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Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium

Click to view picture gallery“The recent snow-induced road
  chaos across the UK was good news
  for some. Ford
s Kuga crossover,
  for instance, got a chance to get to
  grips with the weather and show
  what it can really do. And in snow
  and icy conditions, it can really
  do a lot
...

WITH IMPECCABLE TIMING Ford's first crossover-cum-SUV, the Kuga, arrived on my driveway in the heart of the countryside just as the Siberian weather struck the UK last week. Hooray for SUVs and 4x4s — and thank goodness the anti-4x4 lobby, the Eco Police and the tax-guzzling Government haven't put paid to such vehicles. Yet…

Most of us, unless we are farmers or tow heavy loads, might only really need them for a few wintry days in the year; but they are lifesavers. Just ask the emergency services and the local welfare volunteers who have been using them recently. Used in the right environment — the countryside not the towns — SUVs and 4x4s offer driving security in bad weather and variable two- or four-wheel drive grip at other times.

They also make great family vehicles, with seating for five or even up to seven people. And now manufacturers such as Nissan (with their very popular Qashqai crossover range) offer two-wheel drive versions. Soon Ford will also offer two-wheel drive Kuga variants and will be introducing a 197bhp 2.5-litre petrol engine option to sell alongside the current 2.0-litre 134bhp turbodiesel unit.

The recession, high fuel prices and social pressure from the green/anti-4x4 lobbies resulted in sales of Dual Purpose vehicles (as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders calls them) falling by 22.5% in 2008. Even so, 136,525 such vehicles were sold so the demand is still relatively high, and it was actually the fourth largest sales segment of the UK's new car market.

The Kuga is based on the excellent bodyshell architecture of the Ford Focus and, despite its SUV or crossover configuration, it retains the impeccable handling characteristics of the Focus C-segment range of cars. And for those who think SUVs are big and take up too much road space, the 4.4-metre-long Kuga is shorter than a Focus estate.

The Kuga needs to be good because it has to compete against the likes of the Land Rover Freelander, the VW Tiguan, the Honda CR-V and now the very highly rated Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. There are also other mid-sized SUVs from Nissan, Mitsubishi, Citroen, Peugeot, Lexus and Toyota, to name but a few.

But the Kuga holds its own in the styling and handling departments. It doesn't come close to having the abilities off-road of the Freelander, but on-road it leaves that competitor way behind — and all the others I've mentioned, too. Off-road, or in snow and ice, the Kuga is still capable and only really restricted by having road tyres fitted as standard, which of course is fine for most of the year. With better snow/mud 'boots' I'm sure it would be a formidable performer because it has all the technical ingredients to succeed.

The styling is eye-catching, it looks classy, the specification and its quality is high, the 2.0-litre TDCi engine is strong, the variable torque split 4x4 system distributes power seamlessly to the wheels needing it the most, the suspension provides a comfortable ride and the steering and bodyshell reactions during cornering are the best in this sector by far. It feels more like driving a car than an SUV or crossover vehicle. The visibility is good, too, thanks to the high-up seating position; and combined with the compact length it makes the Kuga an easy vehicle to park.

Whilst the five-door Kuga can just about cope with five adult passengers, the rear seat legroom and headroom is not so impressive and the load capacity — 350 litres of space with the rear seats in position; 1,355 with them folded — is not class-leading. However, the good news for caravan or boat towers is that the Kuga can haul a braked 2,100kg load.

My test car was the top Titanium version, now priced at £22,995 following the recent price increases. However, the test model had a load of extra-cost items such as the Titanium X Pack which consists of uprated headlights, heated leather front seats, power-adjustable driver's seat, panoramic sunroof, solar reflect windscreen and 18-inch alloys. It also had a Convenience Pack that provides front and rear parking sensors, power-folding door mirrors and a navigation system. These extras pushed the price up to a very lofty £27,527. But my local Ford dealer is advertising unregistered Kuga Titanium models with £3,345 off, giving it a price of £19,650 — so there are bargains available due to the market's sluggish performance.

There are two levels of specification: Zetec, which starts at £20,995, and Titanium, from £22,995. The sensible and cost-effective buy is the Zetec model. In today's credit-crunched market conditions it costs less but will perform just as well as the more expensive Titanium version. The Zetec looks just as good and the build quality is still the same 'excellent'. Both share the same 2.0-litre TDCi turbodiesel engine (with 134bhp, 251lb ft of torque and 169g/km CO2 emissions) and six-speed manual transmission. Both current Kuga models have, as standard, intelligent all-wheel drive with a 50:50 torque split between front and rear wheels, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, anti-lock braking and the 'Ford Power' start button.

Both Kuga models also have as standard: air conditioning, alloy wheels, front, side and curtain airbags, remote central locking with alarm, electric front and rear windows, Quickclear heated windscreen, tailgate wash/wipe, Ford's smart Easy Fuel capless refuelling system and a clever mini-tailgate that allows the upper glass section to open independently of the full tailgate. This allows quick access for small loads to the boot and is an easy and convenient facility for loading shopping.

My test drive time with the Kuga was all conducted in snow and icy conditions — and it didn't fail me once. While the standard road-biased tyres don't have the grippiest of tread patterns, the Kuga coped with the treacherous conditions much better than I expected. Drivers need to know the capability limits of their vehicle in snow — and their own. Just because it has four-wheel drive it doesn't mean the vehicle will go anywhere: much is down to the tyre pattern although even more down to the driver's skill.

The Kuga has no High or Low ratio transmission, no selectable differential locks; but still it impressed in real-life conditions. However, the fuel consumption suffered, ending up at 34.9mpg when officially it should return 44.1mpg so I would expect 40+mpg to realistically be achievable in normal driving conditions. Top speed is 112mph and the 0-62mph time is 10.7 seconds.

Sharp styling and a muscular appearance, compact size, responsive handling, a good mixture of comfort and controlled road performance, a strong, flexible and willing engine, seamless all-wheel drive and well made — that's a lot of solid reasons to put one on your drive. Against all that, limited rear leg and headroom and limited load space are fairly easy to forgive. Just as the collection man from Ford arrived to pick up my test car at the end of my road test, so the snow started to fall again. Oh well, dig out the shovel and back to struggling with two-wheel drive. — David Miles

Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi
Titanium | £22,995
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 34.9mpg (in snow) | Power: 134bhp | Torque: 251lb ft
CO2 169g/km | VED Band E £170 | Insurance group 10