The eagerly awaited Kuga is finally here - and we're first behind the wheel
Ford has delivered the driver’s choice in the compact SUV class. Indeed, the Kuga is so polished dynamically that you’re left wanting more power to enjoy it. The three-mode steering offers real appeal, even if you do have to stop the car to swap settings. Interior quality is competitive with VW’s Tiguan, the Kuga emits less CO2 than its VW rival, is well priced and has plenty of kit as standard, too. We can think of few cars in the class that are better.
It has been a long time coming, but Ford’s return to the 4x4 market promises to be well worth the wait. The Focus-inspired Kuga should be good – in fact, it should be brilliant.
The firm’s cool crossover promises to combine the driving dynamics of the best-selling family hatch with the high driving position, sure-footed traction and muscular looks of a 4x4.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Ford Kuga
And in the flesh it delivers. There’s no denying that the Kuga is striking – the transition from the Iosis X show car to production reality hasn’t diluted the visual appeal of the original study. Its bold detailing ensures the Kuga stands out from the rest of the crossover crowd, with the blistered bonnet and strong creases along the flanks giving Ford’s new contender real presence in this hotly contested market.
It’s how the car drives that’s so crucial, though – and the Kuga doesn’t disappoint. The quality of the chassis shines through on the road. It’s unusual to be sitting so high and have steering that responds accurately to input; the Kuga is remarkably agile.
In fact, Ford puts so much emphasis on the driving dynamics, there’s a choice of three different settings for the electro-hydraulic power-steering. It’s not possible to switch between modes on the move, meaning you’ll have to stop and change to a more suitable setting when a quick back-road drive is followed by a motorway run. Still, you’re unlikely to have any complaints with the standard mode.
Even though there is slight body roll as you enter a corner, the Kuga stays flat in the bends and demonstrates a level of stability that’s unusual in something so tall.
Opt for Sport mode, and the steering serves up greater precision and feel than some hot hatches. What’s even more impressive is that Ford engineers have managed to provide such precision and ability without ruining the ride. Bumps and ripples are shrugged off convincingly, with only the harshest of surfaces causing the odd crash or jolt through the suspension.
The Kuga’s agility means you will often be left wanting more from the 136bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel powerplant – which is the sole engine choice. It struggles to really deliver when you’re moving, and has to be worked hard to maintain pace.
The sprint from 0-62mph is completed in 10.7 seconds, but despite the ample 320Nm of torque, the car never feels as if it has the muscle it could so easily exploit. Keen drivers may prefer to wait until Ford offers its off-roader with the 197bhp 2.5-litre petrol five-cylinder – although this will inevitably struggle to match the diesel’s excellent 44.1mpg economy and low 169g/km CO2 emissions.
Those impressive figures are aided by the Kuga’s electronically controlled on-demand four-wheel-drive transmission. This sends as much as 50 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels when it’s needed; front-wheel-drive is employed most of the time.
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And although few owners will ever venture off the tarmac with their Kuga, the 80mm increase in ride height over the Focus – coupled with maximum approach and departure angles of 21 and 25 degrees – means the newcomer should provide decent mud-plugging ability.
It’s more likely that buyers will be interested in the Kuga’s practicality as a family car than its off-road credentials. And the good news is that there’s lots of storage space inside.
Admittedly, some cubbies aren’t that useful, but the glovebox is cavernous. The large boot is accessed via a two-piece tailgate, while the 60:40 split-fold seats drop quickly and easily to increase load space. Other goodies on Zetec and Titanium variants include an auxiliary audio input in the deep centre console, plus the option of a USB connector and even a three-pin plug socket for the ultimate in charging and connectivity.
Passengers in the rear will find there’s plenty of head and legroom, but sitting three-abreast might be a bit of a squeeze. Up front, the driver and passenger seats are firm and supportive, and are separated by a large centre console that houses the slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox.
The top part of the dashboard is borrowed from the Focus, as are the deeply cowled instruments. It’s just a shame that Ford didn’t use the same high-quality materials right up to the windscreen, as the plastic there looks shiny and hard. On the move, there’s some wind noise from the base of the windscreen at motorway speeds, although otherwise the Kuga delivers decent refinement.
Standard equipment on Zetec and Titanium models is very competitive, while safety is covered by Ford’s Intelligent Protection System, which incorporates six airbags as standard.
Prices are sensible, too, with the Zetec at £20,500, and the Titanium costing £22,500. This pitches it head-on with VW’s new Tiguan. The Kuga’s rivals will need to be very good to beat it on the road. Once again, Ford has produced a car that proves it’s more than cap-able of punching above its weight.