► Entry-level engine in latest Ford Kuga SUV
► Front-wheel drive manual, 1.5 turbo petrol
► Refined, neat to drive, but messy inside
Who’d be a diesel engine, eh? Plodding up and down the motorway all day, one minute you’re the CO2 champion, the next you’re a cancer-causing NOx nightmare, and the Europeans that supported your rise in the first place are threatening to shun. On top of which, while there’s no arguing with the torque and the economy, still people complain about the refinement and the dirtiness and the reality that diesel costs more – both at the dealer and by the litre (in the UK, at least).
But surely for some types of car, diesel just makes sense. Take family-sized soft-roaders, for example. Who in their right mind is going to buy a Honda CR-V without a diesel engine? Or a Ford Kuga? To find out if petrol crossovers are crazy, we've tested the entry-level engine in the Ford Kuga range, the latest 1.5-litre Ecoboost turbo petrol.
Would you be mad to buy one? Not quite...
Ok then, put the case for the Ford Kuga 1.5 Ecoboost petrol
Last time we reviewed the Kuga we reported that Ford expects 95% of customers in the UK to choose a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine. Which means they’ll be putting up with the same lump that’s ever so slightly underwhelming in the latest Mondeo – the 148bhp and 178bhp power outputs look swell enough, but torque peak is a narrow 2000-2500rpm, and they can feel slightly flat.
Now, we’re not about to claim the 148bhp front-wheel drive version of the 1.5 Ecoboost tested here feels fast – actually, it’s largely the opposite – but it is £1700 cheaper than the equivalent diesel, and responds well once wound up, so motorways aren’t tiresome at all. Factor in the sweet manual gearshift and Ford’s typically beautiful control weighting, and in fact you’ve got an SUV that enjoys a bit of a thrashing.
But it never sounds thrashy. Big score for the little petrol is refinement, which is really very good indeed. And although we were testing it in Titanium X trim with 18-inch alloy wheels, it’s also comfortable – something that’s achieved whilst retaining plenty of poise in the corners. It’s a confidence-inspiring and practically hatchback-like drive, since the inevitable bodyroll increase of the tall soft-roader design is so clearly correlated to your inputs.
Although this lowly Kuga misses out on 4wd, its front-drive chassis provides perfectly adequate traction in regular driving conditions; there is a four-wheel drive Ecoboost 1.5 offered, but as it’s only available in combination with 179bhp and an automatic gearbox it costs over £4k more.
Fair enough – what’s not so good about the 1.5 Ecoboost Kuga?
No complaints about the exterior here – it’s a sharp, premium-looking device from the outside, and has plenty of presence. There’s a decent, if not outstanding amount of space on the inside, too, and the basic ergonomics are sound, as is the visibility.
Titanium X comes loaded with kit, including power-adjustable driver's seat, DAB radio, keyless start and cruise control – but it seems crazy that Ford charges an extra £200 for Active City Stop, and the lack of standard sat-nav on what is quite a high-end model grade is slightly incongruous to us in 2015.
The most hilarious thing about the whole car, though, is the centre console. Sadly the Kuga is yet to get an overhaul to the new Sync 2 infotainment system – and while Sync 2 has its flaws, at least you get a decent-sized screen. The one in the Kuga at present is so small it’s like watching someone else’s TV through their letterbox. Operating it via the confusing mass of buttons is presumably something you’ll get used to, but clearly it will take longer than the week we had with the car.
The diesel alternative not only claims almost an extra 15mpg on paper, it probably will prove more economical on longer journeys. The usual EU testing rigmarole says the Ecoboost will do 45.6mpg; expect more like mid- to low-30s in real life – and less if you spend a lot of miles pottering around town.
The 1.5-litre turbo petrol-powered front-wheel drive Ford Kuga is a niche choice, sure, but also quite an enjoyable thing if you want a high-riding, sweet-handling, practical family conveyance with excellent refinement. We’re sure that’ll be a comfort the next time you’re trying to clean the stink of diesel off your fingers. That interior really needs an update, though.