Ford Kuga vs Suzuki Grand Vitara

Kuga is capable on road, but does it have what it takes to beat the rugged Suzuki?

Our final clash will take the Kuga further out of its comfort zone than any other test. You might not think of the Suzuki Grand Vitara as the most cutting-edge rival for the Ford, but it has the sort of wipe-clean durability that many other SUVs can only dream of.

The Japanese car has shunned modern trends to ‘go soft’ – it’s still one of the most rugged go-anywhere compact 4x4s on the market. And while Ford claims “the Kuga has been developed to provide off-road skills without SUV sins,” does that mean it will win through in the rough stuff?

To match its hardcore nature, the Suzuki has a boxier appearance than the Ford. It was launched three years ago, and its sharp lines and angular lights still look good off the beaten track. It lacks the Kuga’s sculpted attention to detail, but its solid stance suits its off-road credentials. There is even a short-wheelbase three-door for more extreme off-roading.

While the square finish adds a certain charm outside, it’s less successful inside. The Grand Vitara is cheaper to buy than the Kuga, and it shows in the cabin. Functionality is the name of the game: the upright centre console has a plain black plastic finish and the trim on the rest of the dash is little better. Typically for Suzuki, build quality is first rate – it’s simply the materials used that let things down.

When you hit the road, the contrast with the Kuga is increasingly stark. The Grand Vitara’s 1.9-litre diesel rattles to life like an old-school oil-burner. The gearknob vibrates, and under acceleration the 127bhp unit is noisy.

However, once at cruising speeds it settles down to a surprisingly quiet rumble. Fuel economy of 30.3mpg is acceptable in this class – albeit 3.6mpg behind the Kuga – and the engine is gutsy. It’s just a shame there isn’t a six-speed box to give more relaxed motorway cruising.

If you’ve got a long journey to tackle, the Suzuki is the last model you’d choose. Its dynamics feel archaic when driven back-to-back with the Kuga. The ride is soft, but a series of bumps can cause it to bounce where the Ford’s damping would make the undulations barely noticeable.

Despite its deficiencies it’s hard not to smile in the Suzuki. The compact proportions and adventurous character make it ideal for narrow country lanes. It’s from here that we turn off the tarmac – and see the Grand Vitara come into its own.

It boasts all the traditional mud-plugging tools to tackle tough terrain, such as full-time four-wheel drive, a diff lock and low-range transmission. But bringing off-roading into the 21st century, it has no awkward levers for engaging its 4x4 systems, just a dash-mounted control wheel.

Next to its hardcore rival, the Kuga has a less impressive off-road armoury, yet bosses are confident in their SUV’s abilities. By the way, a front-wheel-drive-only model is also produced, but it isn’t offered in the UK.

The Ford can approach a 21-degree angle at the front and 25 degrees at the rear without grounding out, and can wade to a depth of 450mm. To help the Kuga glide over rocks, its ride height is 80mm higher than the Focus’s, too.

But it’s the Suzuki that would get further down a tricky green lane. Thanks to its set of low-range gears, the Grand Vitara can tackle slope angles of 29 degrees at the front and 27 degrees at the rear.

Let’s face it, though – if it’s a hardcore off-roader you want, the Kuga won’t be on your shortlist. However, if all you need is to get far enough into the countryside to unload your mountain bikes for some muddy fun, it’s back in the running. Both cars swallowed two cycles with the rear seats folded – although getting them in and out wasn’t easy in either. The Grand Vitara’s side-opening tailgate and square luggage area was better, while the Ford’s more car-like load bay seemed less durable.

Yet although the rear seats in the Kuga fold flat, the Suzuki features an old-fashioned tumbling set-up, so its back seats eat into luggage space even when folded.

At £18,499, the Grand Vitara is £2,000 cheaper than the entry-level £20,500 Kuga Zetec. Turn to Page 58 to see if that’s enough to put the Ford into second place...

Economy

It's a more traditional 4x4 than any other model here – and the Suzuki comes with some old-fashioned bills, too. Economy barely above 30mpg is poor for a diesel, while the Grand Vitara has the highest CO2 emissions here, so it sits in the 29 per cent tax bracket. Buyers have fewer dealers to choose from and prices are a bit steep, but they can expect a more personal service. It also suffers heavy depreciation – it’s worth just 46.5 per cent of its value after three years.

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