Long derided for being one of the worst infotainment systems in the industry, Ford went back to the drawing board for the third generation of Sync. In order to give customers a system that was fast and intuitive, Ford’s engineers completely scrapped the old platform and started from scratch. In fact, Microsoft’s slow and overly-complex software completely got the boot and was replaced with the QNX platform from BlackBerry.
Big changes behind the scenes don’t mean a whole lot if the user experience isn’t any better, though. When Ford presented me with the opportunity to use Sync 3 for myself, I jumped at the chance to figure out just how good the redesign had been. After all, with the new system launching on the Escape and Fiesta this summer, for better or worse, customers better be ready for the redesign.
Ford says it benchmarked Sync 3’s performance against smartphones and tablets, and I believe them. It’s not just that the system now has a more traditional mobile layout or that features like swiping between menus and pinch-to-zoom are now available. Ford also switched to a capacitive touchscreen like the ones used on mobile devices, which goes a long way towards improving the entire system.
The new layout looks a lot like what you would get if the people behind Windows Phone designed Chrysler Uconnect, which is interesting when you consider the fact that Ford just kicked Microsoft to the curb. I do mean the comparison in a good way, though. Sync 3 probably won’t win any awards for beauty, but especially on non-luxury cars that people are going to be driving daily, being easy to use is a much more important feature than being artfully designed. I found the new look clean and user-friendly, and its simplicity made the menus easy to read and understand.
Once I started pressing buttons and playing around, I realized quickly that Ford made the right decision to start over from scratch with Sync 3. In its new form, you don’t just get a simpler layout – you get a much faster and more responsive system, as well. There wasn’t really any noticeable lag between the time I input a command and that command being executed.
By now, though, that’s the kind of response time you should expect from any new infotainment system. The fact that not every company’s system is up to par in that regard is pretty appalling.
Since Sync 3 uses a touchscreen, that also means navigation input isn’t nearly as complex as, say, the mouse-like controller still in some Lexus models. Disappointingly, passengers are locked out from using most of the navigation system’s functions while the car is moving. A specialist I spoke to explained it by saying they couldn’t find a way to allow passengers to input addresses without compromising driver safety.
On the one hand, I understand the company’s need to keep drivers safe, and typing out an address while driving is probably just as dangerous as texting. On the other hand, if a driver is going to go to the trouble of putting an 80-pound object in the passenger seat and buckling the seatbelt just to get around the navigation system’s safety features, I don’t see how the company could be held responsible if he crashed.
Luckily, Ford has invested heavily in making sure its voice recognition system is finally functional. It’s still not quite as good as your phone’s voice recognition, and you have to break a lot of your commands up into two separate statements, but it’s still far-and-away the best voice recognition system I’ve used from an automaker. Who cares about being able to manually input a location when you can do the exact same thing so much faster with your voice?
Sync 3 also integrates much better with smartphones and plays better with apps. The biggest news for me, personally, is that it supports Spotify, but Pandora, Stitcher, NPR One, SiriusXM Radio, and iHeartRadio Auto will be available at launch for the people who use those. In theory, once you pair your phone, everything you want to use it for should be accessible through Sync and its voice controls – including receiving and responding to text messages.
If it sounds like I’m showering Sync 3 with praise, it’s because I am. I was very impressed with the drastic improvement Ford made over the old system, and it looks like it’s addressed most of the common shortfalls of other infotainment systems, as well. Hopefully Ford will lend me a vehicle equipped with Sync 3 sometime soon so I can see if it’s really as good as I think it is. From my initial impressions, though, I have a feeling that Ford buyers are going to be very happy with it.