► First drive of more powerful Kuga
► New 2.0 TDCI now with 178bhp
► CAR magazine's latest Kuga review
Ford’s Kuga is one of the first One Ford products of the modern era, designed for global sale and consequently sold in Europe and the United States, where previously each territory developed its own SUV. Bad for corporate bank balances and confusing for consumers.
Perhaps this explains why it’s taken Ford a couple of years to plumb in its latest high-output diesel engine, as American buyers have set the priorities in this car’s engineering programme.
But now the 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel from the Mondeo is here - and we’ve driven it for the first time in the recently scrubbed-up 2015 Kuga mid-sized crossover now on sale in Europe.
Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCI 178bhp: the numbers
This engine is predominantly about the extra power - up 10% on the previously most powerful Kuga, despite CO2 falling by a similar amount - and the outputs are competitive with class rivals. Torque stands at 295lb ft, arriving with a muscular waft at just 2000rpm.
But power is nothing without restraint, and Ford claims 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 135g/km of CO2. Reasonable on the surface, but actually lagging some way behind rivals such as the Volvo XC60 D4 with identical power/torque outputs.
A resounding 95% of Kuga buyers in the UK choose the 2.0-litre diesel engine, and the Blue Oval predicts that a good chunk of those will choose the high-powered version. But the majority will pick the cheaper £30,045 2.0 TDCI version with 148bhp and front-wheel drive.
Is it worth spending £2000 extra on the higher-powered diesel Kuga?
The 2.0 TDCI provides reasonable shove, but the Kuga’s 1.7-tonne kerbweight ultimately blunts acceleration. If you live in a hilly area, have a large family or regularly tow, you might feel the 178bhp insufficient.
But crossovers are not about haring around at full chat, and this SUV feels well judged in normal day-to-day driving. It’s refined, too, with barely a murmur from the four-cylinder TDCI engine.
We drove the six-speed manual, which had a typically oiled Ford precision to its action. All the major controls are well weighted, making the Kuga a cinch to drive despite its growth spurt; at 4524mm long and 2077mm wide, this is now quite a big car.
More typical Ford responses here; the Kuga feels just like a large Focus - which is to say, it’s comfortable over the rough stuff, has a composure through bends that belies its size and accurate steering.
This is not an enthusiasts’ car, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s towards the top of the pack in the family crossover stakes. There’s just a lingering doubt that the now-global version has lost some of the chassis sparkle that made the last-generation Kuga a hit in CAR Towers.
This is an ongoing concern with mainstream Fords, as successive generations have lost some of the class-leading dynamism from the Richard Parry-Jones era, when the Focus, Mondeo, Ka, Fiesta and others ran off with the goalposts and plopped them in the next-door field. Is this the price of globalisation, and the growing importance of connectivity and electronic architectures over clever-clogs chassis tuning?
The latest Kuga has many tricks up its sleeve, including a nifty foot-waggle system to open the tailgate (a £350 option as part of a keyless entry system). You’ll never tire of demonstrating this one, and it’s properly useful when approaching the car with armfuls of clobber. Other gadgets of note include self-parking software, adaptive cruise control and voice-operated apps such as Spotify, operated through the Sync AppLink system.
The Kuga’s cabin is roomy and practically set out, as is the boot. Our only real complaint is a messy dashboard which is really feeling its age prematurely. The Sony infotainment system, in particular, is a riot of messy buttons and needs to be simplified urgently.
The higher-powered Ford Kuga diesel is a well resolved, likeable crossover. The new engine has pushed prices up to a toppy £34,890 on our top-spec Titanium X Sport version, which sounds like it’s nibbling into Ford Edge territory with every addition to its ever-expanding badge (remember when it was just a simple Titanium?).
Considered in that context, you can see that the top-dog Kuga is a warm-up act for the new, posher Edge coming at the end of 2015. You’d better believe it: Ford has Volkswagen and its Touareg in its sights, and this model is a stepping stone up the brand ladder.