Excellent exterior styling
The compact SUV 'crossover' segment continues to offer a rich vein for car manufacturers, with car buyers remaining keen to exploit the advantageous driving position and security of a high-rise models combined with the sensible footprint and running costs of a traditional family car. Ford has introduced changes to the Kuga line-up to further the models potential in the latter department.
Ford's Kuga model has been a success for the brand since its launch in 2008, combining a dynamic exterior design, strong build quality and decent specification into the kind of crossover body that continues to prove popular with car buyers. Unlike some rivals, the Kuga has the added advantage of boasting business car appeal alongside family car potential, thanks to its sharp looks and generous trim and equipment levels.
Originally available in four-wheel drive with the two wheel-drive versions following shortly after, Ford has now seen fit to revise the engine range. The 134bhp diesel unit has been increased to 138bhp while a 161bhp version of the same engine has also been introduced. A 197bhp petrol unit is also available.
Despite the power hike, the 161bhp version of the diesel unit offers improved fuel economy and CO2 emissions compared to the previous 134bhp engine. Emissions remain on a par with those of the revised 138bhp diesel. The introduction of Ford's PowerShift, six-speed twin clutch transmission for diesel-powered four-wheel drive models aids consumption, emissions and refinement.
Trim level options remain limited to high specification models, aimed at attracting premium business car drivers alongside families. With this in mind Ford has introduced a new 'Individual' styling pack option, which brings additional flair to the interior and exterior of the sharply styled model.
The addition of the powerful diesel engine combines brilliantly with the debut of Ford's PowerShift dual clutch transmission on the Kuga, to offer an impressively swift vehicle with near seamless drive. Comfort levels, efficiency and drive appeal are also improved as a result. The Kuga's smart styling and accommodating body mean it can comfortably carry off roles as a family car and business machine. Handling is not as crisp as Ford's non-SUV models, but is composed and refined none-the-less.
The efficient PowerShift transmission means the Kuga has been able to adopt the more powerful diesel unit with little penalty in terms of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. In this regard the Kuga compares very well to its rivals. Elsewhere, insurance ratings have been kept low thanks to the use of plastic front wings which provide greater resistance to dents, and should the worst happen, are easier and cheaper to repair. Purchase prices for the well-specced models are higher than some rivals, however.
The Kuga's highly stylised interior makes the model feel smaller than it actually is in the front. There's little danger of clashing elbows and headroom is adequate. The same can be said of the rear, which will comfortably seat a trio of younger passengers. The glovebox is large and there are various cubby holes in the cabin providing storage options. The flat folding second row of seats and their 60/40 split maximise the usefulness of the well-proportioned boot.
The instrument panel has a clean, ergonomic design and the layout and feel of the switchgear is hard to fault. The trip computer provides the driver with a variety of information, in addition to accessing the steering modes, while the sat-nav screen is easy to read in a variety of light settings. The cabin has been thoughtfully designed and the controls and displays reflect this.
Generous equipment levels in Titanium specification combine with good ride quality and a reasonably spacious interior to good effect in the Kuga. Noise levels are kept to a reasonable level and the PowerShift transmission smoothes out progress, improving comfort for driver and passengers. Seats are supportive, too.
The Kuga is fitted with a top-level alarm as well as an immobiliser. Privacy glass is available on all rear windows as part of the optional Individual Pack. Underfloor storage and a large cubby hole in the centre console provide further useful options for keeping items out of sight.
Ford has fitted the Kuga with high levels of active and passive safety equipment. There are six airbags present, including head and shoulder curtain airbags covering the first and second row of seats, and the steering wheel moves horizontally away from the driver in the event of a high speed frontal impact. ABS, ESP, anti-rollover and traction control are also standard.
The crisp handling characteristics that make Ford passenger cars so pleasant to drive have not translated as effectively into SUV form, with a greater degree of body roll taking the edge off the handling and driving appeal. The Kuga does ride very well, however, and the more powerful diesel unit offers an impressive degree of pulling power for outright acceleration and in gear pulling power. The addition of Ford's twin clutch system is a real bonus, offering seamless shifting for ultra-smooth progress.
For the family seeking a stylish vehicle that offers a decent drive, a quality cabin, plenty of space and a degree of off-road capability, the Kuga is ideal. It's a large estate-like vehicle, big enough to carry a family of five and versatile enough to tackle more demanding jobs in terms of load carrying and light off-roading. Safety has also been given a high priority, which is reassuring for parents.
The Kuga would make an unusual choice as a first car, particularly equipped with the powerful 2.0-litre Duratorq unit. The updated range is tailored more towards the premium end of the market, pricing it out of contention for most first time car buyers. More suitable alternatives can be found in the Ford Ka and Fiesta ranges.
The Kuga's sharp exterior styling gives it an instant advantage in terms of kerb appeal and it's one of the most enticing crossover options despite the lack of a premium badge. The limited but well-equipped trim levels are aimed at a more premium sector and this is reflected in the strong build quality, too.
The Kuga's raised ride height is just right and provides a good compromise between off-road ability and ease of access to the cabin. The doors open wide offering good access to the front and rear. The boot's aperture is generous and provides easy access to a flat load space.
The controls are located centrally in a high position on the dash, which makes them easily accessible and intuitive to use. A stalk located to the side of the steering wheel provides additional access. The Titanium model gives the advantage of touch-screen navigation, although the system is straightforward to use on both models. Bluetooth, a USB port and DAB radio tuner are all available.
The Kuga's sharp exterior design carries a range of colours well and benefits from bolder shades such as white or black. With the more powerful diesel engine options trim options start at the comprehensively specced Titanium level. A new Individual pack has also been made available, which adds a restyled front grille, body coloured arches and skirts, 19-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, tined windows, leather and gloss black plastics inside. Although a cost option, it does add to the style and ambience.
Rear parking sensors are available as an option and it might be prudent to tick the box considering rear visibility is limited by the small windscreen and thick rear corner body pillars. Similarly, the angle of the A-pillars hampers visibility at some junctions when you're looking forward. However the high seat position generally gives the driver a good view of the car's surroundings and the four-wheel drive system doesn't impact unduly on the turning circle.
Space saver spare fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options - 2.5-litre (197bhp). Diesel engine options - 2.0-litre (138bhp); 2.0-litre (161bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, six-speed twin clutch PowerShift automated manual gearbox with sequential manual override, five-speed automatic gearbox (petrol only). Trim levels: Zetec, Titanium, Titanium Individual.