At Ford's recent 2008 product information event, the Blue Oval showed that it's catching up to the competition on many fronts, including powertrains, interior quality, and overall refinement. The fact is, the folks over in Dearborn are playing catch-up vs. the competition, and in some ways Ford has a lot of work ahead of it. One area where the automaker's been lacking was with regards to iPod compatibility and integration in its vehicles, but with Microsoft's Sync technology rolling out for 2008, Ford's ready to jump to the head of the class.

We sat down with representatives from Ford and Microsoft during our recent trip to Dearborn, and we got an in-depth walkthrough of Ford's multimedia initiative. Sync integrates MP3 players and Bluetooth phones into the stereo system to give drivers greater flexibility to their digital assets. One very exciting aspect of Sync is that high-end stereo and nav systems aren't needed to use the technology. Sync will be standard on all Lincoln models and available as an option on most Fords and Mercurys for MY 2008. During our demo, we saw a Zune player (like we said, it's Microsoft) plugged into the audio jack inside the armrest storage area, plus a Blackberry device connected via Bluetooth, all running through the stereo. More on Microsoft's and Ford's Sync software, as well as an in-depth demonstration video is available after the jump.

Songs, artists, and genre can be selected off the MP3 player by voice command via the "Push to Talk" button on the steering wheel controls. This feature worked very well, as evidenced in the video, but if you ask for a song or artist that doesn't reside on your MP3 player, Sync gives you the song or artist that sounds most like the one you asked for. We'd have preferred it if Sync came up with nothing vs. a guess that's likely wrong. Due to shortcomings of Bluetooth technology, Sync had trouble accessing MP3 music from phones, but the folks at Microsoft say that a fix is on the way.

Using Sync with a Bluetooth-enabled phone allows for easy hands-free calling. Sync takes in all your contacts, and if you try to call any one of your saved contacts that have multiple numbers, it asks you which one you want. Users can also receive text messages and select from a few canned messages to return the text. The onboard computer reads the message to you, deciphering all text shortcuts like "LOL." During the demo, we were promised that users can also access Internet radio on Sync provided the phone has the capability to get online, but we didn't see it for ourselves.

We found the Sync system to be easy to use during our limited time with it, and the voice recognition software was quite impressive. Other OEMs are offering onboard hard drives and software that's integrated with navigation systems, but the options are generally priced out of range for many in the highly-coveted 18-29 demographic. Ford says Sync will be both affordable and widely available (we don't have specific pricing or availability yet), and that will likely be key to its success. We don't believe many people will switch away from an import just because of Sync, but for tech-savvy buyers sitting on the fence between Ford and the competition, the features of Sync might help win Ford a few more customers. Check out the video above and let us know if you think Sync is something you'd want in your next vehicle.