Ford Kuga SUV (2015 - ) review
The Kuga has been with us since Adam was a lad, but it’s still a huge seller. No surprise then that Ford has added a range of more efficient engines and the latest tech to help the old boy keep pace with flashier models like the Seat Ateca and Nissan Qashqai.
Interested in buying Ford Kuga?
The latest Kugas are clearly identifiable compared to what’s gone before thanks to a large trapezoid grille and a revised tailgate, both aimed at adding a dash of panache, as well as aligning looks with its larger Edge brethren. Even basic cars look suitably chunky, but as you progress up the range, the extra licks of chrome and body kits, as well as bigger and flashier alloy wheels, add more visual drama. ST-Line cars can be identified by a bespoke front grille finished in high-gloss black, a subtle body kit, and if you look closely, you may spot the 10mm drop in ride height, designed to help improve the Kuga’s handling. Top end Vignale models feature a honeycomb grille, bespoke metallic paint colours, a body-coloured front skid plate, side-skirts, mirror caps, door handles, rear spoiler and wheelarches. There’s also some extra shiny detailing, including the roof rails picked out in chrome. Of course, Vignale examples are likely to remain a very rare sight on UK roads given their substantial price hike over the standard models.
Sadly, although Ford reckons it has added some plusher materials to the latest Kuga, too many hard plastics remain, and the overall interior design looks pretty jaded. In many areas, the cabin lacks the quality of Volkswagen Group products, and it is simply light years behind the design chic found in the latest Peugeot 3008. At least Ford’s latest SYNC3 system features rapid responses for both voice and touch commands, while the intuitive menus featuring sharp graphics do help you feel like you are piloting a reasonably contemporary vehicle. What’s more, the Kuga’s driving position is absolutely spot-on, thanks to neatly arranged pedals and a vast array of seat and steering wheel adjustment. A big part of the Kuga’s appeal is its commanding SUV driving position. The view over the bonnet is a bonus, although the chunky windscreen-pillar mounted mirrors do tend to obscure traffic approaching from the right, so an extra degree of care is required when arriving at roundabouts. Equally, a small rear screen and large rear pillars tend to make reverse parking a little tricky.
The Kuga provides a decent amount of head- and leg-room for four, but as with almost every car in this class, if you’re demoted to the middle of the rear bench, your foot space will be massively compromised by a large central tunnel running down the length of the car. Although the rear bench doesn’t slide back and forth like in the Volkswagen Tiguan, you do get a reclining backrest to help ease your passengers’ neck muscles, should they fancy a bit of shut-eye. As for the boot, it’s a decent size but not as big as many newer rivals, so you might have to fiddle around a bit to get a baby buggy to fit. There is a flat floor and a flush loading lip, however, so it’s a reasonably simple task to slide larger items in and out. Although the back seats fold down smartly enough to allow you to extend the load area, you are left with a slightly sloped load floor when they are folded, which only gets steeper in the Vignale models thanks to the extra padding stuffed into their leather seats. There is the option of a powered tailgate, which will no doubt come in handy if you regularly struggle with arms full of shopping and fractious toddlers.
Ride and handling
The Kuga is first and foremost a family car, so we don’t expect it to be flung around with unbridled abandon. That said, if a car handles, responds and engages with the driver, then it is all the safer for it. In this respect, the Kuga is right up with the best. Most models deliver a good mix of comfort and control, but if you have a passion for driving then go for one of the ST-Line models. For a start, the steering is tightly connected, delivering excellent feel and exhibiting a natural flow, both on turn-in and return to centre. Ally this precision to loads of grip and you end up with a car that is light and easy to drive in town, yet flows along twisting country roads with an ease that would put many a sports car to shame. That said, the Kuga is not the quietest of SUVs and no matter which model you choose, you’ll notice a fair bit of wind- and road noise at motorway speeds; the latter becomes pretty intrusive on coarser surfaces. Bizarrely, even when driving solo around town, you’ll swear you’re not alone. Don’t worry, though, it’s just the sound of fuel sloshing around in the Kuga’s tank.
