Ford Kuga review (2017): This mid-range SUV is filled with tech
Ford launched the Kuga way back in 2008, and at the time it represented a solid if uninspiring SUV. Fast-forward to 2017 and the SUV market has changed quite a bit. Nine years after the original Kuga, the SUV market is far more saturated, and Ford’s all-rounder now faces stiff competition from the similarly priced Seat Ateca and Peugeot 3008.
This year, Ford has given the Kuga a much-needed makeover: there’s an all-new interior, updated infotainment system and slick new design, alongside new safety features for family-orientated buyers. But is that enough to make the new Ford 2017 Kuga worth your money? I took it for an a weekend away to the Yorkshire Dales, with three friends, to find out.
Ford Kuga (2017) review: Tech, audio system and interior
Jump aboard the new 2017 Ford Kuga and the first thing you’ll notice is the improved entertainment unit. Ford has decluttered the entire cabin, removed buttons and equipped the Kuga with a bigger, modern 8in colour touchscreen. The onboard screen is receptive to the touch and easy to operate. Icons and layout are clear and sensibly organised, so you’ll be able to navigate your way around from the second you’re in the driver’s seat.
Connectivity isn’t bad at all, but Ford has weirdly mirrored Apple and hidden the aux port out of the way, instead giving prominence to two USB ports and Bluetooth. While two USB plugs are useful, I’m not sure if they’re worth the removal of the aux jack. What’s wrong with brands nowadays?
The Ford has both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so connecting your phone via the USB port will automatically start whichever setup your phone uses. Once connected, you can opt to use your phone’s native apps instead of the Ford’s onboard ones, and the benefits are obvious.
Google Maps has superior route planning, search and traffic avoidance to Ford’s own internal satnav – the only things it lacks are speed-limit alerts and safety-camera detection. The benefit of Apple Maps isn’t quite so clear-cut, but it’s at least familiar for those with iPhones. As for the other benefits? You also get access to SMS and the ability to play music and podcasts either stored on your phone or via your favourite apps.
That’s not to say Ford’s onboard satnav is poor. I tested this car out while leaving London on a Bank Holiday weekend, so finding a traffic jam to avoid wasn’t a challenge. Ford’s system rerouted me several times on the way out of London, shaving vital minutes off my already hellish ETA.
And if you prefer to use the onboard Sync 3 infotainment system, you won’t be disappointed either. Ford has spent a lot of time developing its Sync 3 software, with the aim to make operation of the car’s entertainment and navigation systems as simple to use as possible while driving. This essentially means big buttons and improved voice control.
“I need petrol.” That’s all you need to say and Sync 3 will display a list of petrol stations near you. Select one on the touchscreen and the car’s satnav will direct you to a nearby petrol station. Similarly “I’m hungry” will give your a list of local restaurants to chose from.
That all sounds amazing, but in reality, you’re rarely going to use these features, because Sync 3 is most useful when it’s working in tandem with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. “Play Bruce Springsteen” will cue The Boss, while “Call home” will pause the music and start the phone ringing.
Ford knows that none of these features are groundbreaking, but the uniqueness of Sync 3 is in its receptiveness. Like all voice-control systems, it’s far from perfect, but if you get your enunciations clear and learn the right commands, controlling the car’s onboard tech is a surprisingly painless experience.
Ford Kuga (2017) review: Drive and practicality
As you’d expect from a modern SUV, the ride is comfortable, and the Kuga can hold its own in most scenarios. City centres, motorways, country lanes – this vehicle is designed to eat them all, and it’s smooth but lets you feel enough of the road, too.
The Kuga showed admirable hospitality to the four of us as we battled our way out of London. The boot, while not the biggest, just about managed four cabin-luggage size bags and a few small extras. An extra passenger would have made things very tight, though, both inside the cabin and boot.
Ford Kuga (2017) review: Safety tech
Things get more interesting when you look at the safety tech Ford has packed into the Kuga. Features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping and Active City Stop – which automatically brakes for you to avoid collisions at speeds under 31mph – aren’t new or groundbreaking, but they’re everything you’d want on a car like this.
How well do they work? That varies, but from my experience with the Kuga, the lane-control system didn’t work particularly well. I (accidentally and on purpose) veered across lanes on motorways and A roads at speeds ranging from 20mph to 70mph. My girlfriend was the only thing that alerted me to my bad driving.
Self-parking can be embarrassing too. First off, getting the car to recognise a parking space isn’t natural. You have to slow right down and put on your indicators to initiate the parking-space scanning mode. Being slightly nervous about handing over the control of the steering wheel to the onboard computer, I chose a bay wide enough for a bus. After two minutes of switching between reverse and first gear and letting the wheel do its own thing, I succumbed to the prying eyes of onlookers and finished parking myself. The next time I tried a tighter parallel bay instead and it did much better – tucking itself in relatively tidily in three points.
Ford Kuga (2017) review: Verdict
The Ford Kuga represent an enjoyable SUV that doesn’t set the world alight, but has all the features you’d need in a car like this, including both assistive and in-car technology. There are no real killer features here: it won’t worry something like the Mercedes E Class, but the Kuga isn’t for the same audience, anyway. The onboard audio and navigation systems cater for everything you’re likely to need in 2017. And the new design, while not as bold as it could have been, gives the Kuga a sophisticated makeover, bringing it in line with today’s motoring fashions.