Car reviews - Ford - Kuga - range
New 178kW/345Nm EcoBoost engine puts Kuga on performance map, improved pricing and specs
Room for improvement
Base manual still underdone, noisy base tyres, confusing rear-view camera stance
11 Dec 2014
By TIM ROBSON
ON PAPER, it’s hard to see what the fuss is about. Okay, the headline act is the new base-model Ambiente FWD automatic variant, a sorely needed tool in the fight for entry-level market share in this price- and spec-sensitive category.
The new 177kW/345Nm 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine in the Trend and Titanium AWDs is a new category leader in all but name when it comes to outputs, too.
Elsewhere, though, it’s down to difference of just a half-litre of fuel, despite a complete engine update program.
Ford brand communication manger Neil McDonald says it’s about incremental gains in a competitive market. “Clearly, if you took an ‘on paper’ view only the gains don’t seem great but for the customer, the total package they’re getting – fuel economy improvement and better performance all without a sacrifice of performance,” he told GoAuto.
“Critically, too, the segment in which Kuga sits is incredibly competitive, so we want to make sure it’s a compelling package on customer shopping lists.”
There are no external changes to remark upon, save the fact that the hands-free tailgate was introduced quietly six months ago as an option on the mid-spec Trend model due to – you guessed it – “customer feedback”. The angular, arrowed profile of the Kuga continues to set it apart from softer-edged, more gender-neutral competitors.
Internally, too, there’s little to remark upon, apart from the oddly incomplete announcement that the entry level Ambiente and mid-spec Trend would be made available with an optional rear-view camera “from Q3 2015”, according to the official press release, but later modified to read “from Q1”. Also not determined – despite the car going on sale in a matter of weeks – was the final price of the option, and where the rearview-mirror-type device would actually be fitted to the vehicle.
Mr McDonald said the reversing camera would cost approximately between $500 and $1000 and the Blue Oval is in the process of working out whether the fitment of the camera will happen “at the port of entry or via dealers”.
The entry-spec Ambiente auto FWD is the darling of the new class, eschewing the weight and complexity of the Haldex AWD system to produce a variant that will appeal to city dwellers and suburban types equally. Its new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine – also used in the AWD model – makes 134kW and 240Nm, returning a claimed 7.2L/100km at the pump on 95RON fuel. It’s also significantly more grunty, if no more torquey, than the manual version, which uses the same engine in a detuned (110kW/240Nm) state.
Mated to six-speed auto gearbox, the Ambiente’s new EcoBoost engine is pleasantly quiet and refined for such a small-capacity unit, though tyre roar from the spec Hankook DynaPro 17s spoils things a bit. Moonshot gearing also dulls its punch on country runs, but around town it’s more than adequate.
The 2.0-litre upgrade is undoubtedly a big step in the right direction, but long gearing and a sedate shifting program both combine to take a bit of the potential sting out of the combo. The torque converter-equipped six-speed is reluctant to kick down when prodded, leaving the Kuga stuck in a taller gear at inopportune moments. The 18-inch Continental ContiSport tyres are quieter and more refined than the Hankooks, but are definitely biased towards longevity, not grip.
Even at a rudimentary first glance, the new powerplant shows signs of being one of the more refined and mature small-capacity turbo-fours in the category. It’s quiet and unobtrusive when cruising, and it doesn’t become gruff or harsh when the throttle is depressed. Road noise is a little intrusive on coarse-chip country roads, but it’s certainly better than others in the class.
The Kuga’s more cutting-edge interior styling is ageing nicely, and driver comfort is excellent. The electro-mechanical steering can feel artificial at times, but it’s a convincing package on the whole.
Our test was too short to assess Ford’s fuel claims, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the Kuga weighs 1740kg in this guise if you live in a hilly area, it’ll be tough to match this number consistently.
The compact SUV segment is in for a lively ride in 2015, and it’ll be interesting to see if Ford has done enough to improve the fortunes of the very capable Kuga.
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