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Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium 2WD

Click to view picture galleryTwo wheels on my ‘wagon and
Im still rolling along — Ford has just
  brought out a two-wheel drive
  version of its Kuga SUV
  that costs
£2,000 less to buy and is
  cheaper to run...

FORD HAS JUST LAUNCHED THE KUGA WITH TWO-WHEEL DRIVE in Zetec and Titanium specification versions with 134bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engines and lower CO2 emissions of 159g/km. This means they can now compete equally against Nissan's highly-successful Qashqai range of 4x4 and 4x2 crossovers.

Nissan has scored heavily with SUV crossover sales, taking the Qashqai to the top of the SUV market in the UK. Tellingly, three quarters of Qashqai sales are for front-wheel drive versions that are less costly in terms of CO2 emissions (and consequently road tax) as well as being less pricey to buy in a credit-crunched world.

Which is why Ford has followed their lead. The Blue Oval's front-wheel drive Kuga has the same 134bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine as the initial all-wheel drive Kugas but with 159g/km as opposed to 169g/km — so customers save 25 on their road tax by choosing 2WD.

It also means that following Ford's recent price increases (due to the fall in value of the British Pound against the Euro), the 2WD newcomer is now the entry model at 19,790 — making it a hefty 2,000 cheaper than the 4WD version.

Ford expects 30% of the 7,000 Kuga UK buyers this year to opt for the 2WD versions. The UK's SUV market shows a significantly smaller drop in sales than other sectors because the buying public still love their SUVs whether they are two- or four-wheel driven. They also like the looks and the practicality offered by these versatile, high-off-the-ground family-carriers.

So, the new Kuga 2WD saves on fuel, CO2 emission costs and purchase price while retaining all the style and five-door, five-position seating of the original model. Officially, the 2WD TDCi Kuga will return 46.3mpg — over 2mpg better than the AWD model. In reality a recent brief road test on busy roads showed my 2WD Kuga to be drinking fuel at the economical rate of 36.5mpg — for a car of this size, that's pretty good. Also easy to live with is the road tax bill of 150.

In most other respects — ride quality, agility, comfort and specification — the 2WD Kuga is the same as the AWD version. It isn't, perhaps, quite so settled or controlled on poorer road surfaces due partly to its lighter weight and partly to only having front-wheel drive. But I doubt most users will notice any difference and will be happy to still be able to own a lifestyle SUV for less money. For the record, the braked towing weight is 2,000kg.

With regard to the new Kuga 2.5-litre addition, this model uses the five-cylinder Duratec petrol unit (already found in the Focus ST, Mondeo and S-MAX) with AWD and with manual or automatic gearbox options. Priced at 25,090 (and 26,290 in auto spec) and only available with the comprehensive Titanium specification, these models are aimed at those established owners of large 4x4s now downsizing due to running costs and high taxes but still wanting vehicles with good road and reasonable off-road performance and with a high level of luxury equipment.

Not that the Kuga 2.5 comes cheap or has low road tax (which will cost 405 a year) — and only about 5% of Kuga's 7,000 customers this year are opting for these versions — but at least Ford can now offer a 'premium' 4x4.

With 197bhp and 236lb ft of torque from 1,600rpm, the turbocharged petrol engine provides for a top speed of 129mph with zero to 62mph taking just 8.9 seconds. Officially, this Kuga will return on average 28.5mpg although my test car eventually ended up doing 21.1mpg — but for much of the time on a motorway the figure was below 20mpg.

Yes, this Kuga looks very good inside and out; and it's fast and responsive — but at a cost. With this amount of power, the all-wheel drive traction is a must. What it does do is show just how good modern high-powered, high-tech SUVs handle: more and more like large family cars.

So, two driven wheels or four? Choosing two gets you a worthwhile crossover that saves on price, fuel and CO2 charges while still looking the business. The trade-off is that it's not as controlled in the handling department as the AWD models. — David Miles

Ford Kuga
2.0 TDCi Titanium 2WD | 21,790
Maximum speed: 113mph | 0-62mph: 10.6 seconds | Overall test MPG: 36.5mpg
Power: 134bhp | Torque: 236lb ft | CO2 159g/km | Insurance group 10