The new Kuga is Ford 's latest foray into the medium SUV market and despite some stiff competition, it packs enough ammunition to make its presence felt. This is particularly the case in the driver assist technology department, where adaptive cruise control, active city stop, blind spot monitoring, park assist and lane keeping aid headline a suite of features designed to make life easier and safer on the road. We spent two weeks with the Kuga to discover how all this high-tech gadgetry plays out in the real world.
The Kuga range includes 2WD and 4WD options and a 2.0L TDCi 4-cylinder diesel or 1.6L EcoBoost petrol engine. Our tester was a AWD Titanium model with a diesel power plant, 6-speed automatic transmission with sport mode and the optional "technology pack."
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Styling-wise the Kuga is easy on the eye, if somewhat unassuming, with 19-inch alloy wheels and a tapering window line that gives it a sporty profile. The model we tested also sports a whopping power opening panorama glass roof which sheds light on a comfortable interior kitted out with Ford's SYNC infotainment system, which does a great job of facilitating hands-free communication as we discovered in out Fiesta ST review.
Out on the open road the Kuga is an impressive car to drive. Handling is light and responsive and the electronics package soaks up much of the roll during cornering and helps keep the car in line. It doesn't pretend to be a serious off-roader, but the Kuga is more than capable of navigating beyond the tarmac. The intelligent AWD system delivers a sure-footed feel on dirt roads and it's particularly useful when you are passing oncoming traffic on a narrow sealed road and find yourself with two wheels on a softer surface. Flick through the dash board menu and you can find a readout showing which wheels are engaged … which is more of a novelty than mission critical information to be sure – the attractive thing about this system is that it just works.
The adaptive cruise control system adds another level of comfort on the highway, allowing you to set the distance you want to maintain between yourself and the car in front. While the response isn't immediate, it does a good job of detecting and catering for cars shooting across in front of you by applying the brakes, or returns you back to your preselected cruise speed when the road opens up. There's also a Sport mode which gives the power on tap a noticeable bump when you need to overtake, or just want to let your hair down a tad.
Lane departure is another useful feature. This system detects when you start wandering over the road and provides feedback through the steering wheel to alert you to the danger. If you stray too often, a driver alert warning flashes up on the dash board screen and there's also a readout that tells you when you should be contemplating a coffee break. If anything we found this system to be a little too forgiving, but it's a delicate balance between intruding on the driving experience on one hand or enhancing it on the other, and Ford has tended to err towards the latter. In short, it facilitates safety without being in your face about how you should drive.
Around town, which is where we'd expect the Kuga to be spending most of it's time, the medium-sized SUV also has some tricks up it's sleeve to help navigate busy roads and miserly shopping center carparks. These include blind spot warning alerts that appear in the the side mirrors and the park assist function, which identifies parallel parking spaces, tells you where to put the shifter and drives you in. This feature will be no doubt be very popular, and while it made us nervous on the first few attempts, it worked incredibly well and got us into some very tight spaces.
A tight turning circle further adds to the city-friendly credentials of the Kuga, as does one of our favorite features, the hands-free power tailgate which lets you open the rear door with a whack of your foot.
Fuel economy is boosted by active grill shutters which close up to improve aerodynamics at highway speeds. Despite this clever tech, we still came in above Ford's claimed 6.3 liters per 100 km (37 mpg) combined, with results closer to 8 liters per 100 km (29 mpg).
There's a lot of competition out there in this segment, including Honda's CR-V, Subaru's Forester and Toyota's RAV4, but the Kuga's driveability combined with its comfortable interior, near-seamless application of driver assist technologies and pricing well under $50,000 puts it well up there on the list of vehicles to consider when looking for a versatile family car.
The technology package is the real eye opener here. While it's not designed to replace the driver, the Kuga experience brings home just how close we are getting to the era of the autonomous car. With that in mind, here's a look at the what the current model Kuga, and the next generation, can do.