How the Ford SynUS Works

Image Gallery: Concept Cars

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company
Ford SynUS concept car. See more pictures of concept cars.

Every year at the North American International Auto Show, car manufacturers showcase their best and most innovative new designs. Some are high-tech, others are flashy and a few are just jaw-droppingly weird. At the 2005 show, the Ford SynUS (pronounced "sin-you-ehs") concept car fell into all three categories. Picture a blend of a bank vault, an armored car and a compact car, and you'll get a pretty good image of the SynUS. Critics covering the show called it everything from "silly" to "hideous," but not many cars can carry your groceries and deflect wayward bullets like this one can.

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Although you probably won't see this tiny armored truck motoring down the streets in your neighborhood anytime soon, Ford says that its tough, maneuverable design could make it the ideal urban street vehicle of the future.

In this article, we'll take a look inside the high-concept Ford SynUS, learn how it was designed and engineered and find out whether it will make it to the production line.

SynUS Roots

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company
The SynUS is bulletproof.

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company
Ford Fiesta

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company
Ford Mondeo

Designed to transport the traffic-weary suburbanites who are expected to come flooding back into the cities by the end of this decade, the SynUS is small enough to maneuver through tight city streets; yet it's also solid enough to withstand repeated cart smacks in the supermarket parking lot or a barrage of bullets in the more questionable parts of town.

The SynUS is built on the same frame as the Ford Fiesta, the miniscule European "B-car" car that is roughly the size of the MINI Cooper.

The SynUS engine and suspension are also borrowed from other Ford models -- the European Ford Mondeo sedan and the Ford Fiesta.

Because of their size, the vehicles in the B-car category have taken off in the tightly packed streets of Europe; but aside from the MINI, B-cars are virtually unknown in the States.

On the next page, we'll break down the SynUS specifications.

SynUS Specifications

The SynUS is powered by a 2.0-liter, 134-horsepower, four-cylinder diesel engine. The MacPherson strut front suspension and semi-independent torsion-beam rear suspension make the SynUS agile enough to easily maneuver around tight corners. The engine is smaller and more fuel-efficient than many current compact cars. It also keeps both noise and emissions low using Accelerometer Pilot Control (APC), a technology that constantly monitors and adjusts fuel-injection levels (see Cost-effective euro IV compliance: Delphi's new injection system for more information on APC).

To make the SynUS more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, it runs on bio-mass diesel fuel, a mixture of 80 percent traditional petroleum diesel and 20 percent natural bio-diesel made from biodegradable animal fat and plant oil.

Ford SynUS Specifications
Type I-4 Diesel
Configuration Inline 4-cylinder
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Displacement 2.0 liters
Horsepower 134
Torque 236 lb-ft
Recommended fuel Bio-mass diesel
Layout Front-wheel drive
Standard Five-speed manual
Front MacPherson strut
Rear Semi-independent torsion-beam
Tires and Wheels
Standard P225/50R18
Wheelbase 100.1 inches (254.3 cm)
Overall length 158.0 inches (401.3 cm)
Overall width 69.3 inches (176.0 cm)
Track width: Front/Rear 60.2 inches / 60.2 inches (152.9 cm)
Front overhang 29.3 inches (74.4 cm)
Rear overhang 28.6 inches (72.6 cm)
Source: Ford Motor Company

SynUS Design: Getting In

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company

Designer José Paris has given the SynUS the blocky, solid look of a bank vault, with small slotted windows and a flat windshield, which in combination make the tiny, 5-foot-tall truck appear invincible. This vehicle not only looks like a bank vault -- it also operates like one. The driver's-side door opens not by key, but by a combination lock. The 6-inch-thick rear hatch door is hinged and opens with a four-spoke spinner, just like the door of a vault. The back hatch has no window. The narrow slot windows on the roof and sides are non-opening and bulletproof to let in light while keeping the interior secure.

SynUS drivers no longer need to worry about leaving their car in a dicey location. When it is placed in "secure mode," protective armored shutters close over the windshield and side windows. Forget about the old "smash and grab." This car is virtually impenetrable to thieves.

SynUS Design: Interior Room

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company
The creators of the SynUS have added a bit of humor to their design: Messages like "Do Not Disturb" and "Do Not Touch" are stenciled on the rear compartment, seat backs and door handles.

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company

Despite its tough exterior, the SynUS has a soft side. The interior, created by Chief Designer Joe Baker, is serene and comfortable, with padded front seats and a soft, neutral color scheme. Seats are covered in a smooth, untextured fabric that is designed to feel almost like skin. Side panels behind the front seats are covered in "memory foam" that conforms to the shape of passengers' bodies. The melding of rough exterior and soft interior is where the vehicle earned its name -- SynUS, or "Synthesis-Urban Sanctuary." The SynUS is also surprisingly roomy given its small size, thanks to the vehicle's wide wheel base.

The front seatbacks of the SynUS spin around, allowing the front-seat passenger (or the driver, if the car is not in motion) to carry on a conversation with the back seat passengers without having to twist his or her neck. If no one is riding in the back, the back seatbacks fold down for extra cargo space.

The steering wheel stores under the dash in case the driver wants some more legroom while the car is off. The passenger side has a rear-hinged access door, like that of an extended-cab pickup truck, to provide easy access for loading and unloading items into and out of the back seat.

SynUS Design: Technology

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company

The SynUS cockpit features an amber-lit, easy-to-read instrument panel and ergonomic gauges. In the passenger compartment, riders can adjust the LED lighting from white to amber depending on their mood.

One of the most innovative and high-tech features of the SynUS is housed in the tailgate: a 45-inch, flat-screen, high-definition LCD monitor equipped with wireless networking. The massive Sharp monitor takes up the entire space where a back window would have gone. According to Ford, this is the biggest monitor to grace any passenger vehicle, concept or otherwise. With the monitor, passengers can surf the Internet (on a WiFi laptop), watch a movie, play a video game or keep tabs on the outside world via several cameras mounted outside the car.

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company

Occupants can even see what's going on outside while the protective shutters are closed. Thanks to the truck's high-tech surveillance system, the rearview mirror is no ordinary mirror. Instead of reflecting an image through the rear window (which the SynUS does not have), the "mirror" actually projects a high-definition, closed-circuit image of a camera's-eye view from behind the car.

The SynUS is just a concept car at this point. Ford has no plans to start production on it any time soon. The designers admit that the Brinks-truck design and exaggerated security features are over the top, but they were trying to prove that a small car could also be tough.

Mission accomplished.

For more information on the Ford SynUS and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "The Ford Century: Ford Motor Company and the Innovations that Shaped the World" by Russ Banham
  • "500 Fantastic Cars: A Century of the World Concept Cars" by Serge Bellu
  • "Concept Cars: Designing for the Future" by Richard Dredge
  • "Ford Tough: Bill Ford and the Battle to Rebuild America's Automaker" by David Magee


  • Brown, Warren. "Add Sunshine, Be Stirred." The Washington Post, January 16, 2005, pg. G01.
  • Ford SynUS press kit
  • "Ford SYNus Concept," Automobile.
  • Soundbites: SYN-US Concept
  • Wilson, Amy. "Ford concept hints at next small car; SynUS is built on the same platform as the Fiesta in Europe." Automotive News Europe, January 10, 2005, page 16.