2021 Ford Bronco and F-150's navigation will outlast your phone's maps in the wilderness

Ford's Sync 4 includes downloadable trail maps for additional peace of mind when adventuring beyond cell phone range. Plus, it has towing maps, too.

Chris Paukert Former executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015. Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Chris Paukert
3 min read

Particularly since the advent of Apple CarPlayAndroid Auto and Waze, more and more consumers seem to be foregoing costly embedded navigation systems in new cars. With nearly all new cars, trucks and SUVs coming with sizable touchscreens these days, it's hard to fault this money-saving idea. And yet, if you are prone to wandering beyond areas with cell phone coverage, this tethered smartphone-based approach to navigation can leave you wandering without a sense of direction.

When it comes to adventure-minded vehicles like the upcoming 2021 Ford Bronco and F-150, the Blue Oval and its partner, Telenav, say they have a solution: navigation maps that work anywhere. Part of the company's latest Sync 4 infotainment suite, in addition to relying on GPS data, the Bronco, F-150 and future models will use a combination of downloaded maps, wheel sensors and dead reckoning (calculating a position based on a previous known position combined with speed and time estimates) to determine a vehicle's location long after your smartphone's reception bars give up the ghost. 

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Yes, you'll need to pony up for in-dash navigation, but if the system gets you out of a jam one time somewhere in the wilderness, it'll likely have paid for itself. And while models like the Bronco and F-Series seem much more likely than your typical passenger car to go off-road and/or out of cell range, the reality is that you're more likely to lose your way using a phone-based navigation app versus an onboard system even in urban areas. That's because it's possible to lose navigation in dense cities with tall buildings and multi-layer road networks like Chicago, or when your telecom's network experiences an outage.

In addition to typical onboard navigation features like real-time traffic, voice activation, Yelp! ratings and so on, in a statement, Ford confirms its hybrid navigation solution also includes "specialized route suggestions for towing and off-roading." The former plots turn-by-turn routes designed to avoid things like very sharp turns, narrow bridges and low-hanging overpasses -- these features should be familiar to anyone who has ever used a navigation system or print atlas designed for long-haul truckers). 

Ford Bronco Sync 4 towing map

Sync 4 can provide navigation routes specifically for when you're towing to help you avoid impediments like narrow bridges and low overpasses.


The latter includes trail maps for off-the-beaten-track excursions. It'll be interesting to see how these off-road maps interact with the Bronco's new Trail Maps app feature, which allows you to document and share your off-road adventures with friends through the cloud.

One caveat: At least for the moment, this tech from Ford and Telenav only works on the Blue Oval's latest Sync 4 system. Disappointingly, the less powerful, less sophisticated Sync 3 infotainment hardware in the upcoming unibody 2021 Ford Bronco Sport will not be able to take advantage of this tech. It's just one more reason why the body-on-frame "big" Bronco is likely a better fit for those who plan to go off-road further and more often.

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