REVIEW DATE: 08 Jan 2009
The 2WD versions of Ford's Kuga aim to persuade buyers that all-wheel-drive isn't strictly necessary in a compact 4x4. Steve Walker reports.
Isn't a 4x4 without four-wheel-drive something of a pointless exercise? On the contrary, if we're talking about modern compact 4x4s and taking the ways in which most owners use them into account, a front-wheel-drive model might even make more sense. Ford is one of many manufacturers that offers a choice of transmissions in this market and here we're taking a look at its 2WD Kuga range.
Ford doesn't encourage its Kuga customers to drive their vehicles down dried out river beds or through swamps. The manufacturer makes no bones about the fact that this is one off-roader that's designed to live out its life on the tarmac. The Kuga certainly feels at home in its native environment, handling with far more composure than rival models that have more off-road ability built in. Even the 4WD Kugas send 95% of drive to the front wheels most of the time, only directing more power to the rear wheels when slip is detected at the front, so it's unlikely that buyers of the 2WD cars will notice much difference on the school run. What they lose is the added traction that 4WD models supply on tricky surfaces.
It's diesel power or bust for 2WD Kuga buyers with all variants powered by the 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi 138bhp diesel engine with a six-speed manual transmission. The engine provides 320Nm of torque at 2,000rpm and the 0-60mph sprint takes 10.2s which is 0.2s faster than the fractionally heavier 4x4 car with this engine. Customers also gain 2mph in top speed from their 2WD model as it hits the wall at 116mph instead of 114mph. Once again, the difference between the two transmissions in everyday driving conditions will be virtually imperceptible.
".it makes a sound choice for buyers who'd rather not pay extra for redundant capability."
The actual weight difference between a 2WD Kuga and the 4WD models is a modest 40kg. It's not a huge amount to result from the deletion of the complex Haldex intelligent 4x4 system but much of the weight will have been hard wired into the Kuga's chassis and suspension making it tricky to remove. Visually, there's little to mark a 2WD Kuga out from a 4WD car. The 2WD model shares the stylish design with which Ford has managed to hit just the right tone between sporting aggression and nuggety cuteness. The interior isn't quite as successful as the exterior. For a start it's surprisingly small, the Kuga being one of those increasingly rare cars that doesn't pull all manner of packaging tricks out of its hat. Space in the back is tight for anything other than kids and drivers who are long in the body will find headroom an issue when getting in and out.
The second row of seating has a 60/40 split and can fold completely flat to maximise the load space. Underseat storage beneath the second row with further storage under the floor of the luggage compartment area offers maximum practicality. The Kuga has a generous luggage capacity of 1,355 litres when in two-seat mode, while the enclosed luggage compartment achieves a volume of up to 410 litres.
The front-wheel-drive models come in both of the Kuga's trim levels - Zetec and Titanium. The Zetec models come with keyless start, 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, ESP stability control, anti lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and an MP3 connector to plug into your iPod. If you're feeling a little more flush, an additional sum nets you the Titanium which gets part leather trim, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, cruise control, blue tinted glass and dual climate control. The Titanium models can also be upgraded with the Individual pack which adds a collection of sporty accessories including a body kit, 19" wheels, roof rails and leather interior trim.
Pricing is around £1,500 less than the equivalent 4x4 models and that, in a nutshell, is what will turn most customers on to 2WD. The 2WD Kuga still looks a little expensive compared to key compact 4x4 rivals but it has a very different set of qualities to most of them. It targets less determinedly price conscious buyers who are after a car that doesn't play by the normal compact 4x4 rules.
The reduction in weight and the more efficient approach of sending power only to the front wheels gives the Kuga 2WD a fuel economy advantage over its 4x4 siblings. The 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi engine can return 47.1mpg on the combined cycle in a 4x4 Kuga but in the 2WD it returns 47.8mpg. Emissions are also lower with the 2WD's 156g/km representing a 3g/km reduction on the 4x4 models. Once again, the margins are small.
Overall cost of ownership is a tough thing to tie down, due in no small part to the vagaries of fashion. Should the Kuga retain its desirability, then residual values will remain strong and ongoing running costs should be reasonable. That doesn't always happen. Remember when the Chrysler Crossfire or the 'new' Beetle were hot tickets? That didn't last for too long, but the Audi TT and the MINI have retained their appeal. It'll be interesting to see how the Kuga fares in that regard.
It's tempting to look down your nose at Compact 4x4 vehicles that don't have four-wheel-drive but it's a fact that most customers only drive them on the road and in that environment, 2WD offers genuine advantages most of the time. Ford's Kuga works particularly well as a 2WD as it's one of the very best compact 4x4s when it comes to driving dynamics and isn't much of a mud-plugger even in 4x4 guise.
The 2WD Kugas offer customers a sizable saving on the upfront price and a weight reduction that translates to better economy and emissions from the 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine. With the same striking looks and sporty attitude as the 'proper' 4x4 models, it makes a sound choice for buyers who'd rather not pay extra for redundant capability.
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