The Kuga's rivals are nearly collecting their goody bags at the small crossover party, but Ford is only just arriving in its new designer suit. Has the Blue Oval missed the boat? The market might still be growing, but Ford risks being unfashionably late in this overcrowded segment. We've driven the Kuga to find out the answer.
That Iosis X concept was attractive: is the Kuga anything like it?Sadly, if predictably, the Kuga loses the rakish dynamism of the concept, but although its form is now generic crossover, the more you look at it, the tidier it looks. It’s details like the clever interplay of adjacent surfaces down the flanks; the sharply defined bone line that runs across the tailgate splitting the rear lights; and the successful integration of the family face (take note Peugeot) that gives the Kuga polish.
The gaping mouth grille and bonnet ridges suggest moderate menace, but obviously, the relatively small proportions mean you can’t take it too seriously. It might look threatening to a toddler in a supermarket car park, but it’ll be no Cayenne Turbo in the outside lane of the M4.
How about inside?Solid, mature, cleanly styled, clearly arranged, but not overly exciting. Think generic Focus-alike cabin. Zetec models get a choice of either bright blue or orange trim at strategic points around the cabin, but the Titanium model we’ve driven offers a more restrained environment, albeit well finished.
But Ford has really nailed the ergonomic basics with the Kuga with a good driving position and the vision benefits of sitting higher than in a conventional family car. It’s a comfortable place to consume miles, front or back, but there are few practicality gimmicks – just some fold-flat seats and a split tailgate.
What's under the Ford Kuga's bonnet?For now, buyers only have the option of the 2.0-litre Duratorq oil-burner, but by the end of the year the Focus ST's 2.5-litre turbo five-pot will join the range providing a swift, if thirsty alternative. The diesel motor is a delight – smooth, torquey and possibly in its most refined incarnation yet. Ford claims the 60mph dash takes just over 10 seconds. Of more significance to most buyers is the impressive 44.1mpg combined fuel figure.
It’s a Ford, so the Kuga's good to drive, right?Indeed. Focus underpinnings always promise much, and the Kuga feels more like a small hatch to drive rather than a tip-toe-tall off-roader. It rides 80mm higher than a Focus, with an extra 50mm in the wheelbase and 43mm in the track, but clean and intuitive steering and the considerable containment of body roll make the Kuga a decent drive.
Smooth Spanish roads do not make for the most representative of environments in which to judge the ride, however, but the Kuga seemed to traverse the worst ruts and bumps with impressive fluidity.
Off-road capability: is it relevant? Discuss…Torrential rain led Ford to cancel the off-road section of our drive so we can’t comment on what it’s like off road. However, it's telling that the worried PR handlers took this unusual step - and the decision speaks volumes about the Kuga's mud-plugging ambitions.
Although there will be a two-wheel drive version in mainland Europe, all UK cars will have the Haldex ‘on demand’ four-wheel drive system that only apportions torque rearwards when slip is detected at the front axle. That means when you’re cruising on the motorway the Kuga is effectively front-wheel drive – to the obvious benefit of fuel consumption.
Apart from its increased ride height and improved approach and departure angles over a Focus, the Kuga relies simply on electronic aids to manage traction off-road rather than any mechanical devices. Whatever the ultimate extent of its abilities on the rough, it should have no trouble dealing with a soggy field on a typically inclement English summer school sports day. So it'll probably cope with the demands most buyers throw at it.
VerdictIt’s been a fair wait for Ford’s entry into the crossover market, but the Kuga has its priorities right for the genre. Proven underpinnings, intelligently adapted and carefully tuned - all wrapped up in Ford’s latest designer metalwork. Better late – and good – than never. But the Kuga doesn't change the rulebook one iota.