Review: 2013 Ford Kuga, one of the most technologically advanced cars ever

This week Ford is holding the Asia Pacific launch of the 2013 Ford Kuga in Adelaide. The new and improved Kuga is now a world car, meaning it’s essentially...

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This week Ford is holding the Asia Pacific launch of the 2013 Ford Kuga in Adelaide. The new and improved Kuga is now a world car, meaning it’s essentially the same components and used across the globe, achieving the economies of scale. With an incredibly competitive landscape in the automotive industry, moving to this model, just as they did with the Focus, was a decision Ford had to make.

Technology
This is one of the most technologically advanced vehicles I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving, that is of course if you choose the top of the line Titanium model. With Ford under pressure to hit well established price points, the base (Ambiente) and middle (Trend) trims of the Kuga miss out on much of the magic. You’ll also want to option the Technology pack to get one of the most sophisticated car under $50k.

The Titanium features more than 15 sensors that relay more than 40 data points back to the on-board computer. As a developer, I get extremely excited that this data is available to build apps on top of, more on that soon.

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Adaptive cruise control
This car’s standout feature is without question Adaptive cruise control. While certainly not the first car to implement this feature, it is one of the first to deliver it at this price point and Ford should be commended for it. After enabling the feature, it took me a while to trust it. With my foot hovering over the brake pedal just in case, I caught up to a car in front.

After a few tense seconds wondering if it would work as desired, thankfully it did. For the next few km of Adelaide’s bendy mountainous roads, I let the car do all the work. The distance between the Kuga and the unknowing car in front, it was dynamically adjusting my speed. The distance between the two vehicles could be easily altered with + and – buttons on yet another steering column lever. The distance options available are in seconds, 1.0s, 1.25s, 1.5s, 1.8s, 2.1s and the feature works above 30km/h.

Overall this feature alone will change the way you drive, transforming a frustrating commute to a simple drive in which you don’t have to regulate the throttle pedal.

Another light bulb moment when the car in front slowed to 50km/h and turned off, my speed then began to climb to the 100km/h cruise control limit I had set earlier. While Ford say they aren’t making a driverless car, this feels awfully like we’re being walked there with driver assists. I say drop the charade, run to that future.

Lane Guidance
The next most impressive technology in the Kuga is it’s lane guidance assist. When enabled, this keeps drivers between the while lines. While testing the feature I needed to simulate a driver falling asleep, I intentionally veered towards the centre line. The assist kicked in and began steering for me. At one point I took my hands off the wheel (I don’t recommend this) but it did allow me to see the computer controlled brilliance at work, turning the steering wheel for me and getting me back on track.

Probably the most impressive part is that the technology is smart enough to know the difference between a driver veering into another lane and a driver intentionally turning into the other lane, to overtake for example. At the end of the day it’s an assist, not a driverless car… yet.

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Hands-free tailgate
One of the heavily promoted features of the vehicle is the hands-free opening of the tailgate, This works by two sensors at the rear of the vehicle, detecting a kicking motion under the rear bar. Just be sure not to actually kick your car, that’s not covered under warranty. The idea here is to solve the semi-regular problem of having your hands full and then needing to search for your keys.

With the key fob in your pocket, you will be able to open the tailgate using this technique. In testing there’s a couple of seconds delay, probably so you can step back and not be hit by the opening door. Just so you know, it also works to close the tailgate for when you’re taking something out of the boot, which also makes a lot of sense.

Never being content, I did start to wonder where else this technology could be used.. I then began to think that it’s strange there’s no option for hands-free rear doors as many mothers (in the target demographic) would have their hands with children and could also use this feature. Obviously the price for actuators and sensors on a hands-free rear door would threaten the price point, but I see them being just as useful as the tailgate option.

There is one small consideration with this feature, if you elect to have a towbar, the feature will not work. Basically the sensor are two long wires, one that detects your shin and one that detects your foot. This ensures no accidental triggering occurs, both are required to activate. The downside of this is that a towbar breaks the circuit which runs the width between the two exhaust tips. The only real work around would be to add essentially two systems a left and right which Ford opted not to do.

