If you've got school-age kids, you know the worst thing about taking them to the land of learning is the veritable brigade of soft-roaders clogging the street. They all seem horrible and unnecessary, but the Ford Kuga is the first one you'll actually want to buy.
What Is It?
The Kuga is a six-seat soft-roader from Ford with a slightly silly name.
The Ford Kuga we tested packs a 1.6L EcoBoost engine with an automatic transmission, and came fitted with the tech pack and premium paint. Buying it stock will cost you $44,740 plus on-roads, as tested it will cost you $47,775.
The Ford Kuga is packed to the gills with gadgets, as are most Ford cars these days, all of which I'd describe as nifty, smile-worthy additions.
Starting from the back and working our way forward, the tailgate is a push-button automatic contraption that gently glides open and shut when you need it to. The nifty addition here is that if you have the wireless key on your person, you can kick the rear bumper and the tailgate will magically swing open without you having to do anything. It can take a couple of kicks to get the right spot, but you'll be nailing it in no time.
There's also a high-resolution reversing camera so you can see what's around you, and a new sensor system on the rear of the car means it gives you a visual indication of just how far objects are from your rear before you hit them, rather than just letting you rely on indecipherable beeps.
All that sensor data is also used in Ford's City Park system which, as we've seen before, can reverse parallel park your car in under a minute. We last tested it on a smaller Ford Focus, but even the larger Ford Kuga is nimble when being controlled by a computer.
Underneath the car is a fancy contraption called Emergency Assist which looks at your various emergency systems, and when it figures out that one has been deployed: be it a roll-over alert, airbag or other crash-detection system, it automatically hooks into your pre-paired Bluetooth phone to call 000. Even if the crash knocked you clean out, it's not a worry: the car will actually speak to the operator for you.
"Hello, I'm a Ford car that has been involved in an accident. Here's the sensors that have been activated (fire, fuel cutoff, airbags, roll-over, etc), please send emergency services to this GPS location," it says. That is incredible. The car then leaves the emergency services line open so that you can talk to the operator and tell them more about your condition.
Even when you haven't crashed, the car is keeping you safe with Active City Stop and forward collision alerts. Active City Stop means that the car reads the reflectors on the traffic in front of you via LIDAR and primes the brakes as you roll at under 30km/h. If it detects that you're about to have a crash, it fires the brakes and stops you before you hit the bumper of the car in front of you, saving you from an insurance claim and all the paperwork that goes with it. Forward collision alerts are handy at higher speeds, flashing a giant warning sign onto your instrument panel when the LIDAR detects that your current course and speed will see you plough into another vehicle.
The car also has blind-spot detection technology: sensors are mounted to the wing mirrors that detect when an object wanders out of your line of sight and into your blind-spot. If something's there, it activates a little orange light on either wing-mirror to let you know to be careful.
Moving inside the car sees you interacting with Ford's Sync system. It's the usual voice-activated, GPS-laden, Bluetooth-audio compatible system that comes with a few new features on the Kuga, including a new voice command called "Play Similar". By uttering those magic words, it takes a look at what you have on your phone or USB input and plays other stuff like what you're listening to right now. It's Apple iTunes' Genius feature in your car, and it's great.
Actually driving the thing is a pretty compelling experience, too. You don't notice the smaller engine when you give it the boot, and the EcoBoost technology means that you've got great fuel economy for a car this size. We got about 450km to a full tank which isn't terrible on an active all-wheel drive soft-roader.
The storage space also bears mentioning on the Kuga. The boot space is freaking huge, and folding the seats completely flat only serves to make it larger. The Kuga came into my life at a fortuitous time, as I used it to move house. I was able to strap a king-sized mattress to the roof, stick loads of boxes and other crap in the boot and drive it to my new place in gadget-laden comfort. This is a seriously impressive car.
Ford's Sync system is fantastic, but is it possible to get a screen that isn't 3.5-inches across next time? The Kuga is a massive car with a giant centre head unit with a screen mounted at the top that might as well be the size of a digital watch.
Volkswagen has been putting giant screens into its cars for years. Holden's new MyLink system boasts a massive display and at the top-end of the spectrum, Tesla cars boast monster tablet-sized screens. If my Galaxy Note II is bigger than my in-dash entertainment system screen, there's a problem.
The Kuga is a great car to drive on the road with all the gadgets and safety tech, but it really should boast better off-road performance than it does. It's an active all-wheel drive system, but with no low-range gearbox and a low-slung body, its off-road cred is non-existent.
Should You Buy It?
The next time the family-mobile conversation comes up at home, make sure the Ford Kuga is apart of it. It's a well-sized, well-stocked family car with enough gadgets to keep Dad happy and priced appropriately for the family budget, too.