Review – Ford Kuga Zetec TDCi AWD

This last few days I’ve had the Ford Kuga to put through its paces, Fords entry in to the competitive compact crossover SUV market, launched in 2008.

Kuga on the Sand

Tested here in ‘base’ Zetec TDCi spec which has an OTR price of £22,495, but as tested with optional Panther Black Metallic Paint £575 and the ‘Appearance Pack’ £275 which adds tinted rear glass & aluminium roof rails, taking it to a total price of £23,295. A hefty chunk of change, the Kuga is being pitched in to the premium sector of the range hence it only being offered in Zetec & Titanium trim levels.

Kuga rear 3/4

Appearance

The original adverts for the Kuga suggested that it was rewriting the rule book for design with a blank canvas, yet it looks like a puffed out Focus or Mondeo, it’s hardly new. It’s not like it shocks like the original Focus did, or the new Juke does, which now makes this look very reserved, and would have suited the campaign better. But the chunky styling but sporty works well, and it’s recognisable as being one of the current Fords, without being a fugly interpretation, which often happens when you try and bulk a design up.

Ford Kuga

On The Road

The Kuga irons out bumps in the road very comfortably, and is quiet and relaxed. Start pressing on though, or drive it over undulating roads and the weakness of a tall car with standard struts/springs dealing with the handling, they can’t defy the laws of physics, it wallows quite badly. There’s a local 3/4 mile stretch that looks flat, but drive it and you realise it is constant undulations, and by the time you are a 1/3rd way along and doing the legal 60mph limit, it feels like the Kuga is going to chuck you off the side of the road. Push on in the corners too fast and it’ll just scrub on the front tyres & understeer. Remember that this is a high riding car, and drive it just a bit slower than you would a hatchback and things are mainly fine.

Performance is fairly typical TDCi, the weight of the Kuga blunts it down to a 0-60 of 10 secs, feels like it has good mechanical and in the dry or wet doesn’t feel like it taxes the 4WD system at all. Low end power is there from around 1200rpm, but the real power from the turbo doesn’t kick in until above 2000rpm, however if you want to see above 40mpg from the diesel, you need to be gentle on the throttle, and change up when indicated before 2000rpm, do that and I could get 38mpg on side roads & 44mpg on the motorway, but you find yourself cruising at 60mph in amongst the lorries. At regular motorway cruising speeds expect to see closer 37mpg, and at the higher motorway cruising speeds this drops down to 34mpg. Taking it for a hard drive about the peaks I got this down to 28mpg, though a more relaxed (but not sticking to 2000rpm) drive around Lincolnshire the following day returned 34mpg again. Checking the fuel receipts (not just relying on the trip computer), over my 600 miles with the Kuga I averaged 34mpg, down on the manufacturers 37mpg urban/47mpg combined. Do note though that I am not good at eco runs in diesels, I’ve driven various over the last few years and normally somehow I get 35-38mpg out of stuff others reckon they can get 50mpg out of. So don’t take these as complete gospel figures.

Kuga on the beach

When stopped hidden in the menu section is some variable settings of ‘comfort/standard/sport’ for the electronic power steering, most of the difference could be felt at parking speeds only, with the Sport mode being heavier, but still lighter than the steering of my own car, and non of the settings giving the driver any feedback from the front wheels.

The brakes are bloody good though, strong and pull you up with no fuss, no squirming.

Having driven the Focus ST with HID lights a few weeks earlier, the Kuga standard lights were a bit of a disappointment, whilst on dipped beam they were definitely an improvement on my Audi candles, with main beam on they didn’t get much brighter, may actually question if my Audis were better at that point. As the tech is there for brighter lights, I’d want them fitting on my car, as the driving lamps on the Focus were superb, you could see the road crystal clearly and plenty of distance.

Off The Road

Kuga far off road

The Kuga is fitted with an “Intelligent All Wheel Drive” using the tried & tested Haldex 4 system. Despite any impressions given in the photos, I never really took the Kuga more than a few hundred hards ‘off road’ down a few farmers tracks, and ‘the beach’ is just some sand covered tarmac. The soft suspension ironed out the bumps of the rough tracks. In some deeper sand  around the edges of the car park it never felt that convincing that you could ‘go anywhere’, though the ground clearance did mean I could follow in some deeper tracks made by a Land Rover earlier. Venturing off in to some virgin soft sand it didn’t feel convincing enough that you could head off alone, and soon returned back in to the safety of the LR tracks, though not helped by being fitted with standard summer road tyres. I’m sure it’ll cope fine with unmade tracks to the stables or farm, but I wasn’t about to take it up some of the local Land Rover boys favoured tracks as it’d kill it.

