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The interior of a 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline is shown from the passenger seat.

Your User’s Guide to Ford’s SYNC System

It’s hard to imagine, but years ago, AM/FM radios were luxuries in the automotive industry. Before long, radios became standard, leading to newer features like cassette and multi-disc CD players. The introduction of smartphones completely set the automotive industry on a new trajectory as automakers looked for ways to keep drivers connected and entertained without robbing them of their focus on the road. Suddenly, power cords and Bluetooth capability allowed us to sync our smartphones with our vehicles, but even that wasn’t enough, as you see anytime you visit a Ford dealer near me.

Today, automakers like Ford are constantly looking for ways to offer seamless connectivity in cars, trucks, and SUVs like the Mustang, F-150, Bronco, and Explorer. This technology must be intuitive and easy to use, but it also needs to withstand the constantly evolving demands of drivers. It’s a balance that is often hard to achieve, but Ford has managed such a feat with its revolutionary SYNC infotainment system.

What Is It?

Ford introduced SYNC in 2007 and immediately garnered widespread acclaim for helping drivers stay connected in the driver’s seat. The first-generation system was straightforward and used a Windows operating system to offer Bluetooth capability. Drivers now had the opportunity to make phone calls and use voice commands to control the radio without taking their hands off the wheel.

The second-generation SYNC system debuted in 2011 with several significant upgrades, including a new name. The MyFord Touch system added WiFi connectivity and navigation features. It also marked the first time drivers could send and respond to messages through the system, which was housed on a 6.5-inch or 8-inch display. However, even with these upgrades, the second-generation system wasn’t intuitive, which Ford remedied in 2015 with SYNC 3.

The fourth-generation technology debuted in 2021 as SYNC 4 and SYNC 4A. Centralized on larger displays up to 15.5 inches, the SYNC 4 system changes every aspect of our experience behind the wheel. It’s a cloud-based software program that keeps you connected and informed while doing the same for the software required to keep your Ford running at its best.

The interior of a 2023 Ford Maverick Tremor is shown from above the center console.

Over-the-Air Updates

Ford models like the best-selling F-150 rely on advanced software to deliver optimal performance and the best user experience. The SYNC 4 system takes this performance to the next level by providing over-the-air updates for your Ford car, truck, or SUV. Instead of bringing your vehicle into a certified Ford dealership to update the software, the SYNC 4 system automatically updates when connected to WiFi.

With SYNC 4, you have the latest technology at your fingertips with minimal, if any, inconvenience. More often than not, these updates are improvements gleaned from driver feedback. For example, some updates improve access to third-party WiFi networks, and others enhance the function and visibility of the status bar and controls. Performance-oriented features like the drive modes also benefit from updates that improve their functionality with seamless transitions.

Expansive Displays

Ford has consistently updated its models to accommodate larger digital displays that complement the progression of the SYNC system. For example, the first-generation SYNC technology was accessible on a 4.2-inch color display. Today, the SYNC 4 displays have nearly quadrupled in size, measuring up to 15.5 inches. In addition, these modern touchscreen displays are intuitive and customizable, with the SYNC system featuring adaptive dash cards that keep your most used or favorite features in a convenient lineup that’s easy to access without stealing your focus from the road.

Digital Owner’s Manual

One of the more practical aspects of Ford’s SYNC 4 system is that it digitizes the owner’s manual for your vehicle. Think about any time you have to reference the owner’s manual and the time required to thumb through the book to find the right page and information. With a digital owner’s manual, you can quickly search keywords, access how-to videos, and more with an intuitive database that puts everything you need to know about your Ford at your fingertips.

Smartphone Integration

The rise of smartphones launched a wave of innovation in the automotive industry, a race that continues today as we rely on smartphones to navigate nearly every aspect of our lives. The SYNC 4 system recognizes as much and offers seamless connectivity without the need for charging cords. Instead, you can pair your smartphone with your Ford’s SYNC 4 system using wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and gain immediate access to your favorite apps.

Integration with the SYNC 4 system extends beyond your iPhone or Android to what Ford calls “SYNC AppLink” and a WiFi hotspot. SYNC AppLink enhances the infotainment system by giving drivers access to tools like Waze and Ford+Alexa, letting you use simple voice commands to add items to your shopping list, control your smart home devices, schedule appointments, set reminders, and more. AppLink also outfits your Ford with Convenience Controls, making it possible to change the radio station, set the cabin temperature, or dim the lights from an app on your smartphone.

Cloud Connectivity and Cloud-Based Voice Processing

Every SYNC 4 infotainment system comes with cloud connectivity, cloud-based voice processing, and access to features like FordPass Connect and a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. By relying on cloud connectivity, the SYNC 4 system offers real-time data to improve your experience behind the wheel. The cloud-based voice processing makes it easy to access this data because it doesn’t require formal language. Instead, you can say something as simple as, “Find the cheapest gas station” or “Take me to the nearest grocery store.”

This enhanced voice recognition makes using the SYNC 4 system more natural and more accessible, like talking to a virtual assistant that can help you find the best restaurant in the area or make a quick call to your spouse. Moreover, the more you use and talk to the SYNC 4 system, the better and more intuitive it becomes. With each request, it learns your preferences and tailors its responses accordingly.

The dash of a 2023 Ford F-350 Super Duty is shown from above the center console after leaving a Ford dealer near me.

Navigational Tools

The SYNC 4 system’s cloud connectivity is also integral to its navigation system. With cloud-based connectivity, the SYNC 4 navigation system delivers real-time route information, from traffic and construction zones to parking availability, weather updates, and even charging locations for electric models. This information lets the system plan the most efficient route and gives you access to a world of venues. For example, because the system features cloud-based voice processing, it recognizes conversational requests like “Find the best Italian restaurant near me.” With cloud-based connectivity, the technology culls the search results and points you toward your destination.

How Will SYNC 4 Change Your Experience?

When Ford debuted SYNC in 2007, the automaker encouraged drivers to bring their iPods, Zunes, and Bluetooth-capable cell phones along for the ride. SYNC gave us more freedom behind the wheel without compromising our ever-growing need to stay connected, entertained, and informed. Today, that freedom is on an entirely different level, legions beyond iPods and into a new era of modern technology where we have virtual assistants like Alexa and cloud-based connectivity that opens us to a world of possibility.

So, how will SYNC 4 change your experience behind the wheel? From helping you make date-night reservations to responding to text messages and updating essential software, there’s little the SYNC 4 and SYNC 4A system doesn’t do well. It’s up to you to take full advantage of the technology and see just how far we’ve come in staying connected, informed, and entertained when navigating the open road.