There's been a big boost for the Kuga
FORD'S first Kuga was a success in this country but the second generation model has far bigger aspirations. And it offers a credible petrol-engined option. Jonathan Crouch tries the 1.6-litre EcoBoost version.
FORD'S development team found it quite easy to see what to do with this second generation car. Make it much like the first, but with more space and a sustainable petrol-engined option.
The few Kuga customers who decide against the couple of 2.0-litre TDCi diesels 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. 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. Drive a bit more sedately and you'll be impressed by the Kuga's ride quality and refinement.
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The styling of the latest Kuga utilises an evolutionary look. 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.
The extra 81mm of length and some cleverer packaging solutions mean that this Kuga is properly spacious for four or five passengers. There's decent headroom all round, despite the car being 8mm lower than before. Rear legroom is good too; certainly better than you'd get in a five-door Focus - which is quite an achievement given the requirement to package the all-wheel drive mechanicals. The rear seats also recline at the pull of a handle. These same handles also allow the seats to fold flat. The new car's additional length is largely accounted for by luggage space. The old car had 410-litres of space available but even with the rear seats in their fully reclined position, there's 438-litres in the latest car. Put the seats to a more upright position and you get up to 481-litres.
As you might expect, petrol power is the cheapest way into Kuga ownership. The entry-level 150PS unit mated with 2WD costs around £21,000 - about £1,500 less than the comparable diesel. Petrol buyers do get the option of AWD and auto transmission, but it only comes packaged up with the pokier 180PS version of the EcoBoost engine at a £2,700 premium that many won't want to pay.
Standard kit across the range runs to alloy wheels, daytime running lights, front foglights, a Quickclear heated windscreen, powered heated mirrors, a Thatcham Category 1 alarm, decent quality 6-speaker CD stereo system, air conditioning, cruise control and a hill start assist system to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.
For me, a must-have feature is the clever Ford SYNC system with Emergency Assistance. This connects with MP3 players, Bluetooth-enabled phones and USB drives and allows you to receive audible text messages. Better still, should you be involved in an accident, the system will automatically call the emergency services in the language of whatever country you're in and give them your exact GPS location. Talking of safety, this car gets ISOFIX childseat fastenings and a full tally of seven airbags - twin front, side and curtain bags, as well as a driver's knee bag. Plus all the usual electronic assistance for traction and stability control to hopefully ensure that you'll never have to use them.
You wouldn't expect Ford's second generation Kuga to be anything other than bigger and faster than before, while at the same time offering better emissions, economy and improved residual values to boot.
It's the sort of magic trick we just expect manufacturers to be able to pull off these days and one that, once again has been managed here thanks to ECOnetic Ford features like smart regenerative charging (that reclaims energy that would otherwise be lost under braking) and an Active Grille Shutter (that reduces drag and cuts fuel consumption).
As a result, this Kuga's all-turbocharged engine line-up now manages to return efficiency running cost figures far better than those of several rivals.
The 150PS 1.6-litre petrol unit with front-wheel drive achieves 42.8mpg on the combined cycle and 139g/km CO2. These figures fall to 36.7mpg and 179g/km if you go for this petrol engine in 180PS form mated to AWD and automatic transmission.