Ford SYNC
In an effort to reduce driver distraction Ford continue their rollout of SYNC across their line. There is a change to SYNC in the Kuga based on user feedback. The user controls have been simplified, eliminating the dedicated lever from the steering column in favour of a more simplified single SYNC button on the steering wheel. This is a welcome change and does address the feedback that said they had too much going on in front of the driver.

The voice control technology of SYNC is great to make a call or play some music, but to send a text, which in my mind is the biggest benefit, is only available with a tiny supported list of phones. Australia still awaits the launch of AppLink and with the recent international launch of Spotify on AppLink, as well as Aussie availability of Pandora, this is long overdue.

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Digital Audio
The Ford Kuga Trend and Titanium models also feature Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio. While still not available in all areas, if you are from an area that has it, having crystal clear audio is dramatically better. I found it akin to going from SD to HD in TV, once you have it, you never want to go back.

Emergency Call Assist
Part of the Sync system comes and class first, emergency call assist. This service is free to all Australian Kuga owners for the life of the vehicle. While this feature is ready in the Focus, it’s not yet activated, making the Kuga the first to get it. In the event of an accident, SYNC will dial 000 and your paired mobile phone’s location is communicated to the operator using text-to-voice.

If your phone can’t get a current location of the accident, SYNC will use the last available coordinates. After the call connects, the line is opened, allowing a trapped occupant to communicate information. In the event of ECA being triggered in a minor collision, you’ll have 10 seconds to cancel it. While a lot of the technology on-board will assist in preventing an accident, it’s good to know that if it did happen, help won’t be far away.

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Blind spot indicators
Changing lanes is often an opportunity for an accident. When indicating you are indicating your intention to change lanes, not only to the vehicles around you, but also to the blind spot system. In the Titanium model the outside edge of the side mirrors contain an LED that is illuminated when a vehicle is in your blind spot. It’s a smart place to position the visual aid given it falls in your natural eye line when looking sideways.

Variable air ducts
In an effort to stretch the economy of the Kuga as far as possible, Ford are going to some extreme lengths. The front air dam features closable vents that allow the air flow to freely pass into engine cooling and intake when at low speeds, but at highway speeds where not as much cooling is needed, these close and reduce the drag on the car, increasing fuel efficiency.

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Reverse Park Assist
This feature is almost an expected inclusion at this point from new Ford Vehicles. The car parks itself, that’s basically it. The reason it’s a significant feature on the Kuga is really the target demographic. I have been with friends who will not reverse park and with this feature and an adequate parking spot, it would mean they could.

Active City Stop
There’s a very simply goal of this technology, it’s to avoid low speed impacts which account for a high percentage of incidents. If you’re going less than 30km/h and the sensors in the front bar of the vehicle detects an imminent impact, it will prepare the brakes. At that point if you fail to react, the car will, bringing the vehicle to a stop before any contact is made.

Speed sign recognition
Unfortunately speed sign detection technology isn’t available in Australia, or New Zealand, or even the US. Only in Europe as they use simplistic speed signage that is easily detectable from the vehicle. While the Titanium’s satellite navigation can tell you the current speed limit, there’s no way to limit your speed based on that number.

It’s easy to see how this feature will be added, if visual readings of speed signs is out of the question, the speed limits of roads via GPS will eventually be used in Australia. Assuming a high level of accuracy, this could mean the end of speeding tickets, assuming you enable the limit of course.

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Exterior
The 2013 model comes with a redesigned exterior, more refined to appeal to the broadest range of international markets and is aerodynamically designed to reduce road noise. There’s more to this than a simply DB level, Ford have gone to extreme lengths to get this right.

During R&D, engineers researched how different road surfaces around the world were constructed. They took that information and then created multi-lane stretches of road for the single purpose of testing how efficient their sound reduction design decision like streamlines mirrors, actually performed. The biggest focus in terms of noise, was the sound frequencies that are used with human voice.

As long as the noise that did manage to enter the cabin wasn’t in that range, then front to rear seat conversations would be dramatically improved. I can happily report they have successfully achieved their goal.

