Long-term test update - 14 May 2009
Much of the pleasure taken from life with our long-term Ford Kuga has centred around its chassis and its steering. Both owe more to the brilliant Focus than Andrew Ridgeley owes to George Michael (ie, everything), and together they achieve the remarkable feat of making an SUV handle like a real car.
Other SUVs may cry foul, pointing out quite rightly that the Kuga is more about rakish good looks than decent packaging, and mentioning that your average non-enthusiast-driving, pram-and-bicycle-equipped family would be better served by something that looks and handles like a van.
I concede that the Kuga is, in this respect, cheating, but I love it for that. But if it plays with the SUVs it must live or die by comparison with them, and the best of the compact breed is Audi’s Q5. I drove the two back-to-back in order to decide where the Kuga stands on the premium scale.
The Audi entered the market as a premium rival for the likes of BMW’s ageing X3 and the Mercedes GLK, which is both ugly and not available here in the UK. For Audi this was an open goal, and the Q5 duly converted.
But how much better is it than the ‘non premium’ Kuga? Is it seven grand better? Is it better at all? It’s certainly comfier and made of thicker stuff like squashy leather, woolly carpets and clunky steel, and there’s that cuddly heft about it that makes you feel a brick wall couldn’t hurt you.
Yet the Ford’s not badly built, and though its harder plastics and sensible chairs lack tactility they feel pretty sturdy and will probably appear fresher than the Audi’s cream leather after a few grass verges, a hound and some children have had their way.
The Kuga’s tuned-in steering and flicky Focus underbits make punting it much more rewarding than helming the Audi which, courtesy of uninvolving steering and a predilection for understeer, feels much lardier. The weight difference is just over 100kg, but feels more.
I like the Ford better. It’s more down-to-earth and basically more fun to be around.
By Greg Fountain
Superb steering, awesome body control
Boot not as big as you’d hope – and one of the luggage cover clips has snapped off
Back to top
Our Ford Kuga has voice control, which is a £150 option along with the Bluetooth hands-free mularky. I am suspicious of this. What is it for, except perhaps to assist those who have recently been using superglue and thus cannot unstick their hands from the wheel? I must be missing something. I’ll try it.
Here’s what you do. You press the button marked ‘voice’ on the column-mounted panel and then say ‘CD player’ in a clear voice. Easy. A few seconds of embarrassed silence then follow, before the computer’s electronic inner woman asks you what you want, so you say ‘CD player’ again. Another silence, then the same question a third time, this time accompanied by a list of options which is calculated to make you look pretty stupid, especially in front of any passengers (moral: try this when driving alone).
I have incorrectly ordered ‘CD player’ (cos that’s what it says in the manual) when what the computer – which, incidentally, is more pedantic than a real woman – insists on hearing is ‘CD changer’. The implication is that you need to learn the exact wording for every command for every function run by voice controller (radio, CD, phone, air con, iPod, MP3 player etc). Roughly equivalent to learning rudimentary Spanish.
Anyway, we’ve managed to get the CD selected. Hurrah. The woman then asks you what you want and you say ‘track six’, and, do you know what, track six comes on! The process takes roughly nine times longer than the nanoseconds it would have taken to push the buttons, yet I still feel a sense of triumph – a feeling of oneness with the modern world.
But then I spoil it by getting over confident and blurting out ‘shuffle all’ (which is an authorized blurtation) only to be rewarded by the computer saying ‘defrosting on’, followed by a full-fan, in-the-face blast of ice-cold air.
If you try any of this on the move – which is presumably the only point of it – you will crash. So, not crashing plus £150 equals… well, you figure it out.
By Greg Fountain
Back to top
We’re running Ford’s compact SUV because it looks nice. Okay, that’s simplifying it a bit, but the unseemly scramble for dominance in this oversubscribed market has left us with a glut of competent, yet frankly dull, models to choose from. You can reel off the names – Tiguan, Koleos, Freelander, Qashqai, X3, RAV4, Antara, and many more… and there’s not a true duffer among them.
Yet the Kuga really does look the business, its rakish origami tucks and creases making the others look timid, as if they don’t quite mean it. The last soft-roader that made me feel like this was the three-door second-gen RAV4, which I duly paid money for (and I still don’t think there’s anything out there to touch its visual verve).
The Kuga’s got other merits though – our own GBU verdict calls it ‘the best small 4x4’, and given that it’s based on the sublime running gear of the Focus, raised by 80mm, stretched by 50mm and widened by 43mm, it jolly well ought to be fun to drive.
Hard to be too judgemental on a car that arrives with 175 miles on the clock and traces of bubble wrap around the seals, but it certainly retains the fluid road manners that make the Focus absolutely rock in our world. It feels taut enough to live up to its hatchy image, and it corners quite fast without bouncing occupants off the walls.
Power (which is accessed via a button helpfully labelled ‘power’) comes from the only block on the block – the 2.0-litre Duratorq turbodiesel four, serving up a modest 134bhp. It’s not quick, and there’s much shuffling of the six-speed manual stick to be done if you want to avoid becoming becalmed in a flat spot. The Focus ST’s 2.5-litre five-pot is coming soon, and though it will be zippy, it won’t make much sense in the Kuga. This isn’t a performance car and doesn’t need to fly. We would have specced the diesel anyway.
We specced metallic paint (a £425 option) but ended up with something ‘Chill Metallic’ – presumably named after the thing it sends down your spine when you first set eyes on it – and also 19in alloys (at £600 extra) without which the body looks overweight and the impression of muscle founders. There’s no pay-off on ride quality or road noise that I can detect, so we get away with the vanity.
There are some neat touches. The split-tailgate is a masterpiece of simple design, and the luggage cover is equally perfect. The idiot-proof capless fuel filler is clever and the Bluetooth-based voice control system (£150 extra) promises to be even more clever. And the cabin is properly designed, tactile and solid, with a suggestion of longevity about it. All fine, but at £23,675 as seen here, this is a surprisingly expensive Ford. A Focus RS won’t cost much more. We should bear that in mind.
By Greg Fountain