More than 45,000 Ford Kugas have found homes in the UK since its 2008 launch. Now there’s an all-new model which, instead of being sold only in Europe, joins the Focus as a One Ford product that will be marketed in over 100 countries worldwide. But does the push for global appeal mean the Kuga no longer has the sharp drive and sleek style that made it a hit?
With its swept-back headlights, creased shoulder line and sharp, upkicked C-pillar, the new car is still recognisable as a Kuga. It’s 8mm lower and 4mm narrower than before, but the extra 81mm grafted on to the car’s length to add luggage space means that it appears considerably bigger than its predecessor – particularly when viewed in profile.
Still, while it remains a stylish, sporty-looking SUV, thanks to that rising shoulder line, creased bonnet and aggressive bumper, the proportions are less satisfying than those of the taut original.
Part of the design compromise stems from Ford’s need to counter criticism of the old car’s small boot. Plus, in the US the new Kuga replaces the Escape model, which was larger and more utilitarian. The result is a 71-litre increase in luggage space – to 481 litres – if you have the new reclining rear seatbacks set upright. That’s more than in a VW Tiguan, and the low lip makes it easy to load.
The rear seats now fold flat, too, and the boot floor has two levels – although on its lower setting, there’s a big step between boot floor and seats. Either way, the maximum capacity is 1,653 litres.
The Kuga has the option of an automatic tailgate. Wave your foot under the rear bumper and, provided you are carrying the key, the hatch door whirrs open. Perfect if your hands are full!
In the back seats there’s plenty of leg and headroom, even if you’re more than six feet tall and the driver has their seat set back. The rear squabs are firm, but the front seats are more comfortable.
In the front, the dash and centre console are made from a patchwork of different plastics, ranging from hard, grained material near the windscreen to classier, softer-touch and gloss black trim as you move down between the seats. But while the new One Ford cabin looks and feels good in the facelifted Fiesta, in the Kuga the finish trails on quality.
That said, there’s plenty of tech, including the SYNC voice-activation system on all but the entry-level Zetec. If you opt for four-wheel drive, you also get a useful graphic between the dials which shows which axle the engine is feeding power to.
Although there is now the option of Ford’s powerful 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, most UK buyers will opt for the 2.0 diesel Kuga with a six-speed manual box. The 161bhp version in our car isn’t the quietest engine, with a pronounced rattle at
low speeds which smooths out as the revs build. There’s wind noise from the A-pillars at 70mph, but otherwise the Kuga is quiet and refined. The box is slick, too, which makes it easy to keep the diesel on boost.
The outgoing car was renowned for being great to drive – it felt like a high-riding Focus rather than an SUV. But the shift to meet global tastes has compromised this sharpness. As the power-steering is now fully electric, it’s light and free of feedback. It also feels dead about the straight-ahead, particularly if you drive a higher-spec car riding on 18-inch rims, like our Titanium model.
Body roll is more of an issue, too, despite the fact that the Kuga still has a relatively firm ride. And although the new car weighs the same as the original, you can feel its weight more obviously under braking than before.