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Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium

Click to view picture galleryFord may have been a latecomer
  to the Crossover feast; but it was
  clearly biding its time checking out
  what drivers really want from the
  breed. The result, the Kuga, has been
  well worth the wait

BASED ON FORD'S HATCHBACK FOCUS and C-MAX MPV, the Kuga is a distinctive five-door, five-seater all-purpose vehicle with intelligent all-wheel drive. Visually, its lofty and lengthened hatch looks are enhanced by Ford's current edgy-but-clean-cut 'kinetic' body styling.

Stand-out features include distinctive headlamps, contoured bonnet and large front grille, pronounced wheel arches and a muscular shoulder line. And at 1,710mm tall, 1,842mm wide and 4,443mm long, you shouldn't have much difficulty fitting one inside your garage.

Unlike many Ford ranges, choosing an engine for your Kuga will not cause much heart-searching — because just one engine and two trim levels are currently available. Power is firmly in the diesel camp with a 134bhp 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi unit drivng through a six-speed manual gearbox. Kuga prices kick off at 20,900 for the entry-level Zetec, rising to 22,900 for the top-spec Titanium variant. The any-fuel-so-long-as-it's-diesel is not a problem, because this unit not only suits the Kuga but will suit almost all drivers: it is quiet, and has more than enough power for smooth driveability.

As is often the way with soft-roaders and crossovers, few owners will be venturing far off the beaten track with them. A fact reflected by the Kuga's 'intelligent' on-demand 4x4 system that analyses driving conditions and automatically decides how much power each wheel needs to suit the road/terrain conditions. Although up to 50 per cent of drive can be sent to the rear wheels when needed, for most of the time you effectively get front-wheel drive. And all done without any driver intervention.

But, if you should hear the call of the wild, then the Kuga's ground clearance is sufficiently good — and the front and rear overhangs sufficiently short — for you to drive some way off the highway. More everyday tasks, such as hauling a boat and trailer up a slippery slipway, are easily managed.

Most Kuga's — despite the echoes of 'cougar' in the name — will be found inhabiting more civilised surroundings. With a chassis that has much in common with Europe's best-selling car — the Focus — it's not such a big surprise to find that the Kuga delivers similar predictable driving dynamics to those of its well-respected stablemate. We found the Kuga a lovely car to drive and instantly felt at home with our test model.

SUVs aren't usually sharp around corners but the Kuga's cornering ability is more than impressive for a tallish vehicle with a longish wheelbase; although it does benefit from a wider track than its C-Max and Focus brethren. Not only does the Kuga stay level in the corners, it can also — helped by well-contained body roll and nicely crisp and consistent steering — be thrown around quite safely. Incidentally, the driver has the option of selecting the 'weighting' of the steering — in addition to the perfectly fine standard setting they can choose 'sporty' (more weighting) or 'comfort' (more power assistance). Discs are fitted both front and rear and braking is progressive and effective. You could even say it's on the uneventful side: you brake; the Kuga stops. But then the name of the game is reassuring predicitability.

No complaints, either, about the ride (even on the test car's 18-inch alloys fitted with 235/50 rubber), which is well damped, rarely ruffled and keeps all travellers comfortable. The bodyshell feels stiff — in a well-put-together way — even traipsing over rutted country tracks. For most of the time, sharp bumps and bad holes are soaked up without any jarring. And even the bad ones are smoothed out. Overall, there's a likeable feeling of solidity and an ambience that's definitely more car-like than SUV/4x4-like. In fact, its defining character is that of an all-purpose family hatchback — albeit with the added security that the on-demand all-wheel drive provides.

A major factor in the Kuga's sweet driveability is the 2.0-litre TDCi turbodiesel under the bonnet — a tried and tested powerplant that can be found throughout the Ford range. This puts out 134bhp at 4,000rpm. But as it is torque — and not horsepower, that determines an engine's flexibility and performance — more important is the Kuga's 236lb ft of torque. Available from 2,000rpm, there's also an additional 15lb ft on overboost during hard acceleration. Which explains why it feels far brisker on the move than its 'straight-line' acceleration paper figure would suggest.

Like most diesels, being in the 'right' gear is a cardinal rule for smooth and pacey progress. Happily, the high-mounted gearchange action is positively slick and makes working the six-speed gearbox a pleasure.

And the foolproof gearbox is a good match to the Kuga's 2.0 TDCi, which pulls strongly in the mid-range — sufficient to get the Kuga to 62mph from standstill in 10.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 112mph. Officially, it will return 44.3mpg overall and as much as 52.5mpg on longer runs and although our combined figure over a week's hard testing was 36.3mpg, a little less throttle would have improved that. Motorways are cruised easily with commendable composure and, thanks to a mere 2,000rpm called for on the rev-counter at the legal limit, very little noise of any kind.

While not unwieldy, the Kuga is nevertheless not a small car — as is instantly brought home to you when you sit inside. A good start: it's very easy to get into — even for the elderly and those with minor disabilities. The interior is very spacious and comfortable — the panoramic full-length glass roof floods the interior with light but if you find it too much you can manually close the front and rear sun blinds. Most, I suspect, will choose to let the sunlight in. And, of course, in the Kuga everyone sits that bit higher above most other road-users.

