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Click to view road test review picture galleryFord’s first crossover
  model, the Kuga —
  part SUV, part MPV,
  part hatchback —
  is a five-seat, five-door
  vehicle with intelligent
  four-wheel drive...”


FORD'S FIVE-SEAT FORD KUGA IS DESCRIBED AS A CROSSOVER SUV model, closely based on the medium sized C-Max MPV and the new Focus hatchbacks. It has the looks of an elongated and lofty five-door hatchback and follows Ford's latest 'kinetic design' programme which provides for sharper, edgy styling. Ford's very first crossover model, it has the powertrain of an intelligent four-wheel-drive SUV.

The best selling Kuga model is predicted to be the diesel-powered 2.0 TDCi in Zetec specification; and two out of three customers are expected to be private buyers. In a full year, Ford are expecting to sell around 7,000 Kugas — representing about 12 per cent of the crossover sector. Initial indications from CAP analysts suggest the model would hold 83 per cent of its value after 12 months and 47 per cent over three years — on paper this makes it the best in its class.

The Kuga range will initially be launched in June with a 134bhp 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine and a 6-speed manual gearbox. It will be joined later this year by a 197bhp five-cylinder petrol derivative.

Diesel model prices will start at 20,495 for the entry-level Zetec and 22,495 for the Titanium, but no prices are yet available for the hotter petrol models or for the automatics which will join the range at the same time.

Added height for the Kuga's suspension gives reasonable ground clearance and a taller silhouette. The vehicle has a longer wheelbase with wider track than its Ford C-Max and Focus stablemates and boasts a split tailgate. Its 60:40 split back seats can be folded flat to raise capacity from 410 to 1,355 litres, and customers can order a 230v power socket for the rear passengers to run laptops or games machines.

Ford has been keen to ensure the Kuga sets class-leading driving dynamics so based its suspension on the set-ups found in the latest Focus and Mondeo models — but it's been uprated for its off-road ability.

Engines, too, are 'lifted' from other Ford models: the 2.0-litre TDCi engine is straight from Ford's car and MPV models and it's matched to the familiar Durashift 6-speed manual gearbox. Drive to the four wheels is through a Haldex AWD (all-wheel drive) system which automatically senses wheel-spin and accordingly adjusts the power distribution to the wheels with the most grip.

The 2.0-litre TDCi engine has maximum power of 134bhp produced at 4,000rpm but there's 236lb ft of torque available at half that engine speed, with a further 15lb ft available as overboost. With this engine — the most popular in the full line-up — the Kuga reaches 62mph in 10.7 seconds and runs to a maximum speed of 112mph with a claimed 44.1mpg overall and CO2 emissions of 169g/km. Petrol models will be quicker but less fuel efficient.

The Kuga will launch with two trim levels — Zetec models get a 'Ford power' starter button with keyless ignition, air conditioning and quick clear windows, easy fuel protection system, sports seats and powered windows and mirrors as well as extensive safety and stability systems.

Titanium trim versions get partial leather and upgraded trim, an enhanced sound system, cruise control, intelligent lights, wipers and dual-zone AirCon.

In addition, owners can specify Appearance and Convenience packs and the full X Pack comes with full leather, panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon lights and solar reflecting windscreen. There are ten colour choices.

In the metal, the Kuga looks tall (1,710mm) but not particularly wide (1,842mm) or long (4,443mm) and the overhangs are short. From behind the wheel it feels very agile and manoeuvrable — dynamically, it has the sharp responses of the latest Focus and S-Max models. The driver also enjoys excellent sight lines to the front and sides; although over-the-shoulder and reversing vision is not particularly good and parking sensors are a must.

There's also good pull in the mid-range from the 2.0-litre TDCi turbodiesel engine; although it is sluggish accelerating from standstill. However, it cruises with composure and very little noise at the motorway maximum.

The gearchange action is positive and slick, the weight-selectable steering precise with good feedback and the braking progressive. During a brief off-road section on the test route the Kuga proved to be capable enough at tackling muddy hills and descents with small ridges or potholes sprinkled along the track.

Bad holes, off or on road, jar and unsettle the suspension but generally it copes very well. The overall impression is of a smooth riding, low-rolling and sharp-handling vehicle with, thanks to the seating flexibility of the C-Max mid-sized MPV, enough room for five passengers and useful load and luggage space.

Joining the ranks of the Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander and VW Tiguan, to name just a few, the Kuga faces stiff opposition in a sector under pressure from the anti-4x4/SUV lobby, high fuel prices and higher road taxes.

But Ford needs a crossover or SUV vehicle in its line-up to keep customers loyal to the brand. In reality, fleet users will be high on the sales agenda I'm sure, and the Kuga could also become a popular vehicle for users such as the Police.

Whoever ends up buying and using the Ford Kuga will enjoy the sharp and distinctive styling, the body height advantage and capacity of a traditional 4x4 without the high running costs. It's also capable on and off road, comes with a practical interior and the price is competitive. Along with the good points, owners will have to accept limited rear and rear quarter visibility as well as sluggish acceleration from a standing start and that fact that deep potholes can unsettle the ride.

However, there's no doubt that the new Kuga will make a sales impact in its sector, although to some extent its own stablemates — the C-Max, S-Max and Focus — will be its strongest competition. For quite a while existing Ford users have not had an opportunity to own or run a Ford-branded SUV/crossover vehicle, so expect some substitutional sales to occur. — David Miles

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Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Zetec | 20,495
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 44.1mpg | Power: 134bhp | Torque: 236lb ft

CO2 169g/km | VED Band E 170 | Insurance group TBC
www.ford.co.uk

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