14 November 2013

Road Test: Ford Kuga

Ford's new Kuga is the brand's smartest SUV yet. It can think for itself and call up the Emergency Services in case of an accident, writes Trish Whelan.

It had to be good to compete with its mainstream competitors as well as rivals from more premium brands. It also shatters the myth than a SUV can't be green, high-tech, and capable all at once!

Ford expect this latest Kuga to bring more customers to the brand with many families now opting for SUV/crossovers as their family car.

It is certainly better looking than before, more rounded in styling, and with more road presence. The style is not aggressive, though, which will help attract more women buyers. The car is longer, lower but narrower than the model it replaces.

The test car's exterior colour was Ginger Ale. It didn't look like Ginger Ale as I know it, but I am reliably informed by someone whose family was in the pub business, that it does indeed resemble Ginger Ale as it was sold in times past.

Two grades are offered: Zetec and Titanium.

Diesel engines are a 2.0 TDCI with 140hp in front-wheel drive and AWD versions offering from around 5.3 L/100km (53mpg) and 139g/km C02; and a 163hp version that achieves from 5.9 L/100km (48mpg) and 154g/km C02. Fuel consumption has been improved by 10 percent when compared to the older model. The trip computer on the FWD 140hp Zetec test car showed 6.7 L/100km during my time with it (42mpg). This version is in VRT Band B2.

The review car is the 2.0 TDCi 140hp with FWD. This smooth diesel engine is well matched to the 6-speed manual transmission - the slick gearbox is a real joy to use. Ride and handling as well as steering have all been improved.

Kuga excels on new features and new technologies. These include Ford's Intelligent AWD system which includes Curve Control exclusive to the Blue Oval brand. This acts as a safeguard if you drive into a bend too fast acting against severe understeer by braking aggressively. It can also reduce engine torque.

In an accident and with the airbags deployed, the SYNC connectivity with Emergency Assist uses the on-board GPS locator and your mobile phone (it must be connected to Bluetooth) to set up the emergency services call and provide the co-ordinates, all in the local language, wherever you are. Ford say this is the most technology they have ever offered in any of their cars in Europe.

Climb inside and you notice the good quality of the materials. Lots of space with huge head and leg room as well as elbow room. Seats are snug and hold you in nicely. Three will fit easily and in comfort in the rear. These rear seats can fold flat in one swoop for extra cargo room. Being on the short side, I like a high driving position for better visibility and, always a boon, the front armrest can slide forward with you when you move your seat in closer for a good driving position.

The speedometer is on the right of the instrument panel and the landmark 120km/h is at the top.

The one thing I don't like in Ford cars is the now out-of-date centre console designed like the face of an old mobile phone ... we've long since moved on to using smartphones.

All round visibility is good. Big side mirrors have a blind spot cover, always appreciated. But I bemoaned the fact that there was no reversing camera. However, there were rear parking sensors which helped when parking tail-in into a parking slot. The handsfree powered tailgate takes the stress out of trying to find your key to open the car with your arms full of shopping. A simple wave of your foot below the rear bumper does the trick and hey presto! the tailgate opens up high for you. It will still work with a towbar fitted. There's now 46 litres more luggage space than before and, a necessity for a family car, a temporary spare below the boot floor.

The Zetec entry grade gives 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, heated windshield, cruise control, daytime running lights, hill start assist, twin exhausts, a driver's knee airbag, alarm, trip computer and remote audio controls. The Titanium spec adds automatic headlights and wipers, front scuff plates, dual zone air con, driver's lumbar support, part leather seats, Ford SYNC connectivity, a premium centre console with a sliding armrest.

New Kuga scored a maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP after achieving an overall protection score of 88 percent, the highest-ever for a mid-sized SUV.

The car is built in Ford's plant in Valencia, in Spain where production has been increased to cope with demand. It is the first SUV the company will export to 72 markets in five continents.

Prices are from €33,450-€45,640; the top price is for the 4WD Powershift in Band D. Price excludes delivery and related charges. Kuga comes with a 5-year manufacturer's warranty as standard.