Review: Ford Kuga self-parking car
We take to the cobbled streets of Bristol to put Ford's new automated parking system through its paces.
What is it?
This is arguably Ford’s smartest car to date. In fact, it’s one of the most intelligent cars on British roads at the moment. As well as being able to park itself, the Kuga can spot traffic signs to remind you of the speed limit, match the speed of the car in front, automatically stop if you don’t spot a potential collision and much more. On top of that it’s loaded with Ford Sync, a system that integrates your smartphone and your car with the minimum of fuss.
Does it really work?
Yes. I can safely say, after two weeks of rigorous testing on Bristol’s unforgiving streets, that this rather overweight motor squeezes into the tightest of spots in a jiffy. I really tried to foil the Kuga, but even on the roads surrounding Bristol’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge – where the tarmac often slopes off in different directions – it performed all the necessary calculations to park safely.
Technically speaking, the car doesn’t actually park itself. A driver still needs to be behind the wheel operating the pedals, but all the steering input is performed robotically. It’s actually quite unsettling to see the steering wheel whirring to the left and right the first few times it takes over.
Once I’d stopped myself nervously snatching at the steering wheel, though, I quickly came to depend on the system every time I spied a space at the side of the road. I simply couldn’t match the Kuga’s speed or efficiency.
How does it work?
Pushing the car’s automated parking button tells the Kuga to look for a space – it only works with parallel parking. It then uses ultrasonic sensors to draw up a picture of the side of the road, analysing the data for a space the size and shape of the car. Once it’s picked a spot the central console tells you to stop the car and put it into reverse. Then, with a huge leap of faith, you’re instructed to release the steering wheel and drive backwards.
Leap of faith: the moment of truth when the steering wheel takes over
In the distant future, letting the robot take the wheel will probably count as a landmark moment in the history of human-robot relations, but for now it’s just unnerving. Nevertheless, as you reverse you’re given a front row seat via the car’s rear-facing video camera. Get too close to the car behind and the vehicle beeps ferociously and tells you to pull forward while it straightens out the wheels for you.
Should I buy one?
The Kuga itself isn’t, it must be said, particularly interesting as cars go. It’s big and comfortable and it has a very fuel-efficient engine, but that’s about as much as you can say about it. It’s the technology inside the Kuga that really gets us excited.
The motoring enthusiasts among you will know that a handful of luxury cars on the road can already park themselves, including models by Volvo, Lexus and BMW. But those cars have price tags far out of reach of the average driver. The new Ford Kuga and Focus models, on the other hand, represent the first incarnation of automated motoring that’s within the grasp of the public at large.
Technology like this is where the future of motoring lies, and if you want to get onboard early perhaps this is the car to get you started.
James is staff writer at BBC Science Focus magazine. He especially enjoys writing about wellbeing and psychology.