2009 Ford Flex Long Term Road Test


2009 Ford Flex Limited: Updating Sync to Handle New Phones

December 03, 2009

2009_Flex_1600_synchupdate_iPhone.jpg

You may or not know that I recently got a new cell phone, an iPhone 3GS. Now, instead of carrying around two devices, a phone and an iPod, I need only one. Additionally, I get to see how the various cars we test interact with the newest version of the most popular smartphone on the market.

It didn't take long to find a hiccup. Our 2009 Ford Flex exhibited a little quirk when paired to this phone. But a 2010 Lincoln MKT I drove this week, essentially a dressed-up version of the same car, had no such problems with the same phone.

Can you spot the flaw in the photo below?

2009_Flex_1600_synchupdate_before.jpg

Continued after the jump.

That's right. The name of the person I'm calling (me) appears backwards in the call window. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but what it means is this: I have to say names backwards when I'm using voice commands to make calls.

'Call Tracy Edmunds,' does not work. I must say, 'Call Edmunds Tracy.'

Talking to my car and using voice commands is awkward enough as it is, but speaking as if I was doing morning roll call at the barracks is ridiculous.

This type of compatibility problem is unavoidable in a consumer electronics environment that produces new phones and portable music players all the time. The iPhone 3GS came out in July 2009, but we've had our Ford Flex since September 2008, and it was built weeks before that.

But the Sync system is designed to be easily updated. I decided to find out just how easy it is.

Step One is a visit the Sync website to set up an account for our Flex. All I need is an e-mail address and the 17-digit VIN number of our car. The VIN appears on the door jamb, but our Navi-equipped Flex can also display the VIN on the Nav screen. I also have to specify whether our Sync system is paired with a navigation system or not. It is.

Next I go to the 'Get Updates' tab after I log-in to my Sync account page. From here I get a list of updates our car doesn't have (as determined by the VIN number). The oldest ones are at the bottom, so that's where I'll start

Our Flex is missing Sync software Version 1.2 and Version 1.3. I'm not sure if I can start with V1.3 or not, but it doesn't matter to me because I want to see which one, if any, will solve my iphone 3GS compatibility glitch.

2009_Flex_1600_synchupdate_startscreen.jpg

After selecting V1.2 for download, I'm sent to this screen, where I am walked through the process. First, I am instructed to insert a portable USB memory stick (with at least 10 Mb of remaining storage) into my computer. I also choose to print out instructions that will help me complete the process back in the car. This is a good idea for the first-timer.

With the USB stick in place, I hit 'next' and wait about 30 seconds for the downlaod to finish. For grins, I check the file size: almost 7 Megabytes.

2009_Flex_1600_synchupdate_USBdownloadcomplete.jpg

This screen confirms that the file was successfully downloaded to the USB stick and instructs me to grab my printed instructions and the USB stick and take them to the Flex to upload the new Sync files.

The instructions are 6 pages in length, but most of it applies to stuff I just completed at my desk. It also walks me through every little step, as if I've never used my nav system before. But it's actually quite easy. Here's the condensed version of what to do.

1) Insert the memory stick into the USB slot in your car.

2) Start your engine (Ford warn's you this whole process could take 15 minutes, and they don't want the car battery to go dead. There may be other reasons, but they are not sepcified.)

3) Turn on your radio/nav system. If you're like me, you probably leave it on all the time, so this step probably isn't necessary.

NOTE: If your Sync-equipped car does not have a navigation system, these instructions will not apply. You'll need to print out the corresponding instructions from your Sync account screen as you go through the process.

Back to instructions for nav-equipped Sync vehicles...

4) Select the 'media' hard button on the center stack, and then go to the source soft button on the screen and toggle it to 'USB'.

5) Select the 'phone' hard button on the center stack, and then press the 'settings' soft button in the lower left-hand corner of the nav screen.

6) Select 'advanced' on the lower right-hand corner of the nav screen.

7) Scroll down through the menus to 'Install' and press it. A dialog box will pop up to confirm that you want to begine the installation. Preess 'yes'.

8) Don't touch anything else and wait. They say it could be 15 minutes, but my installation finished in 1 minute.

9) Continue to not touch anything if a screen pops up saying 'system rebooting'. This step only appears if you are way behind on your updates or if the update file is particularly comprehensive. Sync V1.2 is such a file, and the reboot step took a further 3 minutes.

10) After the reboot is finished, you should see this screen.

2009_Flex_1600_synchupdate_USBuploadcomplete.jpg

11) Don't yank out the USB stick just yet. The instructions say you should press the 'menu' hard button on the center stack to navigate away from this screen before doing so.

Your're not done yet!!

12) Go back to your computer. If you left it on the Sync screen, you're good to go. If you logged out, you need to go back to the Sync page and log in to your account.

13) Insert the USB stick into your computer and press 'Confirm Updates'. When you were in your car, a file was written to the USB stick confirming that the update was successful. This step updates your online Sync account so you don't see the version you just installed on your 'to do' list.

14) You may have to re-pair your phone to the Bluetooth system in your car. This will vary from phone to phone. Since my phone was having trouble with Sync, I re-paired it to the Flex.

2009_Flex_1600_synchupdate_after.jpg

Success! Sync Version 1.2 is what's needed to make my iPhone 3GS play well with our 2009 Flex. The whole process took about 15 minutes total, including the time it took to set up my online Sync account.

Version 1.3 is still on my update list, so I'll go ahead and do that, too. The file turns out to be much smaller, about 64 kilobytes. This shouldn't take long.

And so it is. The V1.3 upload takes less than 30 seconds, and a full reboot is not required.

So now our Ford Flex has the latest phone updates burned into its memory. But we'll have to remember to check back every so often because new phones and new portable media players are coming out all the time.

There are other sorts of updates available, too.

My Sync account lists an additional upgrade that 1) auto-dials 911 using my Bluetooth-paired phone in the event of an accident and 2) issues periodic vehicle health reports to my e-mail address (or Sync account). But the Sync website also says we have to go to the dealer to get this accomplished and possibly pay for the dealer's time. Apparently it takes more than a USB memory stick.

Well let you know how that one goes after we bring it in.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 39,550 miles

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2009 Ford Flex in VA is:

$130 per month*
* Explanation
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