Next in our Hands-On-Tech reporting series*, we take a look at Ford’s SYNC 3 system. Taking you through the top-spec connectivity features offered by manufacturers in detail, this HOT report series looks to benchmark the connectivity functionality of each manufacturer based on various test criteria. Onto the third iteration of the SYNC system, Ford is going from strength to strength.

The SYNC display is basic. While the 8″ screen display isn’t the prettiest design we’ve seen, it’s by no means ugly. What’s more, it serves its purpose beautifully. Buttons are easy to find, the touchscreen is highly responsive and overall, the system is refreshingly intuitive. So much so that while testing the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integrations, we found ourselves wanting to come back into Ford’s proprietary system.

The pinch/zoom/swipe functionality responses are as mobile devices and this invokes a very fluid customer experience. 

Voice Control
The SYNC voice control has been enhanced to understand 10,000 comments, through the integration of Nuance technology. This includes being able to open apps using voice control. We haven’t seen this level of accuracy or integration since the Tesla Model S we tested at the end of 2017. 

Not only was the system much faster than other systems tested, but all of the commands were understood perfectly. This negates the need for a voice response mechanism, i.e. the sentence spoken being typed out on the screen, so the driver can see what the system has heard. The system does not select DAB channels, which consumers may expect with the advancement in digital assistants, like Amazon Alexa. However, this is a good example of the disparity between automotive lifecycles and those in technology, where development is much faster.  

We rated the Ford SYNC 3’s voice control as 4 out of 5 for natural use, where the system fully understood, quickly, with natural syntax almost all of the time. We rated it 3 out of 5 for accuracy, where it dropped marks because it didn’t set navigation by postcode. 

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The nine-speaker Sony system is standard on all but the Zetec model. The DAB radio integration was one of our favourite features, allowing the user to toggle through the ensembles and stations much more easily than most other models tested. There’s room for 15 presets, which can be skipped through from the steering wheel controls.

In line with the basic approach of the SYNC system, the switchgear is predominantly physical, with only the navigation, audio and telephony being operated from the touchscreen display. 

The layout isn’t ideal. The screen is set back, leaving a sill to rest one’s hand when operating the screen. However, this ledge can obscure operation for people with bigger hands or less dexterity.

What’s more, the climate control buttons and dials sit behind the gearstick. When in Park, it is awkward to make some selections. Though there is the ability to preset up to three electronic seat configurations, there is no further driver profiling available in the SYNC system. 

The steering wheel controls seem incredibly busy on first glance. This is because the cruise control buttons have been separated into their own larger cluster and there are flappy paddles in this test model. 

The SYNC’s networking capabilities rely on smartphone tethering or private and public WiFi services. For real-time traffic information, users need to enable the traffic option via the Fordpass app. The app reminds the user that downloading this information eats into mobile data, highlighting the difference in approach between manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which have partnership providers for customer data packages, and manufacturers like Ford and Volvo, which arguably allow customers more freedom in data pricing, but don’t offer as seamless a service. 

Telenav provides the mapping for SYNC’s proprietary navigation tool and it’s really clear. The split screen shows a zoomed-in guide on the right which is helpful for accurately following the satellite navigation without voice guidance. What’s more, Ford has intelligently maintained the blue highlighted route of its smartphone counterparts, so the system has a familiarity that other manufacturers’ model doesn’t. It would have been nice to see an integration of the ‘fastest/shortest/eco’ routes, as in the Volkswagen system, but these can be set in preferences, nested in the navigation settings.

We rated the navigation 4 out of 5 for intuitive design, where the system offers great presentation, minimal nesting and fairly intuitive user experience. Route accuracy was rated three out of three, where destinations were spot on and ETA was equally accurate.

Lane departure warning and lane keep assist are accurate, on the whole. There is the option of AEB and adaptive cruise control on the Kuga, however. The model we tested had no adaptive cruise control, so we were unable to assess this feature. Given the plethora of standard equipment, it seems odd for Ford to not offer this as standard on all models. 

Companion App and Telematics
Fordpass is a companion app, which truly enhances the proprietary system. It separates all the vehicle data that can swamp other vehicles’ menus and only adds the information if the driver a) downloads the app and b) syncs the phone to the car by choice. Other apps are also available via Ford Applink, such as Glympse, AccuWeather and Cityseeker. These must be downloaded onto the handset, in order to appear on the centre console screen. These applications work seamlessly between the screens, although there isn’t much choice on Applink currently. Ford’s creation of the SmartDeviceLink Consortium, in association with Toyota, will look to change this, but consumers will want to see this developed very quickly, if it is to stand a chance against the likes of Apple and Google.

It’s been commented that the SYNC 3 display screen looks like an old Microsoft Windows interface, but such critics overlook the fact that’s where much of its appeal lies. Familiarity is key in tackling the transition to more technologically driven environments. With Ford’s broad market appeal, Ford has managed the balance in combining physical and digital features and has integrated enough choice to give the customer good service, but not so much as to overwhelm them. 

*This article is an extract from a report that first appeared in our Qube service. The QUBE article is accompanied by a comprehensive data sheet with our full evaluation of the Ford’s connectivity and HMI.