It's affordable, packed with features, and easy on the eye: Ford's latest foray into the four-by-four market is a success...
In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably start by saying that the Ford Kuga is not my kind of car. I like light, I like sharp and preferably fast or interesting, I like simple and I don’t really like SUVs.
So I confess that it was with some irritation that, after just a couple of minutes, I was starting to like Ford’s latest effort in the mid-size ‘four-by-four’ market. And those first couple of minutes were fraught. A 3:30am start to make the flight to Paris, an hour’s wait and a cup of coffee before the connecting private jet (every bit as brilliant as you think) to the launch in Valencia is not the best precursor for doing battle with the Valencian traffic. Squinting in the winter sunshine, we’re handed a set of keys and told to drive to the spectacular Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències for the ‘presentation’.
The ‘key’ is no such thing, rather a wonderfully tactile teardrop fob and, unlike many keyless go systems, small enough to make keeping the thing in your pocket at all times a realistic proposition. I’m doing the driving of a couple of other journos, so we find our ‘Ginger Ale’ Kuga (we affectionately christened it ‘pond scum’) and climb in.
We’re greeted, on our top of the range versions, with a magnificently finished interior. As usual there’s a lot of talk in the press conference later about ‘premium materials’ and ‘premium design’ and ‘premium ambient lighting’ and ‘premium ash tray’. I’m not sure if Ford is trying to close the gap to Land Rover and BMW in an effort to nick sales off them (they won’t) or open the gap to their direct competitors, but the results are, well, premium. Regardless of any sales benefits the approach certainly works in favour of those who fancy a car like this but can’t stretch to something from Bavaria, Stuttgart or Gaydon. It looks good, the plastics are good quality, the wheel feels great, the diesel engine is strong and responsive and it’s stacked with nifty little features. I feel like I should have one foot on a bumper right now. Just call me Quentin.
The completely mental traffic battleground of Valencia’s city centre is not an ideal place to form coherent impressions regarding the finer points of the Kuga’s ride and handling since all your attention is focused on trying not to die. But, in truth, it forces a real-world test and tells you most of what you need to know.
Everything falls easily to hand; despite it being a large, spacious car, it doesn’t feel unwieldy; I was comfortable and quickly found an acceptable driving position; the gearbox works well (dual-clutch auto in our car, I don’t know why you’d have anything else in a vehicle of this sort) and the ride seems decent. Jake in the back reported plenty of leg room and during the ‘shopping Gymkhana’ challenge later on (disappointing lack of handbrake turns and Fiesta WRC, but there we go) we fitted three adults across the rear bench very easily.
So what of these nifty features? You can open the boot by waving your foot under the bumper and the door lighting goes from red when the door’s open to blue when it’s closed.
But most impressive is the Microsoft SYNC system: the Kuga’s ‘infotainment connectivity interface’ – I just made that up, but it sounds like something from a press kit, right? At its most basic it allows you to connect your phone to the car and control it with noises from your mouth, and it does this brilliantly. No need for ‘CALL… PAIR… RENTS’ moron-speak, just say it normally and the system picks it up easily, as it does for dictating a phone number. Bluetooth syncs quickly (we tried it with an Android and IOS phone) and you can quickly switch from one to the other with no need for a re-sync to access the music or phonebooks from either. The best bit though, is that if the car deploys an airbag or triggers the fuel cut off switch (say, by ending up on the roof), it will automatically call 999 and give the operator your latitude and longitude before connecting you via the car’s hands free system. Sorry to get a bit serious, but this will save lives. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say anything about what’s coming next in voice control, because Anusch from Ford and I had drank rather a lot of wine when we discussed it, but think Star Trek’s computer interface and you’re not far off.
The Kuga feels well built, it’s well-priced, will probably hold its value quite well and, if you’re concerned with image, it’s basically impossible to looks like a nob when you’re driving a Ford. I think it’s attractive for its segment (which is ultimately a huge part of a car purchase of this kind), it drives well and would be ideal for the kind of person who likes to chuck a bike/board/climbing ropes in the boot at the weekend and not be driven round the bend by Defender refinement during the weekly commute. It’s on sale now.
Drive safely (winks to camera, removes foot from bumper).
Check out Ford’s UK website for more information.