Not fooling anyone

Inside

The Kuga is comfortable for 4-5 passengers, nice big glass area, with no major blind spots. The driving position is good and the seats reasonably comfortable and nicely sculptured, no numb bum on the long motorway run. The tops of the door cards are padded for nonchalantly resting your arm on, and the steering wheel a nice chunky leather affair.

Kuga interior front

However I do have some gripes, the Kuga is being pitched at the premium sector, but I don’t think the plastics cut it, the dash sounded hollow and cheap. The painted plastic on the radio I’ve always thought looked cheap, even back in 2003 in the Mondeo, and it definitely isn’t any better now in 2011. You can get away with it on the door triggers and the steering wheel details, but that big slab of silver, nope. Horrid.

Whilst on the subject of the radio, in standard form it comes with a single disc FM radio, it’s 2011, FM is due to be discontinued in 4 years. DAB needs to be standard, it doesn’t play MP3 discs either, something I’ve come accustomed to in cars since about 2004. No BT handsfree either, as it’s now pretty much a legal requirement, I expect that in my cars too. It does at least have a token Aux in plug inside the centre glovebox to plug in your iPod. On the plus side it does look like it’s double din unit, so technically not that hard a job to replace it in the future, just I’d like to see all those features now.

The power for your sat nav/phone sat nav etc is also tucked all the way back behind the cup holders, so it’s a long stretch over the gear lever & radio up to the windscreen, most chargers will only just reached, to save the stretch most of the time I left the iPhone in the cup holders (again no other real home at other times for a mobile) and clicked it to the screen when leaving motorways for the sat nav again.

For a car that only comes available with keyless ignition, why does it come with a steering cowling that has a hole for the key that’s then been blanked. Screams afterthought almost as much S3 Focus’s which had the recesses for the side repeaters filled in with spec badges when they suddenly decided to fit them in to the wing mirrors. The ‘Power’ button is in the middle of the dash, right where inquisitive fingers can reach. I managed to power off the car whilst it was moving at one point messing about, and can foresee the ‘dad setting off from the lights’ and kid powering down the car just as you set off scenario. If we must have push button start, can we have it out of the reach of passengers?

Kuga Boot

It’s also not that big on luggage space, like many of these MPV/SUVs, it looks big, but in reality the boot space is smaller than a 3/5dr Focus hatch with the seats up, and not much bigger with them down. The Focus Estate completely trumps it on boot space*. I really don’t get the split mini tailgate either, Ford says it’s quicker & more convenient, I don’t see how, it’s no quicker to open, , it makes for a very high load point and you haven’t got full access to the boot via the mini. I only ever used the mini tailgate for the purposes of taking pictures during my short time with it.

*Focus 3/5dr 385/1247 litres, Focus Estate 482/1525 litres, Kuga 360/1355 litres. Based on them all being mini steel spare versions.

Kuga Mini BootKuga Full Boot

Conclusion

So would I buy one? I guess if you’re in the market for a 5 seat high riding mini SUV it’d be a good choice, but for my own money there’s too many compromises. You could have a fully loaded Focus Estate Titanium (£19.5k OTR) with a bunch of options ticked inc the HID, Leather & privacy and everything else, and still have change out of the Kuga’s base £22.5k, it has more room, lower tax bracket, and it’ll handle a lot better, the Focus is one of the best in it’s class.

But go knocking on Audi’s door, and you can have the A3 Sportback TDI quattro for £23,290, so similar in price to the Kuga tested, very similar in spec, 4WD confidence for poor conditions, faster, will handle better, better built, lacks the ground clearance, but lets be honest when do most of these ever need it?

So I’d buy the Audi? Well no, I’ve no kids, so no school runs, don’t need masses of practicality if I had £23k to spend, I’d spend 3/4 of it on a 996 C4 convertible for most of the time, and spend the rest on a Land Rover Disco or an old A4 Avant quattro for shopping and bad weather runs ;-)

Of course, what do I know, evidently people are happy to live with the compromises and these compact SUVs are selling like hot cakes.

Kuga rear

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