SPORTS Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are all ten a penny these days, which is why Ford did something a little more adventurous to launch its updated Kuga car.
Journalists were invited to drive on one of 18 legs between Athens and Nordkapp (at the very north of Finland) to review the new car, and Adventure 52 chose to join Leg 13 from Oulo to Ivalu in Finland with the hope of seeing the Northern Lights…
The mid-point night stop would be in the famous town of Rovaniemi (pronounced row van ee mee) which is where thousands of families with young children visit each year to see Santa Claus in his official Finnish Lapland village.
The trip had the hashtag #KUGAdventure, a clever play on the words ‘Kuga’ and ‘adventure’. The Kuga itself is the middle car in Ford’s SUV line-up and sits between the Ecosport and the Edge (see below).
The Kuga first came out in 2008, so eight years on it gets a much needed update and gains exterior looks similar to the EcoSport and the Edge – the main updates being a new front grille and a new set of headlights and taillights.
The Kuga Zetec is the entry-level car, then there’s the Titanium, Titanium X and Titanium X Sport. Beyond this, there’s the Kuga ST-Line, which is the sport version and then the Kuga Vignale tops off the range. I got to drive both the ST-Line and the Vignale versions on this launch…
It’s very easy for car manufacturers to latch on to the concept of adventure or escaping or going further; being adventurous and outdoorsy is something we all aspire to. Most cars can cope with the odd gravel trail, but few can cope with mud and wet grass, unless it has all-wheel drive (4×4). With the Kuga, you can choose whether you buy yours with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. On the icy roads in Finland, the 4×4 versions were the preference and both the ST-Line and Vignale coped with everything we met along the way to Santa’s village. Ford has developed what they call an Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system and this actually diverts extra drive to the wheels that need it the most. But more on that in a moment…
So with that setting the scene for the wide range of options you can have with the Kuga, it’s very much an ideal family car, exactly the kind of vehicle an active family would want to take them to the seaside for the weekend, to the Lake District or even to see Santa in Finland.
Getting to Finland is really easy. I flew with Finnair on one of their new Airbus A350s in to Helsinki. It was the smoothest and most comfortable flight I have ever been on. Helsinki Airport had Scandi style in abundance and while I wanted to soak it all in, I had to quickly rush through the airport to get to my connecting flight up to Oulo.
In Oulu, Ford staff picked us up in their Ford Transit Customs and drove us to the Radisson Hotel, where I quickly throw my bag on the bed, played with the red ‘light-sabre’ strip room lighting before heading down to the basement for a swim and a sauna before dinner. Finland is two hours ahead of the UK, but after the travelling, a warm, cosy restaurant and two pints of the local beer called Taytta Olutta beer (which has a bear as its branding) we all felt like it was much later.
The next morning, after a few mugs of coffee and the biggest spread of food I’ve ever seen, we made our way behind the hotel and stepped in to the KUGAdventure trailer which has followed the trip all the way from Athens. Here we were briefed on the route (directly north, just follow the sat nav) and a bit about driving safely on the icy roads.
I partnered up with Victoria Woollaston from Wired UK for the drive and during the day we swapped around. I drove first and within a matter of miles we were clear of the built up town of Oulu and on pine tree lined roads with swirling snow and ice drifting over them.
This also gave me my first chance to take in the interior of the Kuga and use some of the added technology. Often the interior makes or breaks a car purchase and, generally speaking, I really like the interior of the Kuga, at least in this ST-Line version (I didn’t have chance to look in a Kuga Zetec to see the difference). One thing you’ll see is that the Kuga has a large amount of digital technology and entertainment added in to it – and that’s partly Ford’s play to compete with so many rivals in the SUV category. What really stands out is the touch screen unit and the updated Ford SYNC unit, called SYNC3, which sits quite prominently above the sat nav.
The SYNC3 does what it says; the idea being to ‘synchronise’ music, navigation, your smartphone and the car’s systems. I first came across SYNC on the launch of a Ford Transit Custom a few years ago. This third version (hence SYNC3) now accepts voice commands, however we weren’t told how to use this function and even after fiddling through menus, I couldn’t work out how to get the voice commands working. I’ve since discovered you press a button on the steering wheel, then make your request, such as “I need fuel” or “I need a coffee” and the SYNC3 will help you find it. I’m told that around 22,000 potential voice commands have been included, so that’s something to try if you go for a test drive.
Two of the other things that have been added to SYNC3 are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – I’d not heard of these before, but they mimic your phone’s display and show the same apps on your car screen as you see on your phone day in and day out, making it less likely you’ll get frustrated using a new touchscreen system. This sounds brilliant, but I didn’t get to try it out as the route had been pre-programmed and we were warned that if we synched up our phones, it would have deleted the route.
Elsewhere, there’s lots of room, some nice areas for storage and the view out of the windscreen is as good as they get. My only criticism of the Kuga’s interior is the blue-white colour that they use for the dials and buttons. In particular, the dual climate zone (pictured right) lets the side down as it’s displayed in horrible blocky LCD graphics. This blue-white colour just doesn’t fit with the rest of the car. I also don’t like the symbology of the person in a chair for selecting the heaters – again it doesn’t doesn’t fit the personality of the car or the type of people that will be driving it.
On to some driving feedback then. While it’s an SUV the Kuga certainly feels more like a hatchback than an SUV to drive – and that’s high praise. Of course, I can’t comment on the base Kuga Zetec model, but the sporty ST-Line version certainly drove very nicely with little body roll.
The Kuga isn’t a hardcore 4×4, but with its all-wheel drive and the winter tyres (Continental) it gave me plenty of confidence. I’m used to driving on icy and snow covered roads having lived in Canada, and I enjoyed pushing the Kuga around in the snow and around the corners in Finland, just to test how far it could go without skidding in the pines.
The sky was pretty overcast and the forecast didn’t bode well for seeing the Northern Lights, however we still had time for an afternoon visit to a nearby Husky Farm.
We got to have a short sleigh ride through the woods, but the dogs were pretty stubborn about running. “They work better in minus 20,” joked the driver. Turns out that this wasn’t a joke though; the dogs genuinely do prefer temperatures this low and the minus 10 degrees on our visit was actually warm for Finland at this time of year.
Dinner afterwards in the Arctic Lights Hotel was out of this world; quite simply one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten. Of course, reindeer was served as the main course and as far as meat goes, you will realise why it’s so popular here.
Later that night we attempted to see the Northern Lights from a viewing spot that tourists are taken to; sadly there was just too much cloud cover, but the thought of those lights still being there above the cloud was enough to satisfy the imagination and I know I’ll definitely return one day to see them.
I finally got to use the incredible shower in the room on my return – before looking out the window at the Kuga, sitting in the hotel car park, like a Husky dog settling down for the night with the snow collecting on its fur.