Ford's improved Kuga has bigger aspirations. And they start with these 1.5-litre petrol turbo versions. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
The Ford Kuga remains a strong contender in revised second generation form. There's still no seven seat option but this MK2 model's extra 81mm of length and an additional 71 litres of carrying capacity make it a far more practical proposition than its predecessor. And it's just as good to drive. Especially in 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol form where 120, 150 and 182PS options are offered, the pokiest unit provided with auto transmission and 4WD.
The first problem with the first generation Ford Kuga wasn't that difficult to identify. It was just too small. For the amount of money you were paying, which was upwards of £21,000, you weren't getting a whole lot of metal for your money. This was a sustainable strategy when the cheaper and larger Korean opposition were a bit of a joke but it was never going to last. When Kias, Hyundais and SsangYongs became something to be reckoned with, the Kuga's sales began to tail off pretty sharply.
Partly also because of the second issue: namely, the lack of a credible petrol-engined option. All MK1 Kuga buyers were offered was the thirsty 2.5-litre five cylinder petrol engine from the Focus ST in an expensive top-line variant that almost nobody bought.
Still, at least Ford's development team found it quite easy to see what to do with the second generation car. Make it much like the first, but with more space and a sustainable petrol-engined option. Which is exactly what we've got. Hence this test - of the 1.5-litre EcoBoost model.
The few Kuga customers who decide against the couple of 2.0-litre TDCi diesel on offer get to choose from three 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost petrol units rated at either 120, 150 or 182PS, the two lower-powered variants both managing the same torque figure of 240Nm. Those entry-level petrol models are available in front-wheel drive guise with a manual gearbox, but the 182PS version is sold exclusively as an all-wheel drive chassis with the Powershift automatic gearbox.
All Kuga models get a quick and well-weighted electrically assisted steering system, although the strong self-centring action takes a little getting used to. Although Ford's engineers deny it, the chassis of this model feels softer than the first generation car, so the ride is better, but there's not that same puppyish attitude as before. Call it part of the growing up process. The four-wheel drive system lends the Kuga a modicum of off-road ability but it comes into its own on road when pedalling the car quite hard. The torque vectoring control system reduces the sort of understeer you'd expect in a car of this type and sniffs out grip extremely well, shuttling drive between front and rear axles far more adeptly than, say, the Haldex system used extensively in Volkswagen group products. Drive a bit more sedately and you'll be impressed by the Kuga's ride quality and refinement. It can do the sporty thing but feels happiest when wafting. We'll take that.
Design and Build
This improved Kuga features Ford's latest design language for a bolder, sportier look that's shared with the company's EcoSport compact SUV and Edge large SUV models. A large upper trapezoidal grille and a smaller lower grille are flanked by sleeker headlamps incorporating LED daytime running lights. Restyled taillights complete the changes, along with revised alloy wheels, available in 17, 18 or 19-inch rims.
Inside, the updates are subtle, but quite effective. So the steering wheel and air-conditioning controls are more intuitive and feature fewer and more easily distinguishable buttons and switches, making the controls easier to recognise and navigate. The steering wheel is offered with optional heating to improve comfort in cold weather, while all automatic Kuga models now feature paddle-shift controls that enable drivers to manually select gears while keeping their hands on the wheel.
Extra convenience features include an electronic parking brake that frees up room for improved storage in a centre console that now also features a storage area capable of accommodating a variety of bottles and cups. There's also a new USB connection point for integrating and charging mobile devices. Otherwise, things are much as before. Which means that inside, there's decent headroom all round and reasonable rear legroom too. Out back, there's a 438-litre boot.
Market and Model
As you might expect, petrol power is the cheapest way into Kuga ownership. The entry-level 120PS version of this 1.5T unit mated with 2WD costs around £21,000. You're looking at having to find £1,000 more if you want the 150PS version most will want -that's about £1,000 less than the comparable 1.5 TDCi 120PS diesel version. Petrol buyers do get the option of AWD and auto transmission, but it only comes packaged up with the pokier 182PS version of the EcoBoost engine at a £26,000 price point that many of them won't want to stretch to.
Standard kit across the range runs to alloy wheels, daytime running lights, front foglights, a Quickclear heated windscreen, powered heated mirrors, a Thatcham Category 1 alarm, decent quality 6-speaker CD stereo system, air conditioning, cruise control and a hill start assist system to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.
For me, a must-have feature is the clever Ford SYNC system with Emergency Assistance. This connects with MP3 players, Bluetooth-enabled 'phones and USB drives and allows you to receive audible text messages. Better still, should you be involved in an accident, the system will automatically call the emergency services in the language of whatever country you're in and give them your exact GPS location. Talking of safety, this car gets ISOFIX childseat fastenings and a full tally of seven airbags - twin front, side and curtain 'bags, as well as a driver's knee 'bag. Plus all the usual electronic assistance for traction and stability control to hopefully ensure that you'll never have to use them.
Cost of Ownership
You wouldn't expect Ford's improved second generation Kuga to be anything other than class-competitively efficient. Once again has been managed here thanks to ECOnetic Ford features like smart regenerative charging (that reclaims energy that would otherwise be lost under braking) and an Active Grille Shutter (that reduces drag and cuts fuel consumption). As a result, this Kuga's all-turbocharged engine line-up now manages to return a pretty frugal set of running cost figures.
Petrol Kuga models benefit from an Auto-Start-Stop system able to automatically cut the engine when it's not needed, say when stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. As a result, both 120PS and 150PS versions of the 1.5-litre petrol unit with front-wheel drive achieve 45.6mpg on the combined cycle and 143g/km CO2. These figures fall to 38.2mpg and 171g/km if you go for this petrol engine in 182PS form mated to AWD and automatic transmission.
The improved Ford Kuga does enough to appeal right now. It's good-looking, spacious, well-priced and drives very well. It's a little different in its emphasis than before, feeling a bit more grown-up than its predecessor. It's also reasonably affordable in this petrol guise - and the improvements in infotainment are welcome.
So while it's not quite as exciting as some may have hoped for, there can be little doubt that this latest Kuga remains a strong contender in the family Crossover segment. The 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine will make sense for lower mileage buyers and value-wise, it slots into a price point that offers clear air between the best of the Koreans and competitors like the Audi Q3 and the Range Rover Evoque. In other words, it looks like reprising the previous model's success all over again.