Ford's Kuga is at its smartest in plush Vignale guise. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
The Ford Kuga has sharpened up its act to the point where the Blue Oval brand thinks that this better-specced, more exclusive 'Vignale' version might even appeal to buyers of premium brand SUV Crossovers. Enhancements include a much nicer cabin and more personal dealer service.
'Vignale' is Ford-speak for 'very nice indeed'. The company wants to know just how far it can push the appeal of its mainstream products up-market, hence the availability of this top-spec trim level on Fiesta, Mondeo, S-MAX and Edge models. Here, we're looking at the way it enhances the appeal of the brand's mid-sized Kuga SUV Crossover.
This is a car recently much improved with a smarter cabin, extra multi-media technology and a new entry-level 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine. Would you want all of that with a much more exclusive ownership experience? If so, read on....
The Kuga has long been one of the better SUV Crossover models to drive and this improved second generation model maintains that tradition. Body control is better regulated than it is on most other segment rivals we've tried. Plus the well-weighted power steering and electronic aids like 'Curve Control' and a torque vectoring system for extra cornering grip all add to the confidence you feel behind the wheel. Opt for a model fitted with Ford's 'Intelligent AWD' set-up and you can carry that peace of mind forward into really slippery conditions, this being one of those 4x4 packages that continually monitors your driving environment, optimising traction to direct power between the wheels as required.
You'll want to know about engines. Vignale buyers get only one of the petrol engines available in the rest of the range - the 182PS version of the 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit, a variant that comes only with AWD and auto transmission. There's the full range of TDCi diesels on offer though, including the new 120PS 1.5-litre TDCi entry-level diesel powerplant. Most will want to opt for the 2.0-litre TDCi diesel, available with 150PS, manual transmission and front wheel drive. Or 180PS and AWD, with a choice or manual or PowerShift auto gearboxes.
Design and Build
Buyers of this Vignale variant get a slightly smarter front grille and subtle bodystyling changes, plus more exclusive-looking 18-inch alloy wheels and LED tail lamps. Otherwise, the look is the same as that of any other up-pec Kuga, enhanced at the front by Bi-Xenon headlamps that can adapt themselves to road and cimate conditions as you drive.
Inside, the cabin's much smarter than it was in previous Kuga models, a hi-tech 8-inch SYNC3 infotainment screen removing a lot of the previous cabin button clutter. This package offers fast activation, large buttons, easy app integration and, perhaps most importantly, functionality that allows you to duplicate the operation of your smartphone onto the central fascia screen via either 'Apple CarPlay' or the 'Mirror Link' 'Android Auto' system. In the back, the central transmission tunnel's usefully low and it's important to note that there's as much room for legs, knees and heads as in the best of this Kuga's rivals. The bench can't feature Volkswagen Tiguan-like sliding functionality, but the backrest does recline for greater comfort on longer journeys. Out back, there's a 456-litre boot.
Market and Model
Kuga Vignale prices start at just over £30,000, which means a £2,000 premium over the best-equipped model in the standard range, the 'Titanium X' variant. As a 'Vignale' buyer, you'll have a 'Relationship Manager' assigned to you to look after your ownership needs, someone who'll be on hand both at your local dealership and via a dedicated hotline. When the time comes for servicing, you'll enjoy a free collection and return service and after every garage visit, your car will get a complementary carwash and premium valet treatment.
In addition, as you'd expect, you get more kit on a 'Vignale' variant - things like exclusive two-tone 'Tuxedo' quilted leather upholstery, a rear view camera, LED tail lamps and special finishing inside and out that includes a bespoke body styling kit and a unique front grille. In addition, the SYNC3 infotainment system gets an upgrade to include 3D navigation display and a 9-speaker Sony stereo. There are also Bi-Xenon headlamps with a jet wash, a special 'Vignale' leather steering wheel and an 'Active Park Assist' system that steers you into spaces.
Cost of Ownership
Ford has pulled out all the stops to make this current Kuga more economical. For example, an Active Grille Shutter is fitted to all versions. This closes the front grille, reducing aerodynamic drag when the radiator isn't in need of additional cooling and then reopens it upon demand. Auto-Start-Stop is also standard across the range. Features like an Eco Mode and a Gear Shift Indicator help keep your right boot out of the carpet.
All this effort has paid off in terms of efficiency. The 1.5 TDCi powerplant manages 64.2mpg and 115g/km. And the front-driven 2.0 TDCi 150PS model manages 60.1mpg and 122g/km - or 54.3mpg and 135g/km if you order it with AWD, figures duplicated by the top 2.0 TDCi 180PS AWD derivative. Go for the 1.5 EcoBoost 182PS variant and those figures fall only marginally to 37.7mpg and 173g/km.
You're going to really need to want a Ford Kuga to pay this much for one. Ford knows that for the money being asked for 'Vignale' variants of this car, desirable premium-brand rivals await. But to equip one of those to this Ford's standard would probably cost you the best part of an extra £10,000. And then you still wouldn't get the special service the Blue Oval brand promises will come complete with this car.
In summary then, an acquired taste but, for the right kind of buyer, potentially a very satisfying one.