YOU COULD BE forgiven for wondering why Ford is replacing the Kuga with a new model. After all, it was only in 2008 that the current one came out.
However, the Kuga is the latest Ford to go global, and the new model will be offered in the same guise in Europe, Asia and North America (it’ll be called the Escape in the latter). The result is a strong new look, and a car that is noticeably larger than before.
What’s it like inside?
It is longer, which means more passenger and boot space. The comparatively tiny 360-litre boot of the old model is now 456 litres. However, that’s only if you go for a tyre repair kit; stick with the standard steel spare wheel and you get 406 litres, a long way below rivals such as the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. As a bonus, the loading lip is almost nonexistent, which means it is easy to slide heavy items into and out of the boot.
To fold the rear seats you simply press a button on the seatback, but they don’t lie flat because there’s no option for you to lift the seatbases out of the way. Instead there is a small step between the boot floor and the lowered seatback, with a solid flap to cover the gap between the two.
Rear-seat passengers get a decent amount of legroom, and the seats can be reclined to offer a bit more comfort.
Rear headroom is good, even when the seats are in the fully upright position, although the optional sunroof reduces the space noticeably.
Up front, the dashboard takes its styling from the likes of the Focus and Fiesta. The materials boost the feeling of quality, particularly on the main centre console, but it is less impressive the farther down you look. Unfortunately, however, some of the buttons are a little small and poorly labeled, and the screen for the optional sat-nav is small compared with the previous Kuga’s.
The driving position is great, though, and both the seat and the steering wheel are easily adjusted, so drivers of all sizes can get comfortable. There’s also a decent amount of room in the footwell.
What’s it like to drive?
There are two petrol and two diesel engines to choose from. Ford reckons that the 161bhp version of the 2.0-litre diesel will be the most popular in the UK. A 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel and a 1.6-litre Ecoboost turbocharged petrol with either 148bhp or 178bhp complete the launch line-up.
The 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is the same as the one in the previous Kuga, and it’s smooth and powerful. There is some noticeable noise when you put your foot down, but the cabin is well insulated and it never gets intrusive. What is more noticeable is the large amount of wind noise from the sides of the car and the door mirrors.
The 178bhp 1.6 petrol showed potential to be a decent engine, but it was completely hampered by the poor automatic gearbox on our test car. The sluggish six-speed ‘box let the engine rev far too much and was always hunting for the best gear to be in. That said, when the engine did settle, it was quiet and offered plenty of pace.
Unlike many other larger Fords, the Kuga is not a car that will provide a bundle of laughs on the back roads home. Yes, the steering is sharp and entertainingly responsive at low speeds. However, go a little quicker and the body rolls too much in corners. The ride is comfortable (or at least it was on the smooth French roads of our test drive), although the UK’s battered roads will provide a sterner test.
The higher-powered versions of the two engines come with four-wheel drive, which assesses the levels of grip and sends power to different wheels accordingly. It means there is plenty of traction at all times.
Should I buy one?
The Kuga’s American influence is certainly noticeable on the new car. It definitely addresses some of the issues with the old model, most notably those of space and practicality. However, it doesn’t drive as well as we’ve come to expect from Ford, and even trails some of its key rivals for driving pleasure. Pricing will be crucial, but at the moment the Kuga doesn’t go quite far enough to keep up with the competition.