REVIEW DATE: 23 May 2008
Ford hasn't had a great track record with 4x4s in the UK but the Kuga is changing that. Steve Walker reports.
Rather than convince the British public that they need a big, butch wagon slathered in chrome, Ford unleashed the Kuga. It's a so-called crossover vehicle that attempts to meld the best bits of 4x4 ownership with none of the antisocially obese excess. With taut, chunky styling and economical diesel engines, it represents the lighter side of 4x4 ownership.
For a company that has counted on sports utility vehicles for such a huge proportion of its global earnings, Ford has had a surprisingly patchy track record with the things in the UK. Where other manufacturers have rapidly jumped on the 4x4 bandwagon and made some fairly decent coin, Ford tried half-heartedly with a succession of Mavericks none of which were ever that appetising. The Kuga takes a very different tack and immediately looks much more in tune with the times.
4x4s tend to polarise opinion. Either they're so ridiculously macho that you feel the need to start chewing tobacco and killing your own food in order to drive them or they're so self-consciously suburban that you'll look like a harassed school run mum - neither is a good look and a significant number of people despise them. The Kuga is different. For a start it's manageably sized which means that the urban driving experience is a pleasant one.
Most of the versions that people actually buy are powered by a Ford 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine. This unit has either 138bhp or a rounder-looking 161bhp. The difference between the performance of the two versions of this engine isn't great. Torque of 320Nm or 340Nm respectively and 0-60mph times of 10.4 and 9.6s will make a lot of people favour the more affordable 138bhp option. The alternative is Ford's 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol with 198bhp which moves the Kuga driving experience in a sporty direction but costs quite a bit more to run.
The 4x4 Kuga uses a full-time Haldex intelligent AWD system which sends 95% of torque to the front wheels until slippage is detected and more drive is redirected aft. Buyers less interested in maximum traction might like the 2WD models which are slightly more fuel-efficient and a little quicker thanks to a lighter kerb weight.
Show the Kuga a straight, well-surfaced road and it serves up a good standard of ride comfort and refinement. The ride is reasonably firm and that helps the Kuga resist body roll when cornered vigorously, plus it's also less liable to become unsettled over bumps in the road. The accurate steering makes it easier to position the car too.
".with the 2.0-litre TDCI engines and 2WD option, Ford has made a powerful statement regarding the environmental credentials of this sort of vehicle"
Outside, the detailing is exquisite, Ford hitting 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. Of course, this high seating position will be a huge bonus for ladies and shorter guys, but those with short legs will find that they'll need to shift their seat forward to such an extent that the heavily raked windscreen starts getting very close.
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.
Two trim levels are offered with the Kuga. The first step is Zetec which comes 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 model 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 inteiror trim.
The pricing of the Kuga is interesting. The 2WD models are £1,500 cheaper than the equivelant 4x4 cars and there's a hefty £2,000 premium to pay if you wish to upgrade from Zetec to Titanium. With the bigger engines only available in Titanium guise, they do start to look a little pricey. All models get a six-speed manual gearbox but the Ford PowerShift Dual-Clutch manual transmission is also offered on the diesel models at a further £1,500 premium. The Kuga is priced more highly than many rivals but it definitely has an edge in sporty style over the frumpier efforts in this market sector.
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 current 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.
Fuel economy shouldn't keep prospective owners awake at night, the 138bhp 2.0 TDCi engine returning a healthy 47mpg in 2WD guise and carbon dioxide emissions are a similarly benign 159g/km. Go for the lighter 2WD model and these figures are improved to 48mpg and 156g/km. Go for the 2.5-litre petrol model with its superior turn of speed and you'll only get 28mpg on the combined cycle with 234g/km emissions. Running costs suffer further if the automatic gearbox is specified with this engine or the PowerShift 'box is chosen for the diesel units.
In giving up trying to sell us a conventional 4x4 and instead concentrating on a niche crossover vehicle, Ford might just have hit on something. The Kuga looks great, it'll hopefully persuade a few 4x4 drivers to downsize into something more suited to their requirements and with the 2.0-litre TDCI engines and 2WD option, Ford has made a powerful statement regarding the environmental credentials of this sort of vehicle.
Much will depend on how long the Kuga remains trendy for. It certainly created a huge buzz when the wraps came off that first Electric White prototype at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show and the production-ready version was kept refreshingly similar, at least in terms of exterior styling. Perhaps the Kuga's most impressive achievement is that it's a four-wheel-drive car that targets an urban clientele but which it's virtually impossible to take exception to. That'll be more than enough justification for a very respectable swathe of customers.
The results below show the top KUGA deals on buyacar
|Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium 5dr diesel estate|
|Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi 163 Titanium X 5dr Powershift diesel estate|
|Price £25,657||Save £4,138|
|Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium 5dr 2WD diesel estate|
|Price £20,347||Save £3,198|
|Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Zetec 5dr 2WD diesel estate|
|Price £18,947||Save £2,948|
|Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi 163 Titanium X 5dr diesel estate|
|Price £24,385||Save £3,910|
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|For KUGA RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.7 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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