognition that actually works well, integration of Siri EyesFree technology, AppLink, and a capacitive touchscreen that’s capable of responding to swipe as well as pinch-to-zoom gestures. If anything, SYNC 3 brings us one step closer to full smartphone integration with your new Ford vehicle.
The Siri EyesFree feature does exactly this, by offering Apple iPhone users to make full use of their expensive smartphone. If a compatible iPhone has been paired to the car’s Bluetooth, the voice recognition button on the steering wheel of SYNC 3 vehicles essentially doubles as the Siri button. This sends commands for everything you’d use Siri for in your phone, directly to the phone. It’s blazing fast and there’s virtually no lag. We used the system to add calendar events and send/receive some calls.
Our friends from Dearborn have brought a new philosophy when designing the new HMI for SYNC 3. It’s intended to seamlessly transition between daytime and night view colours to make it extremely easy on the eyes. The layout is impeccably neat and simplistic, which gives the system a short learning curve. The larger target areas on the screen implement large “buttons” so it’s difficult to make errors. This is also the most user-centric system Ford has offered so far, understanding that the older generation might have a difficult time adapting to new technology, as evidenced by Cadillac’s CUE infotainment.
The home screen on SYNC 3 has three selectable zones, for navigation, audio, and phone. This is slightly more simplified than the outgoing MyFordTouch system, with an always-available lower tray with audio, navigation, climate, apps, and settings for quick transitions. It’s very clutter-free with a font size that’s larger for ideal readability. SYNC 3 also includes some space as well as customizability for app developers to continue adding features as the app gets updated in the future. This ensures that the “computer” in your Ford will always stay up-to-date and not become tired and outdated.
As an Apple iPhone 6 Plus user myself, I found the “Phone” menu to be very familiar. The format within this is similar to the iPhone, with buttons for privacy, adding an additional call, swipe-to-scroll, as well as quick drag of the scroll bar to cycle through long contact menus. Just like all of its competitors, SYNC 3 offers contact search, volume controls, and phone connect/disconnect both via the touch screen as well as buttons on the steering wheel. The learning curve to pair your device via Bluetooth is also just as flawless as the rest of the system.
The map setup within SYNC 3’s navigation (on equipped vehicles) is quite similar to MyFordTouch, except with a fresher look. The section for destination entry is where the new stuff makes its debut. This is easily one of the easiest to use navigation entry setups on the market right now. Everything pertinent is on board, including finding local points of interest such as fuel or food, but what’s special is how organized and responsive everything is. Gone are the days where destination input takes ten minutes and added stress.
Where the majority of infotainment systems suffer is staying up-to-date. Current systems from most competitors require frequent updates, which in turn need the user to take the vehicle in to the dealership, or complicated downloads of software to a USB drive. Ford takes this to the next level and is able to self-update automatically. All that’s needed is a WiFi connection, so the majority of buyers will be able to update their new Escape or Edge models within the comfort of their own garage.
What’s unfortunate is that Ford doesn’t offer WiFi hotspot connectivity. This normally wouldn’t be too big a deal, but major competitor General Motors offers a WiFi 4G LTE hotspot virtually across their lineup. We’re hoping that in coming years, the SYNC 3 system will establish this feature, but it just might be the next level up for in-car connectivity rather than a toy that’s going to make its way across the mainstream market immediately.
Another downside to the system is limited to certain specific applications in the lineup. Thanks to the location of the system in the Escape’s dashboard, you’re forced to reach awkwardly into a plastic corner in order to bring up certain commands. Other Ford products like the Fusion won’t have this issue thanks to the straightforward layout of the dash, but the tiny screen in the Fiesta will definitely be the cause of some finger-fumbling.
Ford’s SYNC 3 is offered on selective 2016 models, including the aforementioned Escape as well as the Fiesta and Lincoln MKC. However, it’s only inevitable that in coming years and refreshes, the remainder of the lineup will quietly adapt use of this system, including an adaptation within the Lincoln lineup. Upon receiving the invitation to experience Ford’s SYNC 3 setup, I took the liberty of contacting a friend who owns an older Ford vehicle with the original SYNC system. Spending a day with SYNC 3 gave me a blatant reminder of just how far technology has come in such little time, and gave me reassurance that one of the world’s most important automakers is doing its part to stay on track with the quickly-modernizing environment.
Preview: Ford’s SYNC 3 Gallery
2015 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
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