Overall rating: 4/5
Bigger, more sophisticated and loaded with kit, the second generation Kuga has improved in every conceivable way. Will it be enough to match the sales success of the original?
In the metal 4/5
More mature would probably be the simplest way to describe the new Kuga's styling; it has morphed from cute teenager into a sophisticated woman. Only it hasn't - while the first generation SUV had a definite effeminate look the new car is more masculine - or at least asexual. The profile is characterised by strong lines that are said to have been inspired by human muscles (don't you love designer-speak?) and a distinctive glasshouse that can be seen across the Ford range. While the wheelbase remains unchanged the rest of the Kuga's proportions have shifted with 81mm grafted onto the length, 8mm chopped from the height to give it a sportier stance and 4mm removed from the width. The extra length is primarily seen in the boot space which, at 481 litres, holds 46 litres more than the outgoing model.
The boot can (if you tick the right box) be accessed via a hands-free tailgate - part of a range of technologies that has led Ford to describe the Kuga as the most technologically advanced car it has built. More about that later...
Anyone who has driven or even sat in one of Ford's recent offerings will instantly be at home in the Kuga with much of the interior fittings familiar from across the range. It does sport newly designed seats that are not only lighter, but also more comfortable. Visibility is good all around except for a blind spot over the shoulder caused by thick D-pillars that can make reversing tricky. Thankfully our test cars were fitted with reversing cameras so it did not prove too much of an issue. The screen for the camera (and satnav and multimedia functions) is small compared to those offered by some manufacturers, but its placement is ideal with little time needed looking away from the road.
Driving it 3/5
As the Kuga has grown over the previous generation we were expecting it to show on the road but thanks to some clever weight-saving the new car, like for like, weighs the same as the old one. This is despite the extra space and multitude of gadgets it holds. One of these systems is called Ford Curve Control; it is an ESP-based system that will apply the brakes to prevent understeer should the driver enter a corner too quickly. This system is complemented by torque vectoring and a torque steer compensator that will limit power to the wheels should you mash your foot to the floor.
Redesigned suspension components and a new electro-mechanical power steering system also feature to give the Kuga a composed and relaxed drive. The steering is lacking a bit in feedback though we suspect buyers will not care.
Road and wind noise was one of the primary complaints of the last car and Ford has worked hard to eradicate both with thicker insulated glass, redesigned wing mirrors and foam baffles. The result is a car that is quiet on the move with only a little diesel clatter at lower revs.
What you get for your money 4/5
Ford Ireland has chosen to offer the Kuga only with a diesel engine meaning a 2.0-litre TDCi unit in either 140- or 163hp outputs. These can be mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or dual-clutch 'Powershift' automatic. The lower output engine can be ordered with either two- or four-wheel drive while the 163hp version is offered exclusively in four-wheel drive.
Two trims - Zetec and Titanium - will be offered with 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, daytime running lights, a leather multifunction steering wheel and twin exhausts offered as standard on Zetec models. Titanium trim adds auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, half leather seats, and a Sony CD/radio with Ford SYNC. After that the sky is the limit with the options list made up of items such as the aforementioned hands-free rear hatch, active parking assist, blind spot information system, active city stop, lane-keep assist and a host of others.
Ford predicts that, by 2016, SUVs will account for ten per cent of the European car market and will attack this segment with some muster. The Kuga has already arrived in Ireland (albeit in limited numbers) and will be joined early next year by the EcoSport - a smaller crossover vehicle based on the Ford Fiesta. Later next year the Edge, a full-sized SUV straight out of Detroit, will arrive to do battle with the Volkswagen Touareg, Jeep Grand Cherokee etc.
The compact SUV/crossover segment has emerged from the downturn relatively unscathed and Ford is hoping that the new Kuga can carry on from the success of the original model. And it should; the new car has matured nicely to become not only a better looking car than its predecessor but also a better one overall.