The panelled, leather-covered front seats are sportily shaped with ample bolstering and manual lumbar adjustment — and very comfortable to travel in. The passenger's is manually operated but the driver can fine tune with power seat adjustment and generous reach and rake adjustment of the four-spoke, leather-clad, multi-function steering wheel to get to a first-class driving position. A finger pad on the side of the steering column provides easy remote operation of the audio and voice control without moving your palm from the wheel.

The on-board computer — with a red LED display between the rev-counter and speedometer — is operated via one of the sturdy column stalks. Both seats also have a good range of height adjustment and the front seats belts, too, are height adjustable. The icing on the cake is the excellent 5-stage set heating on both seats. This satisfying physical comfort is enhanced on the move by good cabin insulation and the Kuga's compliant ride quality.

Titanium spec models have a smart, modern fascia with a brushed-aluminium centre stack neatly housing the bulk of the controls in a functional arrangement. Instrumentation is clear — in addition to the two larger main dials there are two smaller gauges for fuel and temperature. There's a commodious glovebox, a useful and very deep (it takes wine bottles and an iPod) centre cubby beneath the adjustable (sliding) armrest between the front seats and there are also well-site

Lots of Brownie points to Ford for placing the hazard switch and the start/stop button exactly where they should be — right on top of the centre stack. Also adding to the accolades are the good-sized easy-to-see, easy-to-reach and easy-to-use audio/ computer controls and the built-in 6-CD autochanger with hassle-free loading/unloading.

A swan-neck handbrake saves space and is the smoothest operating one of its kind I have encountered to date. There are a number of useful storage areas dotted about as well as big, deep door pockets, a small net pocket on the passenger's central tunnel and a drop-down glasses case. Ford has clearly paid attention to getting the cabin's practicality as well as its perceived quality right, with lots of soft-touch fabrics and trim.

Fit and finish is good, and the fittings and switchgear all feel satisfyingly robust. From the driver's point of view, the driving position is of the commanding variety and ensures excellent sight lines to both the front and the sides. However, most drivers will be glad of the audible help from the optional parking sensors.

Titanium trim versions are well-specc'd and feature: a 'Ford Power' engine start/stop button and keyless start, Ford's Easy Fuel capless refuelling system that can tell the difference between petrol and diesel fuel pump nozzles, sports seats, four powered windows (all one-shot up-down) and electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Quickclear heated windscreen, partial leather, driver's manual lumbar adjustment, Sony CD/DAB audio system, cruise control, auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control (very efficient in both cooling and heating modes) and electro-hydraulic power-assisted steering.

In addition to the intelligent all-wheel drive there's an Electronic Stability Programme with Anti Roll-over Mitigation, Emergency Brake Assist, ABS with EBD, traction control, driver's and front passenger's front and side airbags, front and rear curtain airbags and Isofix child seat fixings.

Our test car also had a number of the more desirable options fitted — the Appearance Pack adds aluminium finish roof rails and blue-coloured privacy glass (150), 5-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels (350), Bluetooth hands-free technology and Voice Control system (150), metallic paint (425) and the titanium X Pack that provides full leather trim, heated front seats, 6-way power driver's seat, panoramic glass roof, Bi-Xenon headlamps and solar reflecting windscreen (2,000).

If you really want to load up on extra kit there's more: 230v power socket (enables the rear seat passengers to plug in appliances of up to 150 watts such as laptops, etc), touch-screen navigation system (1,000) and front and rear parking sensors (400).

There's ample room for five passengers — although four adults will travel very comfortably and have the use of the centre rear armrest. All three rear headrests drop down when not in use and the rear seat backrests are set at an angle that more or less guarantees comfort. Rear seat passengers sit about six inches higher than those in the front; and all occupants enjoy good and commanding views out. Youngsters travelling in the rear will no doubt make good use of the flip-up picnic trays with built-in cup holders.

The 60:40 split/fold rear seats tip forward easily to fold flat, exposing deep under-seat stowage. The load space can be increased from 360 litres with the seats in use to 1,355 litres with them folded flat — and they do fold completely flat. However, the boot is pretty wide (more so than it is deep) which better suits packing in personal luggage. The luggage blind has an easy slide and lock operation and shopping bag hooks are also fitted inside the boot.

And there is more stowage available under the floor of the luggage area, which divides into compartments. A split tailgate is always handy, particularly when you've had to park backed-up to a wall or a van and you need to load shopping. No problem; open the upper window independently of the tailgate and most smaller items can be loaded in quite easily. Loading with the full tailgate open is easy thanks to a low (75cm/30 inches) sill height.

Drivers looking for a good-looking family 'wagon' that combines a measure of enjoyable performance with practical SUV/4x4 attributes should put one on their shortlist. Not only is the well-mannered and easy-to-drive Kuga — just get in and go — as desirable as a trendy 'sporting' or 'lifestyle' estate, but from the very first moment you get behind the wheel the feeling of security puts you at your ease immediately. After a week's hard driving on all sorts of roads in a Kuga, my advice is this: Take a test drive. But watch out because you may find yourself 'crossing over' permanently! — MotorBar

Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium
| 22,900
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 36.3mpg | Power: 134bhp | Torque: 236lb ft
CO2 169g/km | VED Band E 170 | Insurance group 10