Car reviews - Ford - Kuga - Ambiente
Responsive steering, secure chassis, turbo responsive with revs, smooth auto, good passenger space and seats
Room for improvement
Firmer than expected ride, cheap hubcaps, no digital speedo, no reverse camera, can’t fold rear seats from the cargo area
14 Jun 2013
Price and equipment
OVER the last 15 years the compact SUV has undeniably become the darling of middle Australia, but from a certain perspective, most seem to paddle in the pool of mediocrity.
Think about it. Extra weight, a taller centre of gravity, higher pricing, and some pretty average engineering have conspired to make even the better examples – such as the Volkswagen Tiguan and latterly Mazda’s CX-5 – in many ways inferior to the passenger cars that begat them.
We personally would always pick a Golf or Mazda6 over their respective crossover siblings.
That being said, a taller stance does allow for easier entry and egress and a more commanding road view, which perhaps is what people really want after all.
And Ford – usually a dependable provider of dynamically superior vehicles – has plenty to answer for, since the old Escape was left to wither embarrassingly like an outdated TV comedy, while the acclaimed first-generation Kuga arrived with one cylinder too many, five years too late, and cost $10,000 too much.
Actually, we enjoyed the latter’s cut-above chassis, secretly revelled in the Volvo-sourced turbo five-pot roar, and admired the up-yours attitude of the thirst that accompanied it, but few others outside of the Ford network or the motoring journalism fraternity did.
Now Kuga II (aka TF) is here, with a $28K starting price, all-turbo petrol and diesel drivetrains, up-to-the-minute multi-media, and a design that – while not as sassy as the preceding version – won’t send you to sleep either.
But while the base front-drive Ambiente manual with a 1.6-litre EcoBoost and stop/start tech is right on the money, there’s no auto option, so buyers are forced to find another $3500 for the $31,490 AWD version.
While that brings a further 24kW of power and a part-time four-wheel drive system, there’s no more idle-stop.
We feel many buyers would gladly forgo the extras and save around $2K, especially when doing so nets you the popular CX-5 Maxx or Honda CR-V VTi autos with a reverse camera (and alloys on the latter).
On the other hand, the Kuga Ambiente AWD auto is cheaper than equivalently specified rivals such as the CX-5 Maxx, Toyota RAV4 GX, and Subaru Forester 2.5i.
Clearly, then, Ford has tried to cover the FWD auto gap in the Kuga line-up with a model that, from our point of view, is only really missing the reverse camera. You need the $36,240 Trend for that.
We’d also like to see a digital auxiliary speedo and better-looking hubcaps.
But beyond your usual air-con/power windows/remote central locking/ABS/ESC standard fare, the $31.5K Spanish-built Ambiente AWD auto also scores rear parking sensors, active grille radiator shutters, heated electric side mirrors, a partially reclinable split/fold rear bench, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio/cruise/speed limiter controls and telescopic/tilt adjustability, rear armrests with cupholders, cargo cover, push button start/stop, trip computer, a trio of 12V outlets, voice control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with emergency assistance connectivity, seven airbags, and hill-start assist.
Ok, let’s get a few quibbles out of the way first.
We’ve already mentioned the missing digital auxiliary speedo. Hotter days might reveal the foolhardy lack of rear air vents (standard on the Trend upwards), too.
Initially, the multitude of dashboard buttons may baffle some, but familiarity soon rectifies this. And finally, maybe the Sync voice activation system should stop calling colleague Matt Campbell when what is being said is “cancel”.
Beyond that, helped by being perched up so high, the driving position is first class, backed up by great forward vision and a pair of front seats that support over long distances. Even after a four-hour schlep.
There’s sufficient head, shoulder and foot room for five adults, sitting pretty leaning on partly reclinable backrests, a spacious cargo area (though the floor isn’t flat when the seats are folded forward), and a standard cargo cover. The bigger Territory TX still makes you pay extra for one.
Luggage capacity is 406 litres (seats upright) and 1603 litres (seats folded). But, unlike some rivals, you cannot flip-fold the rear seats from the cargo area.
Still on storage, neither the glovebox and centre bin aren’t wide but they are both deep – so are the door pockets and cupholders – and the material looks and feels Euro-smart if not quite VW-premium.
That leather wheel and slush-moulded dash-top trim help, though ferreting in the nether regions will reveal some harder plastics.
Overall, however, for a lower-grade variant, the Ambiente has an appealing ambience that lives up to its name.
Engine and transmission
The all-new 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo EcoBoost engine has to work hard to move the 1656kg (nearly base Falcon weight) Ambiente AWD auto off the line.
A determined right foot and a fondness for revs are definite advantages to avoid that sluggish feeling.
So it’s a good thing the transmission is a smooth yet decisive operator, for there’s a lot of cog-swapping necessary to help keep the Kuga keep up with traffic.
But once the revs pick up, so does the turbo performance, with the EcoBoost offering some decent rolling-acceleration responses in the cut-and-thrust of everyday driving scenarios.
