First Drive: Ford Kuga
Sector: Crossover Price (March 2013): £20,895-£29,795 Fuel: 53.3-42.8mpg CO2: 139-162g/km
Ford may not have realised it at the time, but the Kuga was about to ride the crest of a lucrative wave when it launched in 2008. More than 48,000 have sold in the UK, 12,000 more than predicted, and it’s been a good brand-booster with high residual values and way over average take-up for top trim levels and optional extras.
Its replacement launches into a much larger segment, with the added challenge of being sold worldwide. Within years it’ll be part of a family of SUVs, flanked by the B-crossover Ecosport and luxury-focused Edge for the first time in Europe. This car is already on sale in North America, branded as the new Escape.
The wheelbase is identical to the old Kuga, despite the new platform, but this is larger overall than its predecessor to distance it from the Ecosport. So a little of the old car’s compact solidity has been lost, and the wheels are no longer pushed out to each corner.
The silhouette is closer to a conventional SUV, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ford’s potential headache is that it shares its three-piece grille with the soon-to-be facelifted Focus, rather than launching with the new family front end.
This is said to be a result of launch timings, but with volume models already wearing the Aston Martin-esque grille this could leave the Kuga looking a generation behind the rest quite soon after launch. A refresh may not be too far away.
European launch engines comprise a 1.6 EcoBoost petrol with 148bhp and 2.0 TDCi diesel with 138 or 161bhp. All except the most powerful diesel can be ordered with two-wheel drive, and the latter gets the only Start/Stop system in the range to become the most efficient Kuga to date. At 139g/km and 53.3mpg it matches the equivalent version of the ageing Volkswagen Tiguan, but Mazda and Nissan’s most efficient crossovers are streets ahead, and Honda is hinting at sub-120g/km for the forthcoming 1.6 i-DTEC CR-V.
Two thirds of UK Kugas will get four-wheel drive, so Ford doesn’t consider this much of a problem. A low-carbon Kuga could get the 1.6 TDCi, but as yet there are no plans to launch one, which will disappoint fleet drivers where its likely low emissions and high residuals would prove a very popular company car. Until then it is the four-wheel drive 2.0 TDCi which is expected to be the most popular drivetrain and, though not class-leading, its efficiency is on par with its closest rivals.
This wasn’t available to drive at the launch, but a more powerful version bodes well. The Kuga is quiet, fitted with a slick manual or responsive automatic gearbox and has inherited the Focus’s driving manners. It’s remarkably car-like to drive, but the trade off is a bumpier ride for the rare occasions where it ventures off the tarmac. In reality, most won’t notice.
The interior is a huge step forward over its predecessor’s Germanic sobriety. Front and rear occupants are given plenty of space, while the solidly-built dashboard is in line with the latest Ford products. European buyers won’t get the Escape’s large navigation screen, though, which is a shame. Instead, the Kuga has a small display mounted close to the windscreen, as in the Focus.
Despite the wider SUV range waiting in the wings, Ford doesn’t expect a shift in the customer base for its new Kuga. Sales projections are the same as the outgoing car, at between 10 and 12,000 per year with 35% going to a user-chooser fleet customer base. It’s got all the right ingredients in place to pick up exactly where its predecessor left off.
The new Kuga has big shoes to fill, but with residual values up from 32 to 40%, entry prices down by over £1,000 and a better-equipped base model it should have no problems doing so. A bit more effort to bring CO2 emissions and fuel consumption down would have been welcome though.