One of the things we like most about our long term Ford Focus test car is its SYNC2 infotainment system. Dave King takes a closer look at the technology behind this set-up
We're now pretty used to infotainment systems in modern cars, complete with colour touchscreens that reduce the dashboard button clutter that used to complicate the fascia. Not all of them are the same though, something we've been noticing as we've tested a wide range of models this year, then compared their technology in this respect to that on offer in our current Ford Focus long term test car.
Ford has developed its own SYNC infotainment set-up in order to satisfy customer demand for this kind of system. The company introduced the original package in the USA back in 2007, the key focus being the democratisation of sophisticated in-car technology at an affordable price. Right from inception, the approach adopted by Ford's technical team was to ensure that motorists weren't distracted from their driving, enabling them to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes safely on the road ahead.
Powered by Microsoft Windows, Ford's original voice-activated SYNC in-car connectivity system took the integration of mobile devices, voice control and convenience to a new level through offering extensive device compatibility and voice command. Certainly when launched, the system was the most advanced system of its type. Competitors quickly caught up though, hence the need for the second generation SYNC 2 system we've been trying in our long term Focus.
SYNC 2 allows drivers to control their vehicle's satellite navigation system, music and the interior temperature through voice control or by the use of optimised built-in apps through a synced Bluetooth smartphone. The technology incorporates an optimised interface entitled APPLINK compatible with both Android and iOS devices. AppLink operates infotainment features including Spotify music streaming via voice control.The SYNC 2 system incorporates a radio/CD player with DAB, a high resolution touchscreen, and an extended integrated control pane. There's also Ford's SYNC Bluetooth hands-free phone functionality with voice control, plus the Ford Emergency Assistance service that will summon emergency help if the airbags go off in an accident. Other system features include a USB connectivity port with iPod functionality, an external AUX connection for music devices, remote audio controls and six speakers for the audio system, four in the front and two in the rear of the car.
We like the fact that SYNC 2 can also read aloud incoming SMS text messages from compatible mobile phones, plus it's useful that it works with a variety of digital music players, including iPod and USB flash drives. The system automatically updates phonebook entries, while audio files can be browsed by genre, artist, album, song and playlist using simple voice commands. The USB port also enables the implementation of software upgrades for future enhancements and features.
So does it all work? Well yes, very well indeed is the answer, though we've preferred to master the voice functionality as the buttons on the display can be rather fiddly to use. Once you're au fait with this, you can issue simple 'one shot' commands, like 'play song' to play a track from a CD or even 'I'm hungry' to bring up a list of local restaurants on the split-screen satellite navigation system. Our particular Focus model is a high-spec variant and includes SYNC2 as standard, but the system is optional on lower trim levels and is well worth specifying as without it, you're provided only with a much smaller 4.2" display operable only with more conventional button-orientated functionality.
Ford's Supervisor of Connectivity Application on the SYNC project, Jan Schroll, told us that this second generation system has been well received by customers. 'It's been overwhelmingly popular. We've even received letters and emails not only praising and thanking us for the creation of SYNC, but also making suggestions on how the system could be improved. People particularly liked the free Emergency Assistance feature - a potential life-saver'.
The SYNC 2 system is currently available on most models in the Ford range including the Fiesta, the Focus, the B-MAX and the brand's latest C-MAX, S-MAX and Galaxy MPVs, plus the Kuga SUV and the Transit Custom.