Published on Sunday 20 April 2014 22:05
Ten Second Review
The Ford Kuga has evolved in second generation form into a larger, more practical and more efficient proposition that'll be equally attractive to Qashqai-like Crossover and RAV4-style soft roading SUV buyers. The single five-seat bodystyle is now properly family-sized and gets some clever technology that segment buyers will like. In other words, if you're shopping in this sector, here's a car you have to consider.
The priorities here weren't difficult for Ford designers to tie down. Second generation Kuga buyers wanted their cars to be more efficient. And they needed them to be bigger. After all, in the original version of this model, luggage room and rear seat cabin space were inferior to that of most compact family hatchbacks - which simply wasn't good enough for a car of this size and class. Fortunately, the solution lay in a direction Ford was going anyway. The Blue Oval bean counters had already decreed that the second generation Kuga would be a global design that, badged over the Atlantic as the 'Ford Escape', must also satisfy the larger needs of North American buyers. In other words, it was always going to be bigger.
The extra size has brought with it an extra presence and perceived purpose that, visually at least, positions this design not only as a Qashqai Crossover competitor but also as a car you might take seriously against soft roading SUVs like, say, Toyota's RAV4 or a Honda's CR-V. In other words, this MK2 Kuga should have wider appeal. It's certainly cleverer and more affordable to run. But then, plenty of other similarly targeted cars are making similar claims. Let's put this one to the test.
Making a car bigger is not usually a recipe for improving its on-road dynamics. Quite the reverse in fact. Which might be a cause for concern if the reason you chose the first generation version of this car was the way it felt almost as sharp as a Focus to drive. But loyal Kuga customers needn't fret too much. This second generation version might not have quite the same sheer 'chuckability' as its predecessor, but it's still a class-leading driver's car.
Like many of Ford's latest models, this one gets two clever systems - Torque Vectoring Control and Enhanced Dynamic Cornering Control - both designed to help get its power onto the tarmac more effectively, something you really notice when turning hard through a tight bend, a time when you also note the surprisingly feelsome nature of the electric power steering. And a time where, if you've specified it, you'll also begin to appreciate the tarmac benefits of the 'intelligent all-wheel-drive' system that was freshly developed for this second generation Kuga.
Under the bonnet lie a couple of torquey 2.0-litre TDCi Duratorq diesels, developing either 140 or 163PS. Whichever one you select, there's the option of either two or four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox or a twin-clutch Powershift auto transmission. The alternative route for British buyers is petrol power, with the availability in this MK2 model of a couple of 1.6-litre EcoBoost engines offering 150PS with manual transmission or 180PS as an automatic.
Design and Build
Though this second generation Kuga design shares many of the aesthetic cues that characterised its predecessor - the headlights for example and the rising belt line - it's also very much its own car - and very much larger too, 81mm longer than the original. All very interesting no doubt but you'll be wanting to know just how this Kuga will serve as everyday family transport. The old version wasn't much good for larger families, offering standards of rear seat passenger room and luggage space inferior to many compact family hatches. Can this do better, despite the fact that it's still based on Focus underpinnings and shares exactly the same wheelbase as its predecessor? The answer's yes. Though the extra length isn't enough to permit the fitment of the kind of third row seating that some rivals offer, the rear seat does now offer the kind of comfortable space for two (or if they're friendly three) adults that you'll find in rivals like Nissan's Qashqai, Toyota's RAV4 or Honda's CR-V.
At the wheel, the dashboard layout is likely to be familiar if you've driven one of Ford's current Focus or C-MAX models. As with those designs, there a winged dial pack and extensive use of brightwork finishes across the fascia. An infotainment system too, though this one doesn't offer a touchscreen set-up, instead operated by a controller that's a bit of a reach away. Still, it all feels of much higher quality than before and though the dash top feels a little scratchy, most of the rest of the fascia is built from lovely soft-touch materials.
Market and Model
Since this Kuga targets both Qashqai-like Crossover models and RAV4-style soft roading SUVs, you'd expect it to be priced somewhere between these two market segments - which is pretty much how it turns out. The range is pitched between £21,000 and £30,000, with the bottom end of that spectrum buying you the entry-level 1.6T EcoBoost 150PS petrol unit. But that comes only with manual transmission and front wheel drive. 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 of them won't want to pay.
Most Kuga customers though, will want diesel power. Going for the 2.0 TDCi 140PS engine gives you more options and only costs £1,000 more than the baseline petrol alternative. Prices start at around £22,000 and from here, you can choose to find £1,500 more for automatic transmission. And / or £1,500 more to go from front to four-wheel drive. Personally, I'd suggest that an AWD 2.0 TDCi 140PS Kuga with manual transmission priced from around £23,500 represents the sweet spot in the range. The pokier 163PS version of this engine isn't much faster and will set you back quite a bit more as it can only be ordered with AWD and the pricier trim levels.
Cost of Ownership
This Kuga's all-turbocharged engine line-up now manages to return efficiency running cost figures far better than those of rivals like Honda's CR-V, Land Rover's Freelander or Vauxhall's Antara, thanks to petrol engine fuel economy gains of up to 25% and diesel engine fuel economy improvements of up to 10%.
The difference between these two figures is mainly down to the fact that at the launch of this second generation Kuga, it was only the petrol engines that benefitted from an Auto-Start-Stop system able to automatically cut the engine when it's not needed, say when stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. As a result, 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.
As for the 2.0 TDCi diesel, well whichever version you choose - 140 or 163PS - you'll manage 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and 154g/km of CO2. These figures inevitably take a bit of a dent if you order your car with the Powershift 6-speed automatic gearbox, falling to 45.6mpg and 162g/km. The auto only comes with AWD. But then, not everyone wants AWD and if you're one of those people and would be quite happy with the kind of 2WD Kuga you can choose in TDCi 140PS form, then you'll enjoy a more efficient set of figures - 53.3mpg and 139g/km of CO2.
So at last, Ford has got serious about SUVs, a market category the Blue Oval soon reckons will account for over 10% of its total sales. If, of course, the products on offer are good enough. With this second generation Kuga, the signs are good.
Like its contemporaries, it's aimed at the urban, rather than the Amazon jungle, but unlike rival contenders, it can reward on twisty tarmac as well as straight stuff, capability enhanced by some clever roll stability and curve technology on this MK2 model. In fact, there's so much clever stuff here. Depending on how you specify it, this car can park itself, raise its tailgate for you, brake to avoid an accident and even automatically call for help after a crash.
The most important changes though, are fundamental ones. More frugal, cleaner powerplants. A proper petrol option for the first time and, most importantly, a cabin that now at last is properly big enough for family duties. In other words, Ford's global mid-sized SUV has been as thoroughly thought through as you would expect it to have been.