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Interior
The interior of the Kuga varies quite considerably depending on which trim option you select. In the base model, the seats are just fabric and do little to hold you in around the bends. The middle model gives you combination fabric / leather and the top of the line model delivers full leather seats.

You can see the from the image above, just some of the durability testing that Ford engineers use to ensure the seat materials will last. This simulation replicates years of real-world use, but gets performed in a much more compressed timeframe.

The seats in the Ambiente are clearly a cheaper construction than in the Trend and Titanium. The higher two models hold you in around corners, offering far superior lumbar support. Keep this in mind when selection your trim level as seating comfort is critical to overall experience when living with the car day-to-day. If you’re taking the car further than the school run, you’ll want to be comfortable.

Handling
The entry level Kuga comes in just FWD and rides on 17” wheels. The higher models move up to AWD and have 18” and 19” wheels respectively. The dramatic difference between the FWD and AWD was showcased on a gravel road. Cornering on gravel with the Ambiente felt like you were on your own in terms of stability.

Ford have developed software to make the intelligent all-wheel-drive system in the Trend and Titanium to reassesses road conditions every 16ms or about 20 times faster than the blink of an eye. The system gathers data from 25 external signals, including wheel speed, accelerator pedal position and steering wheel angle and dynamically adjusts the amount of front-to-rear torque and applies braking where needed, avoiding understeer and oversteer.

As a driver, you can feel the computer assisting your traction, allowing the vehicle to take corners at higher speeds making handling in the Kuga fantastic.

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Safety
With the bottom falling out of the large sedan market, the big growth area is SUV’s. One of the primary reasons for this trend is safety. While I don’t have kids, I can appreciate the need that others have to protect them. The new design features a crumple zone that is designed to ensure the engine never compromises the firewall, meaning that in a severe front-end impact, the occupants stand a much greater chance of survival.

Performance
There’s a choice of two power trains in the Kuga, that’s a 1.6 litre Ecoboost Petrol, or a 2.0 litre diesel. While I didn’t personally get to drive the diesel version, reports from other journalists was that it this was the one to choose. When engaging a significant hill, I needed to change down gears to power up the climb. In the Automatic, this was pretty transparent to the driver.

So overall this mid-sized SUV has decent power for use around town, but don’t count on it towing much up a hill.

Price & Availability
The range starts at $27,990 for the 1.6L EcoBoost FWD manual Kuga Ambiente, with the 1.6L EcoBoost AWD AT Kuga Trend costing $36,240, the top of the line 2.0L AWD Diesel Kuga Titanium will cost you $47,740.

I was impressed that during the product launch, that Ford were confident enough in the Kuga to display a number of direct competitors. Clearly they believe they have a compelling case with the Kuga.

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Overall
The all-new Ford Kuga will launch with a global colour called Ginger Ale, which Ford say is a subtle green hue to reflect its active outdoor capabilities, with rich, sophisticated tones to harmonise with the slick urban environment. Personally I don’t believe any of the available colours demand attention and this was proven when driving through town. I’ve been in luxury cars that turn heads and this didn’t. That said in many ways, it’s not supposed to, an SUV is more about getting the job done rather than making a statement.

The mission for for the Ford Kuga is to be cleaner, safer and smarter and in that, it excels. It’s clear that in order to hit the lower price point, Ford have sacrificed a lot, but the reality is some people have lower budgets and simple can’t and/or won’t spend any more than that. There is a very stark contrast in the kind of vehicle and technology that you get for the $20,000 difference in models.

Despite spending more than 2,500 words detailing my experience with the Kuga, there’s still even more technology that I haven’t mentioned like rain sensing windscreen wipers, auto-dimming headlights and hill start assist, but this had to stop somewhere.

Overall the Kuga is a great car for those after a mid-sized SUV that is safe and economical. If you want a powerhouse, don’t buy it, but if you want your day-to-day life to be improved thanks to technology, then this is the car for you.

After driving the Focus ST last year, adaptive steering was the must have feature list for my next car. After driving the Kuga Titanium this week, adaptive cruise control is now added to that list.

Disclaimer: Flights and accommodation to Adelaide were paid for by Ford Australia.

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This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.
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