This is the all-new, second-generation Kuga, Ford’s mid-size SUV. As before, it’s based on Focus underpinnings, but the big news is that it replaces both Europe’s Kuga and the completely different – and long-established – Escape SUV in the US – hence it’s the Escape in the US. It’s a difficult balancing act: the Escape has a reputation as a sturdy, no-nonsense, practical SUV. The Kuga is more of a trendy crossover.
Is the Kuga built in Europe or America?
It’s very much a symbol of Ford’s One Ford global-car policy: the platform is engineered in Cologne, the powertrain in Dagenham and the upper body and interior in Detroit. It’ll be built in Louisville, America, and Valencia, Spain.
What’s the line up?
There are a choice of two 1.6-litre turbocharged Ecoboost petrols – with 148bhp or 177bhp, both putting out the same 177lb ft – and two 2.0-litre turbodiesels – with 138bhp/236lb ft and 161bhp/251lb ft.
The base petrol can only be had in front-wheel drive form with a manual gearbox, while the 177bhp model can be had only with all-wheel drive and the Powershift auto. The 138bhp diesel, meanwhile, can be had in front- or all-wheel, but only with the manual transmission, while the range-topping TDI can have either gearbox, but four-wheel drive only.
There’s also the usual line-up of Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X trim levels. Prices range from £20,895 for a 148bhp 1.6 Ecoboost Zetec to £29,795 for a 161bhp 2.0 TDCI.
We’re driving a 161bhp 2.0TDCI Titanium all-wheel drive manual, yours for £25,545.
What’s the Kuga like to drive?
It’s good, if generally unremarkable. The most powerful diesel is entirely flat below 1500rpm, but keep it above that level and the torque zings you along on a wave of boost that doesn’t stop until 4000rpm. This is generally all well and good, but it can feel noticeably tardy on inclines.
The steering is Ford’s familiar electrically assisted set-up, which is quick and meatily weighted and perfectly pleasant to use, but if anything it’s too springily eager to self-centre.
You sit high and the chassis is quite soft which doesn’t lend a particularly sporty feel, but the Kuga is actually quite an able handler: the compliance means it soaks up bumps without becoming upset over rougher tarmac, plus the four-wheel drive system is pretty amazing – it’s Ford’s own hardware and software, and it’s as if the tall ride height and soft chassis is doing its best to disguise the brilliance of this system. It subtly snuffs out the onset of understeer with something more neutral, meaning cornering speeds can be indecently high, and it quickly juggles torque between the axles, meaning its far faster acting, more reactive and more engaging to drive than, say, a Haldex system. It’d be fascinating to combine this with, say, a Focus RS.
Really, though, this is a very comfort-oriented car, with impressive levels of refinement.
Is it practical?
It is. The seats are comfy – part-leather with grippy fabric centres in our Titanium-spec model – and there’s plenty of headroom all round, plus there’s much more legroom in the back than you’ll find in a Focus – something that the carefully scalloped seatbacks only exaggerate. The rear-seat passengers can recline their seats a little with a pull on a handle, while the same handles allow the 40/60 split seats to fold flat in an instant. There are also plenty of cupholders and cubbyholes, and the door cards are aggressively sculpted too, giving greater elbow room.
The new car is 81mm longer than the first-gen Kuga, but it’s also 4mm narrower and 8mm lower. Those reclining seats mean there’s a range for the seats-up luggage space rather than a set number, but it now stands at 438-481 litres versus the previous 410 litres.
However, there’s no seven-seat option, as you’ll find in Ford’s Grand C-Max or, indeed, Nissan’s rival Qashqai +2, so you’re essentially dealing with a more spacious Focus, rather than something that genuinely offers up more inventive ways to use the same kind of space.
The Kuga gets keyless access, plus you can open and close the tailgate by waving your foot under the bumper – just like you can on the Merc SL and BMW 3-series. It’s just a shame it takes so long to actually open and that the load sill is reasonably high.
The Kuga is a good, refined car, but one that struggles to stand out compared with the already very good opposition. It looks good, but nowhere near as good as a (far more expensive) Range Rover Evoque or even, whisper it, a (cheaper) Kia Sportage, and it doesn’t have the desirability of either the Rangey or the VW Tiguan. It’s good to drive, but very comfort-focussed: the Evoque is far more dynamic.
The Kuga doesn’t really put a foot wrong, but nor does it do anything that makes you feel compelled to buy it. It’s a solid, practical, comfortable car that should fit easily into family duties, but one that will do so without ever dazzling you with its brilliance.