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First look: Kuga breaks Ford's cover early

Slinky: New Ford Kuga goes on sale in Europe within months.

Ford of Europe's first SUV emerges, and is destined for a Blue Oval dealer near you

6 Sep 2007

TAKE a good, long look at this brand-new near-production model from the Blue Oval, because Ford of Europe’s radical new small SUV is certain to be sold in Australia, where it could even eventually be manufactured alongside the Territory.

Leaked ahead of embargo by Spanish publication KM77 before it makes its global public debut at the Frankfurt motor show next week, Ford says the compact Kuga crossover will go on sale across Europe from early next year, looking very much like this.

Of course, the real Kuga isn’t quite as edgy as the wildly stylised official sketch released in July nor the Iosis X concept that heralded it at the 2006 Paris motor show, but its wildly wedged profile, chiselled body sides and distinctive nose with trapezoidal grille and upside-down air-dam certainly make it far more expressive than the Escape it will replace.

The Kuga is the latest example of Ford’s new “kinetic” design language that also features on the company’s light-sized Verve concept, which will also make its world premiere in Germany on September 11 and previews Ford’s next-generation Fiesta.

27 center imageFord’s long-awaited Escape successor and the first SUV to be designed and developed by Ford of Europe, however, will be based on the same C-platform underpinnings as the Focus small-car, which also forms the basis for popular overseas models in the S-Max and C-Max. Hence, Ford’s all-new compact crossover had been expected to be called X-Max.

Ford Australia’s policy not to comment on future products is usually only employed for those that are likely to be sold here, and a firm “no comment” has been the repeated response to questions about the Kuga.

Unlike GM Holden, which with the exception of the Astra imports all of its small cars from South Korean affiliate GM Daewoo, Ford Oz has made a point of emphasising the German engineering of its European-designed Fiesta, Focus and, from October, Mondeo models.

The Kuga has so far been confirmed for production only at Ford's Saarlouis plant in Germany, however, Ford Australia has announced that, from 2011, it will manufacture the next-generation Focus, which will share many components with the Kuga.

Indeed, if it is sold in the US, the Kuga is expected to be fitted with the 3.5-litre Duratec V6 that, as previously reported, will from 2010 replace the trusty 4.0-litre inline six that powers both the Falcon and Territory.

Significantly, apart from the 100kW 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi common-rail turbo-diesel that has been confirmed as the European Kuga’s engine of choice (mated to a Durashift six-speed manual transmission), the newest Ford will be the first Blue Oval product in Europe available with a hybrid option.

The Kuga could also receive power from any of Europe’s Focus engines, including 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre Duratec petrol fours, 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre TDCi turbo-diesels, and the Focus XR5’s Volvo-sourced 2.5-litre turbocharged inline petrol five-pot.

Strengthening the possibility of local Kuga production is the fact it would be priced from at least $30,000, in line with direct rivals like Toyota’s RAV4, Honda’s CR-V, Nissan’s X-Trail and the Subaru Forester, each of which routinely attract more than 1000 sales per month.

In contrast, circa-$20,000 small-cars like the top-selling Corolla, which found almost 4700 new homes last month, and the fourth-placed Focus, which attracted nearly 1700 buyers in August, provide much smaller profit margins.

Margins are even tighter in the circa-$15,000 light-car category, in which the best-selling Yaris posted about 2500 sales last month and the Fiesta, Australia’s seventh most popular light car last month, found just 466 customers.

Ford’s sub-$40,000Territory has averaged 1500 monthly sales so far this year, more than double that of Mazda’s CX-7, which itself is almost three times as popular as the ageing Escape and its Mazda twin, the Tribute.

Just as the Kuga could breathe new life into Ford’s compact SUV contender alongside Territory, it could also provide the basis for a Tribute-replacing CX-5 model to be positioned below the CX-7.

Either way, the Kuga will face stiff competition not only from Japanese compact SUV rivals and Korean-built mid-sizers like Holden’s Captiva, but from premium European crossovers like BMW’s X3, the Land Rover Freelander 2 and new arrivals like Volvo’s XC60, the Mercedes-Benz MLK and Audi Q5.

Identical to the Iosis X’s wheels are the Kuga show car’s 19-inch alloy wheels. Like its panoramic sunroof and Blaupunkt navigation system with big seven-inch colour screen (attached to a reversing camera), they will be optional extras.

Ford says Kuga, which will be available with either “intelligent” all-wheel or front-wheel drive systems, will deliver “impressive on-road driving dynamics with substantial off-road ability”.

“When we unveiled the stunning Iosis X Concept car at the 2006 Paris motor show I promised that in less than two years we would enter this segment with an all-new vehicle developed and built in-house,” said Ford of Europe president and CEO, John Fleming.

“In delivering that promise, the commitment we also gave in Paris two years ago to add new and exciting niche vehicles to a newly energised Ford of Europe portfolio was also kept.

“We're very excited about Kuga, and believe that its blend of great looks, compact exterior dimensions, superb on-road driving quality, spacious and high quality interior and good off-road ability will allow it to stand out from the crowd.

“We can't wait to see it on and off road early next year,” said Mr Fleming.

Read more:

First look: Ford Kuga is Territory cub

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