Ford's first Kuga was a success in this country but the second generation model has far bigger aspirations. And it at last offers a credible petrol-engined option. Jonathan Crouch checks out the 1.5-litre EcoBoost version.
Ten Second Review
The Ford Kuga remains a strong contender in revised second generation form. There's still no seven seat option but this MK2 model's extra 81mm of length and an additional 71 litres of carrying capacity make it a far more practical proposition than its predecessor. And it's just as good to drive. Especially in 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol form where 120, 150 and 182PS options are offered, the pokiest unit provided with auto transmission and 4WD.
The first problem with the first generation Ford Kuga wasn't that difficult to identify. It was just too small. For the amount of money you were paying, which was upwards of £21,000, you weren't getting a whole lot of metal for your money. This was a sustainable strategy when the cheaper and larger Korean opposition were a bit of a joke but it was never going to last. When Kias, Hyundais and SsangYongs became something to be reckoned with, the Kuga's sales began to tail off pretty sharply. Partly also because of the second issue: namely, the lack of a credible petrol-engined option. All MK1 Kuga buyers were offered was the thirsty 2.5-litre five cylinder petrol engine from the Focus ST in an expensive top-line variant that almost nobody bought. Still, at least Ford's development team found it quite easy to see what to do with the second generation car. Make it much like the first, but with more space and a sustainable petrol-engined option. Which is exactly what we've got. Hence this test - of the 1.5-litre EcoBoost model.
The few Kuga customers who decide against the couple of 2.0-litre TDCi diesel on offer get to choose from three 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost petrol units rated at either 120, 150 or 182PS, the two lower-powered variants both managing the same torque figure of 240Nm. Those entry-level petrol models are available in front-wheel drive guise with a manual gearbox, but the 182PS version is sold exclusively as an all-wheel drive chassis with the Powershift automatic gearbox. All Kuga models get a quick and well-weighted electrically assisted steering system, although the strong self-centring action takes a little getting used to. Although Ford's engineers deny it, the chassis of this model feels softer than the first generation car, so the ride is better, but there's not that same puppyish attitude as before. Call it part of the growing up process. The four-wheel drive system lends the Kuga a modicum of off-road ability but it comes into its own on road when pedalling the car quite hard. The torque vectoring control system reduces the sort of understeer you'd expect in a car of this type and sniffs out grip extremely well, shuttling drive between front and rear axles far more adeptly than, say, the Haldex system used extensively in Volkswagen group products. Drive a bit more sedately and you'll be impressed by the Kuga's ride quality and refinement. It can do the sporty thing but feels happiest when wafting. We'll take that.
Design and Build
The styling of the second generation Kuga sports an evolutionary look. Even if you'd never seen one before, the shape of the windows, the headlights and the rising belt line is all quite similar to its MK1 model predecessor, which is no bad thing as that car was always one of the best-looking contenders in its class. As before, it's based on Focus underpinnings, but this one has a much larger task ahead of it. Ford's global policy is to reduce the number of different vehicle platforms across its portfolio, so this car not only has to replace the old Kuga in the UK and Europe, but it also has to replace the bigger Escape in the USA. Just looking at its build process hints at Ford's big picture. The chassis is built in Cologne, the powertrain in Dagenham and the upper body and interior in Detroit. Escapes are built in Louisville, America, and final assembly for Kugas is in Valencia, Spain. The extra 81mm of length and some cleverer packaging solutions mean that this Kuga is properly spacious for four or five passengers, although the lack of occasional sixth and seventh seats may see it stripped from some lists. There's decent headroom all round, despite the car being 8mm lower than before. Rear legroom is good too; certainly better than you'd get in a five-door Focus - which is quite an achievement given the requirement to package the all-wheel drive mechanicals. The rear seats also recline at the pull of a handle. These same handles also allow the seats to fold flat. The new car's additional length is largely accounted for by luggage space. The old car had 410-litres of space available but even with the rear seats in their fully reclined position, there's 438-litres in the latest car. Put the seats to a more upright position and you get up to 481-litres.
Market and Model
As you might expect, petrol power is the cheapest way into Kuga ownership. The entry-level 120PS version of this 1.5T unit mated with 2WD costs around £20,000. You're looking at having to find £1,000 if you want the 150PS version most will want -that's about £1,500 less than the comparable 2.0 TDCi 150PS diesel version. Petrol buyers do get the option of AWD and auto transmission, but it only comes packaged up with the pokier 182PS version of the EcoBoost engine at a £27,000 price point that many of them won't want to stretch to. Standard kit across the range runs to alloy wheels, daytime running lights, front foglights, a Quickclear heated windscreen, powered heated mirrors, a Thatcham Category 1 alarm, decent quality 6-speaker CD stereo system, air conditioning, cruise control and a hill start assist system to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.. For me, a must-have feature is the clever Ford SYNC system with Emergency Assistance. This connects with MP3 players, Bluetooth-enabled 'phones and USB drives and allows you to receive audible text messages. Better still, should you be involved in an accident, the system will automatically call the emergency services in the language of whatever country you're in and give them your exact GPS location. Talking of safety, this car gets ISOFIX childseat fastenings and a full tally of seven airbags - twin front, side and curtain 'bags, as well as a driver's knee 'bag. Plus all the usual electronic assistance for traction and stability control to hopefully ensure that you'll never have to use them.
Cost of Ownership
You wouldn't expect Ford's second generation Kuga to be anything other than bigger and faster than before, while at the same time offering better emissions, economy and improved residual values to boot. It's the sort of magic trick we just expect manufacturers to be able to pull of these days and one that, once again has been managed here thanks to ECOnetic Ford features like smart regenerative charging (that reclaims energy that would otherwise be lost under braking) and an Active Grille Shutter (that reduces drag and cuts fuel consumption). As a result, this Kuga's all-turbocharged engine line-up now manages to return a pretty efficient set of running cost figures. Petrol Kuga models benefit from an Auto-Start-Stop system able to automatically cut the engine when it's not needed, say when stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. As a result, both 120PS and 150PS versions of the 1.5-litre petrol unit with front-wheel drive achieve 45.6mpg on the combined cycle and 143g/km CO2. These figures fall to 38.2mpg and 171g/km if you go for this petrol engine in 182PS form mated to AWD and automatic transmission.
The Ford Kuga does enough to appeal right now. It's good-looking, spacious, well-priced and drives very well. It's a little different in its emphasis than before, feeling a bit more grown-up than its MK1 predecessor and riding a whole lot better. The thing is, perhaps Ford's continuity with this vehicle has been taken a little too far. Is this second generation design the big bold step that Land Rover achieved with its Evoque? Maybe not. Ford will point to the fact that the Kuga is much cheaper and they'd have a point, but the inevitable result of trying to build one vehicle for many markets is that the extremity of design inevitably gets watered down. So while it's not quite as exciting as some may have hoped for, there can be little doubt that this latest Kuga remains a strong contender in the family Crossover segment. The 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine will make sense for lower mileage buyers and value-wise, it slots into a price point that offers clear air between the best of the Koreans and competitors like the Audi Q3 and the Range Rover Evoque. In other words, it looks like reprising the old car's success all over again.