The invite to test drive the new Ford Kuga SUV came conveniently, as we were about to embark on a trip north to Paihia for the school holidays.
This wasn't your 20 minute spin within a 5 km block of the dealership. Oh no, this was the test-drive you always wished you could take when you're kicking tyres and eyeing up a new car purchase. A real "are we there yet?!" test of endurance.
The Kuga scored its first points while still in our driveway. As long as you have the key in your pocket, all you need do is wave your foot under the rear bumper and the boot opens automatically. In fact, once you're in the driver's seat you still don't need the key. The car starts at the push of a button.
Luggage stored, kids strapped in, we set off. We had one in a booster, one in a standard forward facing car restraint, and one old enough to sit in the normal seat. They were comfortable, but the back seat certainly wasn't the roomiest I've ever seen. Still, if they were too far away, they wouldn't have been able to reach the lift-up table with drink holder on the back of the front seats.
Three hours of driving ahead of us, three hours to push buttons and play. The car is fitted with an impressive all-in-one entertainment console - branded SYNC©. As we're driving the music from hubby's iPhone (connected via Bluetooth by the kind chap at the dealership), starts automatically playing through the car stereo. Indeed, the unit also has an inbuilt GPS, reversing camera, can voice-activate your phone, and even read out your incoming text messages.
The Kuga was purring down the motorway. With the cruise control set, we discovered another little surprise by those clever Ford engineers. The car automatically senses a car ahead and will slow down to keep a safe distance. We then work out that the small lights on the side-mirrors go on to let you know that there's someone in your blindspot. No risk off pulling out into a lane in front of someone else. Again, it's obvious a lot of thought has gone into this car about how a typical family lives and drives.
The 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo petrol engine is quiet and despite its small size overtaking was easy. We were particularly impressed by the petrol consumption, which was a lot more efficent than our own family car, a Toyota Camry.
The Kuga would be a great SUV for the urban mum. All the safety features you'd expect to keep your precious cargo safe, and cleverly thought out features to make life just that little bit easier - when you're standing in the pouring rain with your hands full of grocery bags you'll be ever grateful for the ability to open the boot without putting your bags down - "look kids, no hands."
Still, many of these features are par for the course in the new car market. The Kuga's likely rivals are the Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 and it would pay to do a comparison of all to see which of the features most appeal, and which you're prepared to pay for. We were driving the top of the line range, the Titanium, which starts at $RRP $52,990. That said, I'm confident the Kuga would be a difficult act to follow and for the four days we had the pleasure of driving it, it certainly felt like the gift that kept on giving.
In fact it's only now, back at home, with the car sadly and lonely returned to the dealership and me doing some final online research for this review, that I've discovered one more brilliant feature we never even played with - parallel parking assist. The car will find a spot it can fit in, you take your hands off the wheels, and it does the work - you simply control the accelerator and brake.
Now that's genius!