Road test: Ford Kuga claws are out in tough market
WE HAD to wait more than four years for the first Ford Kuga to make an appearance in Australia.
Word of its success in the US and Europe where it had sold more than three million units since it was launched a decade ago, had us anticipating its arrival with glee.
Yet when the Kuga finally burst on to our scene last year, it made little more than a lacklustre impression. It was expensive, looked and felt tired, and failed to fire the imagination of discerning consumers who were supping so delightedly on the offerings from more established contributors to the medium SUV market.
This time round however, the new improved Kuga range has been made available here a few short months after it broke ground overseas, and suddenly Ford has found itself with a player that can truly make inroads into a lucrative segment.
The new Kuga is longer, lower and narrower, but manages to conjure up extra space even though it still shares a platform with the Ford Focus.
Inside, things are noticeably fresher than the first model that hit our shores.
The semi-leather seats in our mid-range Trend were supportive with adequate bolstering, and it was easy enough to find a comfortable driving position. Rear-seat passengers have the option of reclining up to 10 degrees, and both leg and headroom is generous.
There is plenty of storage both in the cabin and in the cargo hold, where capacity has increased by 46 litres.
While the boot does not appear large, it is quite high, and has a low loading lip, making it easy to store luggage, or shopping. The rear seats can fold flat if needed.
On the road
Ford has done away with the 2.5-litre turbo engine, with the petrol Kugas now sporting a 1.6-litre offering. The manual front-wheel drive entry level Ambiente manages only 110kW and 240Nm, while the all-wheel drive auto racks up a more substantial 134kW.
We found the latter fairly efficient, adding credence to a more than respectable performance from the Kuga.
Road manners are good, and the ride comfortable, with the Kuga willing to tackle most challenges. Handling is sharp, aided by an all-wheel drive system that cleverly assesses road conditions and readjusts the front-rear power split accordingly.
A Torque Vectoring Control system has improved cornering control, keeping the car on line, even when you push particularly hard.
We found the gearbox calibration a tad annoying at times, especially up steep inclines when the Kuga insisted on quickly finding higher gears, instead of engaging lower gears to encourage momentum. Engaging Sports mode did hold the gears longer, but overall performance was not much improved.
What do you get?
The entry-level Ambiente is a tad light on the inclusions, despite the almost $28,000 price-tag, but the Trend does add 10.6cm colour infotainment display, dual-zone climate control, powered driver's seat, partial leather seats, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers, to push-button start, parking sensors, cruise control and voice-activated Sync system.
The range-topping Titanium goes further, with bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry, sat nav, reverse camera with front parking sensors, park assist, leather upholstery, panoramic glass sunroof, heated front seats and auto-opening tailgate.
Safety gets five stars, courtesy of seven airbags, traction control, ABS with stability control, EBD, emergency brake assist, hill launch assist and trailer stability control.
For $2650 you can get the Technology Package which includes Active City Stop, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping aid, lane departure warning, blind spot information system and auto high beam driver impairment monitor.
Ford has been a later entry to this category where SUVs like the Mazda CX-5 (from $27,880), Honda CR-V (from $27,490), Nissan X-Trail (from $28,490), Subaru Forester (from $30,990), Hyundai ix35 (from $26,990), Kia Sportage (from $25,490) and Toyota RAV 4 (from $28,490) have been making merry.
Medium SUVs continue to be all the buzz and this updated Kuga has really given Ford a chance at capturing attention. It is the first in the Ford stable in Australia to feature Emergency Assistance across the range. Using the driver's Bluetooth paired smartphone, the feature can allow the car to contact emergency services following an accident and direct them to your vehicle by providing GPS co-ordinates.
The top-of-the-range Titanium also features auto-opening tailgate which is a boon when returning to your car with your hands full of packages, or a squirming child - just make a simple kicking motion under the rear bumper and hey presto!
Ford claims the Kuga has improved fuel economy thanks to its EcoBoost technology but we still found the petrol to have a thirst. While we managed close to the claimed eight litres/100km on highway stretches, we were closer to 11L/100km for combined performance. The Kuga comes with a three year/100,000km warranty and seven year/105,000km fixed price servicing.
Service intervals are 12 months, or 15,000km.
The Kuga is certainly easy on the eye with its modern design and sculptured good looks.
It is also available in eight trendy colours.
This new Kuga with its improved interior, technological bells and whistles, lower price and greater range has certainly placed Ford in a competitive light. Whether it will be enough to attract buyers considering a Forester or a RAV-4, X-Trail or CR-V remains to be seen. But at the very least they should be tempted, and early figures show buyers are already voting with their feet.
What matters most
What we liked: Good looks, comfortable ride, snazzier interior.
What we'd like to see: Reverse camera as standard, auto-tailgate option in cheaper models.
Warranty and servicing: Ford offers a three year/100,000 kilometres warranty with seven year/105,000km fixed-price servicing.
Model: Ford Kuga Trend.
Details: Five-door all-wheel medium SUV.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Sport mode.
Engine: 1.6-litre, GLTDi EcoBoost petrol generating maximum power of 134kW @ 5700rpm and peak torque of 240Nm between 1600rpm-5000rpm.
Consumption: 8.0 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line (plus on-roads): From $36,240 (entry-level Ambiente $27,990).