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Ford Kuga review (2013 onwards)
Well-considered update of an already popular crossover, though some of the raw driving pleasure of the original has been pushed aside.
What - Ford Kuga
Date - January 2013
Where - Valencia, Spain
Price - £20,895 - £29,795
Available - March 2013
Key rivals -Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage, Range Rover Evoque, Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti, VW Tiguan
We like - Quiet, comfortable, high quality feel
We don't like - Highly complicated dashboard interface, diesel economy far from outstanding, subdued driving enjoyment
The Kuga has been a big success for Ford in Europe. It is loved by its owners more than any other car in the Ford range. It makes sense. The 2008 original still looks stylish today and that Kuga, like most Fords, is a pleasing car to drive. No mainstream manufacturer works so hard on getting it right from the driver's point of view as Ford does.
Yet that car is being replaced early due to demand for a new Kuga that can be sold in 100 countries worldwide. Longer, lower, with a more swept back windscreen, the 2013 model is more car-like than the taller original.
Ford has addressed the ride comfort
Ford has also addressed space issues and the ride comfort, as well as packing in a whole raft of new safety features. Like the latest Focus, the Kuga will even park itself if you buy into the £550 convenience pack. Oddly, whatever model you buy, you still have to pay an additional £275 for the vital rear parking sensors.
Better news is that there is a sensible petrol engine on offer for the first time, rather than just the high performance, and incredibly thirsty, 2.5-litre of the earlier Kuga. The new 1.6-litre EcoBoost has 150hp, or 180hp with automatic transmission. This helps lower the starting price of the Kuga range to under £21,000.
That buys a front-wheel-drive Zetec model. Four-wheel-drive is a £1,400 option, but only with the 140hp and 163hp turbo diesels.
Ford offered us only the most powerful diesel for this evaluation. It's little changed apart from being cleaner and more frugal. Yet it doesn't really need to be. This a perfectly fine power unit for the Kuga, with plenty of pulling power. It rarely needs to be revved much to get the performance you are after.
If you do user higher engine speeds, however, there's no disguising the roar of the diesel. In contrast, Ford has quietened down the Kuga for cruising and more gentle driving. At motorway speeds it is up with the best in its class.
The gearlever has a raised position that is comfortable to use, with changes on the manual and auto versions smooth. There are no paddles on the automatic to help you change gear manually - as you increasingly find on new rivals like the Honda CR-V. Instead there is a small electrical switch on the side of the gearlever to do the job.
Ride and handling
The new Kuga feels quite different to the old one to drive. Rightly, the firm suspension of old has been redesigned to give a more compliant ride that is far more comfortable.
But your granny will love it
Yet, almost inevitably, some of the fun and entertainment has been lost from the driving experience. The last one could be driven like a hot hatchback. This one just isn't as responsive. But your granny will love it.
The test cars had four-wheel-drive and the full gamut of Ford's new safety and handling technology. These help adjust the Kuga's poise with subtle application of individual brakes when the computer calculates you are going too fast to safely exit a corner, as well as stopping the front wheels scrabbling on loose surfaces and distributing power to the wheels with most grip when off-roading.
It's all impressive, reassuring stuff, and though Ford does not have a stranglehold on these technologies, few can match its overall package.
This represents a massive step change. The dashboard, the seats and luggage space are all much improved, though not always with total success.
The fascia is highly stylised, with a swooping central area containing controls for the satnav, phone and entertainment. Beneath are straightforward heating controls, while vivid blue needles mark out the instruments behind the wheel.
The design makes the old Kuga, and indeed any rival short of the Evoque, look plain and dowdy. The problem is the sheer complexity of the menu and sub-menus on the screen. So much information is available yet we guess that some drivers simply won't bother trying to get at it.
The seats are not so firm as before and have no adjustment for the lumbar support, but the shape is a sound design and they seem very comfortable. It's the same in the back. Ford says there is little difference in space but the new Kuga seems roomier.
The rear seats now recline through three stages, which is useful for long distances. The backrests and seat cushions fold in one easy movement to leave a flat floor.
Luggage space is often disappointing in crossovers, with a capacity no better than the average mid-sized hatchback and nowhere near what you get in estate car.
The Kuga's boot, however, is now bigger than before which we suspect will broaden the appeal to many, even though it's still someway short of a class leader like the Honda CR-V. A neat option enables the boot to be opened and closed by waving your foot beneath the rear bumper - as long you have the key in your pocket. The separate opening back window of the original has been dropped.
Economy and safety
Ford says the diesels are 10% more economical than before. Realistically this means consumption in the mid-to-high thirties for this 163hp model, although the statutory figures state 47.mpg for the manual and 45.6mpg for the auto. The figure for the new 1.6 EcoBoost petrol is 42.8mpg.
Safety is high on the agenda here, Ford claiming the Kuga as a class leader. Certainly it has already received the maximum five stars in the EuroNCAP tests, it has heaps of airbags and many safety systems to help you avoid a crash in the first place.
The MSN Cars verdict
We weren't initially convinced by the looks of this new Kuga, but it grows on you. So do the improved comfort levels and better space utilisation - it's noticeably more practical than before.
Perhaps it isn't quite as much fun to drive, but the previous model set high standards in this area and the new Kuga still measures up well against most rivals. The trade-off of more comfortable suspension is one most customers will surely live with. We like it a lot.
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