Seemingly every major manufacturer has a 4x4 product nowadays. June Neary tries Ford's. It's called the Kuga and in second generation form, it's far more family-friendly
Will It Suit Me?
The Qashqai-class family Crossover is a type of car that you either like or loath. With this sort of model, either the aggressive grilles, flared wheelarches and questionable ability to tame mother nature's harshest terrain speak to you on a primeval level - or you'll think it's all a bit silly and over the top. Of course, there are different degrees of 'Crossovery-ness' and these days, the boundary between this kind of car and a proper 4x4 SUV has never been blurrier. Perhaps the non-believers should take another look at this controversial class of vehicle? If there's any model with the qualities to persuade them, then I think Ford's Kuga must have a chance. The Kuga puts up very little pretence of off-road ability. Instead, Ford has taken the refreshing approach of creating a car of his kind that's designed to reward at the wheel - a rare attribute in this class. Despite that, buyers still get the usual Crossover class virtues, namely a high driving position and the easy access of a 4x4 SUV thanks to a tall shape and raised ride height. There's also the option of 4x4 transmission that will allow the car to tackle the gravel driveways and grassy banks owners might occasionally encounter while also providing enhanced grip on the tarmac. Importantly, however, by doing without the heavy-duty suspension needed for serious off-road driving and borrowing its underpinnings from the Ford Focus hatchback, the Kuga has the pedigree for a car-like driving experience. All that remains to be seen is how it stacks up in the real world.
The Kuga's looks are certainly appealing. Ford has managed to strike a neat balance between the cute and the sporty with the aggressive angles of its bold front end and the compact, stocky proportions of the vehicle as a whole. The interior is similarly easy to like with lots of classy chrome and aluminium finishes, particularly on the up-spec models, and controls that are straightforward to master. Space in the front is fine and rear legroom is much better than the previous generation version of this car could offer. In the cargo area, you'll find 438-litres of space if the seatbacks are in a fully reclined position. Make the seatbacks more upright and you can increase the space available to 481-litres. Or 492-litres if you re-position the adjustable load floor to its lowest setting. Plus of course you can fold the seatbacks flat, a neat operation that needs just a pull on the seat-mounted lever that sees the rear backrests flip and fold forward. The result isn't a totally flat load area but it is quite a large one with at least 1,615-litres of space, much more than you'd get in a comparable Nissan Qashqai.
Behind the Wheel
Most of the versions that people actually buy are powered by a Ford 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine. This unit has either 150PS or a rounder-looking 180PS. The difference between the performance of the two versions of this engine isn't great with even the lower-powered option managing sixty from rest in around 10.1s on the way to 121mph flat out in 2WD form. The alternative is Ford's 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit with 120 or 150PS as a 2WD manual or 182PS as an AWD automatic. The lower-powered option might even make more sense than the diesel for lower mileage owners. Fuel economy shouldn't keep prospective owners awake at night. In AWD guise, the 150PS 2.0 TDCi engine returns a healthy 54.3mpg and carbon dioxide emissions are a similarly benign 135g/km. Go for the lighter 2WD model and these figures are improved to 60.1mpg and 122g/km. The front-driven 150PS 1.5-litre petrol version manages 45.6mpg and 143g/km.
Value For Money
If, having considered all of this, you conclude that it is indeed a Kuga that you really want, then you'll expect it to be well equipped. And by and large, whichever five-door five-seat, two or four-wheel drive, manual or automatic variant you decide upon - 1.5T petrol EcoBoost or 2.0 TDCi diesel - you shouldn't be disappointed. 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 are all standard.
Could I Live With One?
Crossover models of this kind have developed into a bit of a touchy subject over the last few years. Are they really all style over substance? This Kuga offers a credible answer to that query. It's efficient, practical and surprisingly good to drive. If you're shopping in this segment, it needs to be on your list.