Every month the VFACTS sales figures are conclusive: Australians, like the rest of the world, are abandoning passenger cars and flocking to SUVs. But full-size SUVs are missing a lot of the growth which is heading increasingly to small and mid-size SUVs.
With all this frantic activity of new model after new model you’d expect traditional players like Ford may be left behind in the gold rush.
Despite all the new glamorous arrivals, the mid-size Ford Kuga remains a favourite with www.carshowroom.com.au. Freshly the recipient of a mid-life update, the Ford Kuga covers the newcomers in every department and is now actually even better value priced from $27,490.
Ford Kuga Overview
Kuga is Ford’s German-origin mid-size SUV, sold in Australia in versions which (depending on the model) are built either in Germany or Thailand. Gets confusing we know but continuing paying close attention now because the changes included in the Ford Kuga TF MkII mid-life upgrade are detailed and complex.
No changes to the model range – entry-grade is the Ambiente, mid-spec is the Trend and range-topper is the Titanium. Ford Kuga Ambiente can be had in either front-wheel-drive (FWD) or all-wheel-drive (AWD) but Trend and Titanium grades are exclusively AWD.
One of the changes in the upgraded range is the availability of an Ambiente with the six-speed automatic transmission.
Three weeks back-to-back the www.carshowroom.com.au garage contained Ford Kugas in all three model grades and a selection of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines.
Ford Kuga Engine
Biggest news in the updates for the Ford Kuga TF MkII is of course the revised engine lineup. The changes broaden the spectrum of Ford’s excellent EcoBoost range.
Headline act is the new 1.5-litre GTDI EcoBoost which is standard on entry-grade Ford Kuga Ambiente and mid-range Trend. This turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine is available in two grades – with the six-speed manual transmission output is 110Kw at 6000rpm or with the six-speed automatic it blooms to 134kW at 6000rpm (in both guises peak torque of 240Nm is delivered between 1600-5000rpm).
The 110kW version scores combined-cycle fuel consumption as low as 6.3l/100kms (manual) while the 134kW version rates at 7.4l/100kms.
The other petrol engine and, in our eyes the pick of the bunch, is the 2.0-litre GTDI which is optional on Trend AWD versions or standard in Titanium grade. Also offering direct fuel-injection and turbocharging, the Ford Kuga 2.0-litre is good for 178kW of power at 5500rpm and peak torque of 345Nm from 2000-4500rpm.
Diesel power comes in the form of Ford’s lauded 2.0-litre TDCi Duratorq with 132kW of power at 3500rpm and peak torque of 400Nm between 2000-2500rpm.
Ford Kuga The Interior
Back-to-back-to-back in our three Ford Kugas over three weeks enabled a considered process regarding the trim levels (Ambiente, Trend and Titanium). Critical really because for new cars buyers, the interior is perhaps the swinging vote…and we all know how painful a ‘hung’ parliament becomes!
Of course the basics in the Ford Kuga are excellent. A nice dashboard layout (modeled from a mobile phone keypad we’re told), slick instrumentation is a recessed, curved binnacle (now with a digital compass as standard) and Ford’s European style four-spoke steering wheel which is nicely sized and affords tilt/telescopic adjustment.
Standard is the latest version of the Microsoft-developed Ford SYNC connectivity system with voice-control. Entry-level Ford Kuga Ambiente runs a 3.5-inch multi-function display; it’s a 4.2-inch in Trend and a 5.0-inch colour display with satellite navigation in Titanium.
We found the front seats in all models provided good support but the report card for the rear isn’t so kind. Yes, there’s plenty of space but the seat is rather flat.
In terms of specifications, over the entry-grade Ambiente, Trend models add items such as dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers and headlights, Sony audio system with DAB+ radio, 10-way electronic adjustment for the drivers’ seat, and leather highlights in the seats.
Titanium versions of course get the full enchilada on top of the Trend specs with extras including leather upholstery, satellite navigation, rearview camera, electronically-operating panoramic glass roof, heated front seats, front parking sensors, active park assist and the hands-free ‘soccer kick’ tailgate.
Ford Kuga Exterior & Styling
In a field which contains some rather plain designs, Ford Kuga - and Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 for that matter - stands boldly apart with a unique contemporary look which gets our vote. The work of the folk at Ford’s styling studios in Cologne, Germany has never been shabby and, for us, the Kuga ranks amongst their best.
Up-front we see the usual modern look with complex bonnet shut-lines running along the sides of the fenders, the ‘wraparound’ headlights (this time size ‘L’ rather than ‘XS’) with Bi-xenons and DRLs on range-topping Titanium grade, a thin upper grille and large air intakes underneath. We like the bonnet creases which introduce a powerful edge.