Currently, the vast majority of Kugas are powered by diesel engines and in many respects the 1.5-litre diesel engine with 118bhp is the pick of the range. It can be a wee bit hesitant when driving off the mark, followed by quite a pronounced mid-range power surge, before getting quite vocal and running out of puff at the top end of the rev range. Even so, once you’ve learnt to moderate your accelerator inputs and quickly move through the sweet-shifting gearbox before the revs get too animated, it’s actually surprisingly strong and rewarding. Buyers also have a choice of a 2.0-litre diesel engine that’s available with 148 or 178bhp and four-wheel drive.
Finally, there’s the option of a 1.5-litre petrol engine that comes in three states of tune, including 118-, 148- and 180bhp versions. The 180bhp version is linked to a standard six-speed automatic gearbox and a weight-inducing, power-sapping four-wheel-drive system, so despite its more-than-respectable-on-paper power output, it never feels like it’s about to win any traffic light sprint races. It’s not an entirely bad engine, but it does need a pretty stiff kick to get it motivated. Once the revs climb it introduces plenty of boomy resonances into the cabin. The automatic gearbox is not the sharpest: it manages to produce plenty of bumps as it shifts, and yet it’s also prone to slurring its lines, so it feels like the engine revs are speeding up but not much else is happening.
The most efficient version of the Kuga is the 118bhp diesel with front-wheel drive. It’ll return an official average of 64.2mpg and emit 115g/km of CO2. If you happen to be in the market for some extra oomph and the reassurance of four-wheel-drive, then the fuel returns for the 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel with a manual 'box will be approximately 10mpg worse than the FWD 1.5-litre version. You might want to avoid the petrols if you value economy, because none of these will crack more than mid-forties mpg – with the more powerful motor struggling at just 38.2mpg. Purchase prices are fair-to-middling for the class, and while resale values are so-so, compared to a Volkswagen Tiguan, the Kuga is one of Ford’s most desirable models, so they’re stronger than you might imagine.
Although not the plushest SUV, the Kuga still feels very solidly assembled, which gives you confidence over how well it’ll stand the test of time. The car features lots of parts carried over from countless other Ford models, so they are tried and tested. If anything does go wrong, it won’t come as any surprise to your local Ford dealer, and shouldn’t be too expensive to put right. Even more encouragingly, Ford currently sits near the top of Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings.
The Kuga’s standard safety equipment includes stability control and seven airbags, including one to protect the driver’s knees. This and a sturdy crash structure are a big part of why the car has achieved the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests. Optional equipment includes various lane-keeping assistants and a system that applies the brakes automatically if the car senses an imminent low-speed impact.
You have a four model line-up in the Kuga range including, Zetec, Titanium, ST-Line and Vignale. As a rough guide, the base trim gives you plenty of toys, including alloy wheels, four powered windows, hill start, cruise control, air-con and a stereo with DAB, Bluetooth and voice control. However, we reckon it’s worth the upgrade to Titanium as you get plusher trim along with climate control, automatic lights and wipers, and partial leather seats. ST-Line is the sportiest option with sports seats and glossy interior highlights, but it’s the handling revisions underneath that make it the best driving Kuga. As for Vignale, yes, you get loads of visual bling as well as fancy tailored leather seats, but you also get a ludicrously high asking price, putting it in the ballpark of some pretty auspicious opposition. Ford also reckons Vignale models are specially-built and inspected when they come off the production line to ensure the highest possible build quality.
There's plenty of reason to, but as with so many things in life, you need to choose with care. No matter which Kuga you go for, you’ll be getting a robust, comfortable and very usable compact family car. If you prefer the added traction and assurance of four-wheel drive, then the 2.0-litre diesel 4WD will probably best suit your needs. For us, though, the pick of the Kuga range is the 1.5-litre diesel, which when specified with the ST-Line’s wonderful chassis, is a fantastic proposition. As well as being more affordable to buy and run than the 4WD models, it’s a highly engaging and wonderfully weighted driving machine that will make you grin even on the bleakest of Monday morning school runs.