Kuga sees Ford get to grips with SUV sector

New Ford Kuga is one of the most stylish soft-roaders going and very car-like to drive.

New Ford Kuga is one of the most stylish soft-roaders going and very car-like to drive. - Credit: supplied

Ford's new Kuga is off to a great start but it is just the first step in a product offensive, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

For all its dominance in the motoring world, Ford took its time to make its presence felt in the soft-roader sector.

At a time when sport utility vehicles (SUV) were still seen by many drivers as functional rather than fashionable Ford joined forces first with Nissan for the Maverick/Terrano marriage and then with sister company Mazda for the Maverick/Tribute pairing.

It was not until 2008 that Ford went it alone with the Kuga – not be be confused with its Cougar sports coupe – by which time it was up against established competition. But Kuga was a huge success with more than 45,000 sales in the UK.

Now Ford has launched the second-generation Kuga which is the springboard for its all-out assault on the off-roader market with the EcoSport small SUV coming later this year, followed by the larger, more premium Edge crossover which has been a success in America and other markets.

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No wonder Ford expects to sell more than a million SUVs in Europe in the next six years and for them to account for one in 10 Fords sold by 2016.

You only have to look at the new Kuga to see why SUVs are proving so attractive as an alternative to the family hatchback or estate with the added benefits of a higher driving position and ground clearance.

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The Kuga is one of the most eye-catching SUVs, with the sharp Ford styling, and best to drive, borne out by the fact Ford took 1,850 orders before it even reached showrooms.

The new range gets 150PS and 182PS 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol engines but most owners will go for the 140 and 163PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels. Adding to the choice are front-wheel drive models with the lower-powered engines and petrol and diesel automatics.

The 2.0-litre diesel is smooth and refined and, in 163PS guise, pulls willingly from low revs and delivers punchy mid-range performance. My test car had the optional £1,500 six-speed PowerShift automatic gearbox. It's relaxing to drive, with responsive downshifting for overtaking, but never bettered 38mpg even when driven gently.

The Kuga rides rough roads well, despite my test car having bigger 19in alloy wheel options, and you can tackle twisty country roads in confidence with well-weighted power steering and little body lean until pushed really hard. The automatic four-wheel drive, found on most versions, means plenty of traction and grip even on greasy roads.

The smart, classy design continues inside with a quality look and feel to Titanium and Titanium X models which get the upgraded fascia, with the Sony DAB audio system, piano black panels and brightwork contrasts, and they will account for nearly nine out of 10 sales.

Plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment means short and tall drivers will easily find their ideal set-up. The spacious interior can carry four adults with ease with generous legroom in the back but the centre seating position is slightly raised and the rear bench could do with more underthigh support.

Good news for families is that the boot has grown by 46 litres, not so good is that with a spare wheel it is still only 406 litres – well shy of many rivals. Folding the 60/40 split rear backs is a simple one-handed operation but a little step up from the boot floor mars the loading practicality.

All models have a good range of safety measures but, while entry-level Zetec includes cruise control, air-conditioning, hill-start assist and electric windows, Titanium or Titanium X will be the big sellers. The former adds part-leather seats, dual-zone climate control, upgraded fascia and centre console and automatic lights and wipers while the range-topping X factor includes full leather trim, heated front seats and panoramic sunroof.

The Kuga has been a big success in helping Ford get a grip in the SUV market, the new model has the ability and appeal to take its ambitions to new levels.

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