Side view sees a sharp taper for the three-window layout – running to a ‘reverse taper’ D-pillar. Side creases and bulging wheel-arches are again a modern touch and are nicely executed.
At the rear, Ford Kuga continues its sophisticated, complex look with nice horizontal lines for the tailgate, a substantial curve for the glass and large tail-lights.
As part of the TF MkII upgrade, three new paint colours were added to the Ford Kuga palette: ‘Ruby Red’, ‘Magnetic’ and ‘Tiger Eye’.
Ford Kuga On The Road
Three weeks, three Ford Kugas, all three available engines. Can’t get better service than that.
For us, top billing went to the 2.0-litre GTDi EcoBoost powerplant. Yes we know it’s only available in AWD versions of the Trend ($39,490) and range-topping Titanium as tested ($46,990) but it’s a jet and well worth the extra coin if you can scrape-up the bucks.
We liked the grunt of the 178kW/345Nm for sure but just as impressive was the refinement of Ford’s turbo 2.0-litre. Ford’s nice six-speed automatic transmission was part of that picture.
Our entry-level Ford Kuga Ambiente was – naturally – powered by the new 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine and it too was top-shelf.
For many people however, it is Ford’s improved Duratorq 2.0-litre turbo-diesel which commands attention in the Kuga lineup. Compared with the most direct rivals, Kuga diesel (132kW) is the most powerful and its 400Nm of torque, is only marginally shaded by the Mazda CX-5.
Overlaying those powerplants is the chassis…which is excellent. Ford Kuga runs the usual MacPherson strut front and ‘Control Blade’ rear we know from Ford and, by any measure, it is a car enthusiast drivers will appreciate (more so than some rivals).
Over our high-speed mountain roads test loop, all three of our Ford Kugas put in a slick display with positive turn-in, little body roll and commendable precision. Naturally the range-topping Titanium model was top of the class thanks to its 19-inch alloy wheels and 235/45 R19 rubber.
For a car with European origins we were pleasantly surprised by the Ford Kuga’s compliance over bumps and rough roads. While its suspension calibration felt firmer than a Honda CR-V, at no time did we find it approaching too harsh (a point often applied to German vehicles).
First time SUV or female buyers are encouraged to test-drive the Ford Kuga. We reckon you will find the driveability, visibility and maneuverability to your liking (the handy 11.1-metre turning circle is one of the best) – we just wish the reversing camera wasn’t the exclusive domain of the range-topping Titanium model.
Ford Kuga Issues
The Ford Kuga isn’t flying solo in not offering a reversing camera as standard across the range. But this safety item should be standard in every SUV (and any other vehicle really).
Ford Kuga Verdict
Best car in this league is a coin toss between the Ford Kuga and the Mazda CX-5. Yes folks if you’re buying a mid-size SUV in this price league and you don’t make the trip to a Ford Dealer you’re a dunce.
You’ll read plenty of great reviews on the top-selling Mazda (including from www.carshowroom.com.au) but trust us the German-origin Kuga ranks just as high in every department. And that includes driving dynamics which is the measure by which the CX-5 generally comes-up trumps in direct comparisons with other mid-size SUVs.
Ford’s turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine is a cracker but if that’s a little pricey for you, the turbo 1.5-litre isn’t just a ‘reserve grade’ player - it can compete in the big league very nicely. And you’ll get no complaints from us about the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel either.
We like the looks and the interior is a standout for styling, material quality and practicality.
Ford Kuga The Competition
There’s an armada of noteworthy mid-size SUVs in this price range but here are the stars in our books:
Honda CR-V starts at $27,490 and is the winner for interior space and we’re keen on the looks inside and out. Stretch to the 2.4-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel if you can.
Kia Sportage is great vale from $25,990 and, given its sharp looks…well the TV commercials with the ‘rappers’ are appropriate. Petrol or diesel, 2WD or AWD, there’s plenty to choose from in the Kia Sportage range. Sharp driving dynamics are a plus but the interior is a tad squeezy compared to some in this league. Kia’s 7-7-7 (warranty, roadside assistance and capped-price servicing also counts a lot for family buyers.
Wining the sale race for good reason is Mazda’s CX-5. Priced from $27,190, and also in diesel or petrol, 2WD or AWD, the CX-5 rivals the Ford Kuga for driving dynamics and its suite of SkyActiv technology rewards in performance, refinement…and just about anything else you can think of.