With two adults, a dog, a long weekend’s worth of gear on board, and the engine spinning on song, the Kuga feels worthy, especially as the urban streets give way to quiet and refined open-road cruising.
Later with five on board, and the air-con activated, the Ford still offered overtaking power and a steady reserve of torque.
Where 2.0-litre atmo rivals such as the CR-V, RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander would wail without much whoosh action, the EcoBoost just gets things done.
The shifter includes a thumb-operated toggle switch that has been widely derided in the Focus, since it feels unnatural and can too easily select another gear inadvertently.
Funnily enough, though, the toggle does actually work very well in certain circumstances, such as when speedy downshifting is called for. But, please, give us a normal ‘Tiptronic’ style shifter any day.
Our indicated fuel consumption average hovered between 9.6L/100km, to over 13L/100km during some heavy city commuting.
Overall, your correspondent personally feels the smaller-capacity downsized turbo option is a better bet than the larger atmo units in most other compact SUVs.
Ride and handling
The bottom line is that this high-riding SUV is never going to match – let alone better – a Focus dynamically.
But the Kuga is at the top of its game compared to most other crossovers currently going.
Only the CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan offer similar agility.
Initially, the Kuga’s steering seemed a little numb, but that feeling soon passed as we settled into a quick and relaxing rhythm.
Like in most modern Fords, reactions to inputs are instantaneous at low speeds without feeling too sharp, with a pleasing amount of weight and resistance building imperceptibly as speeds rise.
Over a series of rural curves, the chassis capabilities we evident, with the Kuga displaying impressive composure and control. Even five-up, the Ford would just sweep through a turn with minimum fuss.
Clearly the company’s engineers are extremely adept at integrating handling, road-holding and braking. There are not many more entertaining SUVs to drive this side of, well, a Territory.
There is one big but, however. Even on the standard 235/55 R17 tyres, the ride doesn’t have nearly the same amount of cushy suppleness that we’ve come to expect from the Blue Oval’s recent offerings.
It must be the price of balancing height and weight with dynamic nous and pace. At least there’s not much road noise intrusion.
Safety and servicing
A five-star ANCAP crash-test rating applies to all TF Kugas sold in Australia.
It is also one of the leading SUVs for offering standard emergency assistance in the event of an accident, automatically calling emergency services and/or pin-pointing the vehicle’s location if the occupant/s cannot.
You can also option blind-spot monitoring, low-speed impact braking, lane-departure warning, driver impairment monitoring and radar cruise control.
All models are sold with a three-year/100,000km warranty.
Offered with capped-price servicing at 15,000km or 12-month intervals, the EcoBoost AWD costs $285 (and $690 at 60,000/48 months) for a total cost of $2400 over 105,000km/86 months.
Let’s face it. Most SUVs are aimed at families and not keen drivers, so enjoying yourself behind the wheel probably isn’t a priority.
Ford begs to differ with the Kuga, designed and packaged in America but crucially engineered in Europe.
Besides being more fun to drive, it is your writer’s opinion that the 1.6-turbo EcoBoost engine is preferable to any 2.0-litre base rival despite having to be worked a bit harder to perform.
Unlike the old Kuga, this one is a decent value proposition, even if the vital base FWD auto mvariant is missing from the line-up. Still, the $1500 to $2000 walk to gain extra oomph and AWD is worth it.
Class leader? Tough one, that.
But the Kuga is a worthy contender and has fewer dynamics compromises than some, which we applaud.
Mazda CX-5 Maxx FWD auto.
From $29,800 plus on-roads.
Gawky nose and under-nourished 2.0-litre atmo four-pot petrol aside, the base CX-5 auto is a quality gem, offering smooth and easy driving, good economy, great packaging, and able dynamics.
Honda CR-V VTi 2WD 5AT.
From $29,790 plus on-roads.
Now better value than ever, Honda sales are finally recovering and the CR-V is leading the charge. Not for drivers, the base VTi package nevertheless prioritises comfort and versatility, in an appealing package.
Toyota RAV4 GX 2WD CVT.
From $30,990 plus on-roads.
Like the Mazda, Toyota’s pioneering crossover demands a heavy right foot for sufficient oomph, but the basics are all there – good handling, supple ride, and a spacious interior.
Make and model: Ford Kuga Ambiente GTDI AWD
, Engine type: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
, Layout: AWD
, Power: 134kW @ 5700rpm
, Torque: 240Nm @ 6150rpm
, Transmission: 6-speed auto
, Claimed 0-100km: 9.7s
, Official fuel consumption: 7.7L/100km
, CO2 rating: 179g/km
, Dimensions: L/W/H/WB – 4524/1838/1702/2690mm
, Weight: 1656kg
, Suspension: MacPherson struts/multi-link independent rear
, Steering: Electric rack and pinion
, Price: From $31,490 plus on-road costs
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