Ford Kuga review
The second-generation Ford Kuga takes on the Mazda CX-5, with efficient engines and lots of space
The Ford Kuga is a smart, stylish SUV to rival the likes of the Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan. Updated in 2013 with even sharper looks, a lower entry price and available in a new top-spec Titanium X Sport trim, the Kuga is more spacious and better equipped than ever before. The all-wheel drive models deliver safe and secure handling, while the two-wheel drive versions have better MPG and lower running costs. The Kuga comes with the choice of either a 1.6-litre petrol Ecoboost engine or a 2.0 TDI in a range of power outputs. As you’d expect, the Kuga’s larger external dimensions mean more room inside than the old car, however it’s not quite as spacious as the Toyota RAV4 for example, but it’s easily a match for the Mazda CX-5. Ford's clever SYNC voice activation, which deals with the Kuga's smart-phone integration, comes as standard in the Titanium models. The Zetec versions come with an attractive starting price of around £21,000. If you like the idea of a Ford SUV but looking for something a bit smaller, the Fiesta-based Ford Ecosport will go on sale in early 2014.
Our choice: Kuga Zetec 2.0 TDCi 4x4
The new, 2013 Ford Kuga is effectively two cars in one – it has to substitute for the stylish, sporty-looking, model that was sold in Europe, while also replacing the rather utilitarian Escape model that was sold in North America. As a result it’s bigger than before, which has compromised its looks somewhat. There’s no doubting that the new car looks like a Kuga, though, thanks to Ford’s new family face, which carries over the Vertrek concept’s narrow grille and split lower intakes. And despite the upswept crease and windowline running along the side of the car, it doesn’t have the aggressive proportions of the old model. The interior design borrows heavily from the latest Focus and C-MAX, which means decent interior quality and a modern-looking dash design - albeit one with rather too many buttons. There are three trim levels to choose from - Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X – but all cars come with 17-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, sports seats, cruise control and keyless start. Titanium trim adds a gloss-black grille surround, automatic headlights, part-leather seats, dual-zone climate control, a DAB radio and Ford SYNC, while range-topping Titanium X models benefit from 18-inch alloys, Bi-xenon adaptive headlamps and LED tail-lights, as well as a panoramic roof and full-leather interior. The latter two specs get the option of a clever ‘hands-free’ tailgate - which can be closed or opened just by waving a foot under the bumper - along with safety kits such as Park Assist, a blind spot warning system and Ford’s Emergency Assistance system. The new Titanium X Sport trim gets body coloured bumpers, wheel arches, a rear spoiler, front silver skid plate and 19-inch alloy wheels. Further to this, it also has privacy glass, high gloss rear diffuser, and gloss black bumper detailing. Inside, it gets accessories such as sat-nav, Sony DAB Radio, Active Park Assist, and a rear-view camera.
The old Kuga was one of the sharpest mid-size SUVs to drive – it felt more like a high-riding Focus than an SUV. But the latest Kuga is much softer and less precise, which means the Mazda CX-5 is now the class-leader in this category. The ride, although firm, is comfortable rather than sporty - especially if you corner more aggressively, when the body rolls considerably more than you’d expect. The new fully electric power steering is precise but light and devoid of feedback. The Kuga’s swoopy shape does make it a little harder to judge the car’s dimensions, though, and although it weighs the same as the original, you can feel its weight more obviously under braking than before. Four-wheel-drive models – which use an intelligent system that is said to monitor 25 different parameters from wheel speed to steering angles, to ensure the Kuga can cope in slippery conditions – deliver impressive grip. The engine line-up kicks off with the 148bhp 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s also available with the option of Ford’s dual-clutch PowerShift automatic, but it’s best avoided as it never seems to know which gear to be in. A 178bhp version of the same engine is available with 4x4, but most buyers will opt for the 138bhp or 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel models as they offer a great blend of pace and efficiency.
The Kuga has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test result, with the best result ever scored by a mid-sized SUV. All Kugas come with driver, passenger, knee, side and curtain airbags fitted as standard, along with ABS, ESP, active city stop and a lane keeping aid. A blind spot monitoring system is also available as an option. Plus, the four-wheel-drive system should stop you getting into trouble in the first place. The Kuga's platform, engines and tech are all proven in other Ford models, while a large dealer network means keeping your Kuga on the road should be simple. The previous-generation Kuga finished 44th in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, with strong results in the handling, comfort and ride quality categories. However, the new car has already been the subject of a recall in the US. In Auto Express' top 100 cars of 2013 survey, the Kuga placed 59, with owners finding issues in the braking, practicality and build quality. In our 2013 Driver Power Customer satisfaction survey of manufacturers, Ford finished 23rd - not bad, but not great for such a major player as Ford.
This was one of the old car’s biggest problems – it just didn’t offer enough boot space or room for rear-seat passengers and luggage. This time around, though, the boot space is improved by 82 litres - at 442 litres, it's more boot space than a Tiguan but less than a CR-V. If you stick with the spare wheel, then boot space drops to 406 litres, making it 97 litres less than the Mazda CX-5. The rear seats now fold flat to create a maximum load area of 1,928 litres, which is a massive 600 litres more than before. The low lip makes loading easy and the boot floor has two levels for the first time – although on its lowest setting, there’s a big step between boot floor and seats. There’s plenty of head and legroom even if you’re more than six feet tall and the driver has their seat set back, while the rear seat backs can be reclined, too, giving a more comfortable angle to sit at but hampering boot space temporarily. Ford offers a detachable towbar for an extra £600, as well as the option of an automatic tailgate, which can be opened by waving your foot under the rear bumper (as long as you have the key in your pocket).
The most efficient Kuga is the 138bhp 2.0 TDCi diesel with front-wheel drive, as it returns 53.3mpg and 139g/km, but even the higher-powered version manages to return 47.9mpg and emit 154g/km f CO2. In fact, the diesel range is 10 per cent more fuel efficient, even though the engines are carried over from the previous car. This is because the Kuga is six per cent more aerodynamic than before, and come with features like a grille that closes at higher speeds to make the car slip through the air even more easily. The addition of the downsized 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine has cut fuel consumption of petrol cars by 26 per cent, too. Be aware, though, that only manual petrol cars come fitted with a fuel-saving stop-start system. The higher-powered 178bhp version can only be had with four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox that results in higher fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. And buyers should think carefully about four-wheel drive; it comes at a higher price and will cost you more in tax and fuel.