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AIMS: Ford to unleash the Kuga

On the march: Ford Australia will be hoping to claw back some compact SUV sales when its new Kuga hits local showrooms next year.

Ford Australia to unveil two-pronged SUV attack at AIMS with new Kuga and EcoSport

1 Oct 2012

FORD will hold the local debut of not one – but two – brand new SUV models at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney later this month, after the company announced its next-generation Kuga would make an appearance ahead of its arrival in showrooms early next year.

The Kuga will premiere alongside the smaller EcoSport – announced as a starter for AIMS last month – giving Ford Australia the chance to preview the pair of models with which it hopes to capture a greater share of the booming SUV market from 2013.

The new-generation Kuga first appeared in the US last November badged as the Escape, and is among the top-selling compact SUVs in that market. The European version, wearing the same Kuga badges as it will in Australia, premiered four months later in Geneva.

The new model will hit the market about 12 months after Ford Australia belatedly launched the current model here in February this year – partially to acquaint local buyers with the ‘Kuga’ nameplate and partially to supplant the ancient previous-generation Escape that preceded it.

Ford’s current Kuga, only available here in up-spec petrol guise, has failed to set the sales charts ablaze with a meagre 738 sales to the end of August, but the more substantial new range is certain to provide stiffer competition to rivals like the Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail and Subaru Forester.

27 center imageFrom top: Ford EcoSport, Focus ST FPV RSPEC, FPR EcoBoost racer.

Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano said the company has high hopes for the new Kuga, which he said “opens a new chapter in the world of compact SUVs where its blend of capability, technology and fuel efficiency will ring true for the customers”.

The new Kuga will offer more a larger and more versatile five-seat cabin and improved interior quality and tactility, including liberal use of soft-touch plastics.

All variants will come replete with the company's SYNC infotainment and voice-recognition system.

While not confirmed, Australian Kugas are likely to be available with a 129kW 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol engine and a 120kW turbo diesel, matched to six-speed manual or six-speed Powershift automatic transmissions.

Expect Ford Australia to offer both all-wheel and front-wheel drive versions, allowing the Blue Oval to match the spectrum covered by key rivals in the compact SUV market.

Meanwhile, the Fiesta-based EcoSport will hit the Ford stand ahead of its Australian showroom debut – probably late next year but a chance to slip out to early 2014 – giving the company a player in the rapidly expanding small SUV market.

The small SUV segment is Australia’s fastest-growing so far this year, up 65.4 per cent due to the popularity of cars like the Nissan Dualis and Subaru XV.

It will only get larger as a fleet of new, even smaller competitors like the Holden Trax, Peugeot 2008 and – potentially – the Nissan Juke join the fray next year.

The EcoSport will be the second model in Australia to get Ford’s new 88kW/170Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost turbo petrol engine, after the revised Fiesta light car on which it is based.

This is the same powertrain that won the prestigious International Engine of the Year award earlier this year, and shares much with the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot now used in the Falcon.

Ford’s SUV twins will be joined at AIMS by racy new models like the Focus ST hot hatch – set for launch here next week – and the FPV Falcon RSPEC, as well as the race-ready FPR V8 Supercar that will compete next year against entrants from Holden, Nissan and a trio of privateer Mercedes-Benz E63s.

The AIMS stand will also feature examples of the Australian-made Territory large SUV – the shining light of Ford’s otherwise battling local manufacturing operation – plus the Falcon, locally-designed Ranger, and imported Focus, Fiesta and Mondeo.

As we have reported, despite the array of metal, Ford’s stand is likely to take up less space than previous years – believed to be 484 square metres, or about one third that of local rivals Holden and Toyota – but countered with a more substantial outdoor presence.

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