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What is Ford Sync and what does it do?

Keeping connected in the car and listening to music are two of the most sought after features in modern cars, but it’s no longer enough to have simple Bluetooth connectivity. That’s so 2012.

Ford and other carmakers are now fitting bigger and bigger touchscreens with more features than a Now That’s What I Call Music CD.

Ford Sync is the American brand’s infotainment system, which it uses to showcase its latest and greatest entertainment tech. With in-car connectivity such a hot topic – and such a key selling point – it’s vital for carmakers that they don’t get left behind.

What is Ford Sync?

If you have a Ford built in the last couple of decades, chances are it has some sort of Sync system. Its name recalls the ancient art of syncing music to an iPod, which makes sense given that Ford Sync was first unveiled in early 2007.

On the first Fords where Sync was an option, you needed to pay nearly $400 for the technology – that’s the equivalent of around £500 in today’s money. Thankfully, major functions are now included as standard on every Ford.

Ford Sync 1 explained

Ford Tourneo Courier with Sync 1 infotainment system

It might look pretty primitive now, but the original Ford Sync 1 system was very forward-looking when it launched. Despite not having a touchscreen, you could use the colour screen to connect your phone via Bluetooth, letting you stream music or take calls wirelessly. You could connect external USB devices and the music info would show up on the screen. It was controlled by buttons or by voice control.

The system could also read text messages aloud for you, and is linked up to factory-fitted parking sensors to show you a clear display of proximity to other objects and vehicles on the screen. Later, higher-spec cars also featured sat nav and a reversing camera, although the small screen limited their usefulness.

Later, Sync 1.1 software also included AppLink, which is like a rudimentary version of what we now have in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You could download the AppLink app to your phone, and apps like Spotify, and then the app would work on the screen via either Bluetooth (Android devices) or USB cable (iPhones).

Ford Sync 2 explained

Ford S-Max with Sync 2 infotainment system

Ford Sync 2 looks like a huge step forward from Sync 1, because you’re greeted with an eight-inch touchscreen that still stands up against modern cars. The Sync 2 screen is characterised by its four distinct sections – phone, navigation, entertainment and climate. You might still find this system on used Ford Mondeo, S-Max, Galaxy and Edge models.

Navigation was fitted as standard on the Sync 2 system, including Michelin-rated places of interest nearby and all across Europe.

Ford Sync 3 explained

Ford Sync 3 infotainment system

Ford’s Sync 3 system is designed to be cleaner-looking and easier to use than its predecessor. Improving its ease of use is standard-fit Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which allows you to use some of your phone’s favourite apps on the car’s touchscreen. Sync 3, released in 2016, runs on either a 6.5-inch or an eight-inch screen, and is notable for its five icons across the bottom of the screen.

If there are only four icons at the base of the screen, this is what’s sometimes known as Sync 2.5, with a streamlined range of features. Sync 2.5 came out in 2018, when the Ford Transit and Transit Custom were facelifted.

Ford Sync 4 explained

Ford Ranger Wildtrak with Sync 4 touchscreen

Tesla’s impact on the car market is wide-ranging – not just in the widespread adoption of electric driving, but the increasing size and reliance on touchscreens, too. Sync 4 debuted in the Ford Mustang Mach-E, and its vast portrait screen – complete with digital heater controls – was like nothing ever fitted to a Ford before.

Now, Sync 4 can work on screens ranging from eight inches to 15.5 inches, with the latest Focus and the 2024 Puma getting screens on the smaller end of that spectrum. High-end vehicles like the Ranger pickup get dashboard-hiding mega-screens.

Among the extra features is natural voice control, which uses cloud-based connectivity and conversational voice command recognition. There’s the option of Amazon Alexa in the screen as well.

Software updates happen over-the-air and in the background, while electrified cars benefit from a host of features including battery management and the ability to find local charging points. And, if there’s anything you can’t find or anything you want to know about the car, you can open the digital owner’s manual.

Ford Sync applications

The main ones to be aware of are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – available on Sync 3 and Sync 4. These let you use your favourite phone apps on the car’s screen.

Alternatively, you can download assistant apps like Alexa, navigation apps such as Waze, information guides such as CitySeeker and numerous radio and podcast apps.

Meanwhile, the FordPass phone app links to your Sync system, allowing you find your vehicle and lock/unlock it from your phone. Automatic cars can also be started remotely through the app – which may not be useful very often – but, more interestingly, FordPass lets drivers of plug-in Fords check their car’s range and charging status, find charging stations and plan trips, and let you pay for charging through the app.

Is Ford Sync the same as Bluetooth?

Ford Transit with Sync 4 infotainment screen

Ford Sync uses Bluetooth to connect your phone to the car, so you’ll need to have Bluetooth turned on on your device. But, whereas Bluetooth will let you take/make phone calls and stream audio, Ford Sync goes above that by offering apps that can be downloaded straight to the car’s interface. Most Ford Sync systems also include navigation, which uses GPS signals not Bluetooth.

Do you have to subscribe to Ford Sync?

No, the Ford Sync system is included free-of-charge in modern Ford models, although you may need to pay a subscription to unlock some of the more advanced connectivity features down the line. If you use the FordPass Connect service – which adds extra features to what’s included with the FordPass app – you may need to top up with data packages.

Live traffic updates are only free for a year or two, while remote start and remote unlocking are included for 10 years. But you certainly don’t need to pay for live traffic updates if you have a modern smartphone, as you get live traffic updates through Android Auto or Apple CarPlay for free.

How to update Ford Sync

Occasional software updates may be available to more recent Sync systems, and the best way to find out whether your car is due an upgrade is to contact a Ford dealer. Alternatively, you can log into your Ford Account, if you have one.

If you want to update your car with a newer Sync system – for example, swapping Sync 2 to Sync 3 – this isn’t possible, as a lot of hardware needs changing as well.

Your Ford Sync questions answered