Ford Kuga: Boosting the family market
The Ford Kuga is back, bigger and better than ever before. There's still no seven seat option but with an extra 81mm of length and an additional 71 litres of carrying capacity, it's a far more practical proposition than before and just as good to drive. Especially in 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol form.
The few Kuga customers who decide against the couple of 2.0-litre TDCi diesel on offer get to choose from two 1.6-litre turbocharged Ecoboost petrol units rated at either 150 or 180PS, both managing the same torque figure of 240Nm. The entry-level petrol model is available in front-wheel drive guise with a manual gearbox, but the 177bhp version is sold exclusively as an all-wheel drive chassis with the Powershift automatic gearbox.
All Kuga models get a quick and well-weighted electrically assisted steering system, although the strong self-centring action takes a little getting used to. Although Ford's engineers deny it, the chassis of this model feels softer than the first generation car, so the ride is better, but there's not that same puppyish attitude as before. Call it part of the growing up process. The four-wheel drive system lends the Kuga a modicum of off-road ability but it comes into its own on road when pedalling the car quite hard. The torque vectoring control system reduces the sort of understeer you'd expect in a car of this type and sniffs out grip extremely well, shuttling drive between front and rear axles far more adeptly than, say, the Haldex system used extensively in Volkswagen group products. Drive a bit more sedately and you'll be impressed by the Kuga's ride quality and refinement. It can do the sporty thing but feels happiest when wafting. We'll take that.
The styling of the latest Kuga utilises an evolutionary look. Even if you'd never seen one before, the shape of the windows, the headlights and the rising belt line is all quite similar to its predecessor, which is no bad thing as that car was always one of the best-looking models in its class. As before, it's based on Focus underpinnings, but this one has a much larger task ahead of it. Ford's global policy is to reduce the number of different vehicle platforms across its portfolio, so this car not only has to replace the old Kuga in the UK and Europe, but it also has to replace the bigger Escape in the USA. Just looking at its build process hints at Ford's big picture. The Ford Kuga does enough to appeal right now. It's good-looking, spacious, well-priced and drives very well. It's a little different in its emphasis than before, feeling a bit more grown-up than its predecessor and riding a whole lot better. The thing is, perhaps Ford's continuity with this vehicle has been taken a little too far. Is it the big bold step that Land Rover achieved with its Evoque? Maybe not. Ford will point to the fact that the Kuga is much cheaper and they'd have a point, but the inevitable result of trying to build one vehicle for many markets is that the extremity of design inevitably gets watered down.
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So while it's not quite as exciting as some may have hoped for, there can be little doubt that the latest Kuga is a better vehicle than its successful predecessor. The 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol engine will make sense for lower mileage buyers and value-wise, it slots into a price point that offers clear air between the best of the Koreans and competitors like the Audi Q3 and the Range Rover Evoque. In other words, it looks like reprising the old car's success all over again.