Ford joins the crossover segment with the Kuga, a 4x4 SUV, built on the Focus' chassis and inspired by the iosis X concept car. It's a bold looking car that Ford can be proud of. It delivers on style, function and substance although some of the Kuga's handling characteristics could be better.
With the Kuga,the design team has proved that Ford's 'kinetic' styling language can work well on a 4x4. Championing the face of Ford, the Kuga has bold upper and lower trapezoid grilles and dramatic swept back headlamps. A skid plate alludes to its off-roading ability while the twin exhaust pipes and an optional roof mounted rear spoiler enhance its athletic looks.
A Ford branded starter button kicks the engine into life. The 2.0 TDCi diesel is a favourite powerplant of Ford and does its job well when fitted to the Kuga. Mated to a six speed manual gearbox, the engine pulls confidently, and a little noisily, when accelerating thanks to a decent amount of torque available at low revs. It's a competent and capable cruiser on the motorway but drivers may have to change down for overtaking manoeuvres. The suspension provides a firm yet comfortable ride and is capable of soaking up bumps and ruts adequately, although the steering could do with being more direct.
Fortunately this is possible, thanks to the option of selecting up to three different steering settings, Standard, Comfort and Sport, which vary the amount of power steering assistance by means of weight and resistance. Steering feel is highly subjective, but most drivers will be able to find their preferred set up when scrolling through the in-dash menu. The chassis settings don't change though, which is a shame, since there's a touch too much body roll when cornering.
The Kuga has been equipped with an 'on-demand' electronically controlled all wheel drive system that, in conjunction with the ESP, transmits torque to the rear wheels when needed to ensure the best traction under cornering and acceleration. The system works well both on and off road, delivering decent levels of traction.
The Kuga is so well rounded that it is easy to forgive its few handling faults. It may not have class leading driving dynamics, as Ford claims, but it's a strong contender in the segment and one to watch out for. With its eye-catching design, low running costs, impressive green credentials and spacious versatility, the Kuga promises to be a great buy.
It's not a cheap car, but the Kuga should be affordable to run thanks to frugal diesel fuel consumption complemented by a low CO2 emission placing it in a VED tax band well below its rivals. 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.
The swooping line of the Kuga's roof suggests that headroom in the rear might be compromised, however there are no such issues and the second row of seats will accommodate two adults comfortably. 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 load compartment.
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.
The cabin exudes quality and the seats are supportive and relaxing to sit in. The driving position helps to highlight the attention to detail in the cabin, from the small amount of pressure needed to activate the start button, to the thumb indents on the steering wheel. Manual air conditioning comes as standard.
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 Appearance 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.
Overall the Kuga handles well. It drives comfortably when off road while the suspension does a good job on Tarmac providing a supple ride, although the car rolls when cornering at speed. Engine and wind noise are evident under hard acceleration and when travelling at speed but there's little to complain about when it's driven in a relaxed manner.
For the family after 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. Its a large estate-like vehicle, big enough to carry the family around plus associated paraphernalia, and is versatile enough to tackle more demanding jobs both in terms of transporting goods, thanks to its load carrying abilities, and when off road.
As good as it is the Kuga is not an ideal first car. It's much larger than a supermini and suffers from poor visibility issues both and the front and rear. New drivers should instead consider the Ford Ka or Fiesta, both of which are ideal thanks to their more compact size, higher degree of manoeuvrability and lower running costs than the Kuga.
Ford has specifically tailored the Kuga to appeal to premium buyers. The fit of the interior trim is excellent and there is a quality finish throughout the cabin, excluding the minimal use of some hard plastics in places. Thanks to its low CO2 emission and impressive fuel consumption, it also benefits from being one of the eco-friendliest 4x4s on the market.
The Kuga's raised ride height is just right and provides a good compromise between off-roadability and without having to climb up into the cabin. The doors open wide, and buyers can opt for a six-way power adjustable seat for the driver. 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 offered as options.
Visually the Kuga is a stunning looking car and is available in 10 exterior colours, ranging from more subtle shades to bold and vivid colours. The Kuga looks good in each of them, especially in metallic Electric White. The trim is bright and colourful in the Zetec variant - without being tacky, while Titanium keeps to more conservative shades with graphite grey accents.
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 hamper 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.
Steel spare wheel as standard.
Diesel engine options - 2.0-litre (134bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox. Trim levels: Zetec, Titanium.