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First drive: Ford taps compact SUV boom with Kuga

Fleshed out: The previous Kuga range was limited, and the Escape before it was too old, but the new-generation Ford Kuga promises to match the best in the compact SUV biz.

Finally, Ford has a real player in the compact soft-roader market with its new Kuga

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Ford logo16 Apr 2013

FORD Australia says it finally has the ammunition it needs to be a “serious contender” in the booming compact SUV market with the launch of its new-generation Kuga.

While most negative Ford talk has focused on the drop in Falcon sales in recent years, the brand’s other major Achilles heel in Australia has undoubtedly been its lack of a Mazda CX-5 or Toyota RAV4 soft-roader rival.

While rivals have made hay as buyers continue their move en masse into high-riding compact wagons, Ford has in recent years languished with its offerings of the pricey previous-generation Kuga and the aged Escape.

The superseded Kuga – which was launched here only last February, strangely close to the end of its life cycle – has managed to grab just 1.0 per cent segment share this year, while in 2012, this was 1.1 per cent.

But unlike its predecessor – which was available in highly specified petrol form only – the new Kuga range runs the gamut, being available in petrol and diesel configuration, in either front- or all-wheel drive, and priced as low as $27,990 plus on-road costs.

That’s $11,000 cheaper than the entry price of the previous-generation Kuga – the five-cylinder, all-wheel-drive Trend automatic. Note, however, that front-drive configuration is available in manual-only guise.

Having a fuller product range from a competitive price point allows the Blue Oval to better compete with segment champions including the Mazda CX-5, Toyota’s RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

The new Kuga is 81mm longer than the old model, but also marginally narrower and lower. Still, Ford claims noticeably more space will be available for backseat passengers, and cargo space grows by 46 litres to 406 litres with the seats up (or 1603L with the rear row folded).

Flagship Titanium variants also offer a novel way of accessing the cargo space, featuring a hands-free electric tailgate that uses sensors that respond to a kicking motion under the rear bumper – handy if the hands are full of shopping.

Ford also claims significant strides were made in refinement and noise suppression over the old model.

At the heart of the new range sits a pair of more frugal engines – a 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo-petrol that uses 25 per cent less fuel than the old Kuga’s five-pot, and – for the first time in a Ford Australia compact SUV – a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel.

The 1.6-litre petrol version will be sold in two states of tune – 110kW and 240Nm for the base, front-drive and six-speed manual-only Ambiente, or 134kW/240Nm in AWD Ambiente, Trend and Titanium variants.

The 110kW EcoBoost engine uses a claimed 6.7 litres per 100km on the combined-cycle, while the 134kW version uses 7.7L/100km (in the lighter AWD Ambiente) or 8.0L/100km in the Trend and Titanium.

Ford recommends owners use premium unleaded fuel.

Because Ford’s idle-stop system only works on manual versions, it will be limited to the base Ambiente front-drive variant.

The less powerful version is only available with a six-speed manual in the front-drive Ambiente ($27,990), while the more powerful unit comes only with a six-speed automatic in the AWD Ambiente ($31,490), Trend ($36,240) and Titanium ($44,740).

The 2.0-litre diesel unit is available in the all-wheel-drive only Trend and Titanium, matched solely to a six-speed Powershift dual-clutch automatic transmission. The engine produces 120kW/340Nm and officially uses 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle.

Despite only having marginally superior fuel use figure, Ford Australia charges a $3000 premium for the diesel, meaning the cheapest oil-burner kicks off at $39,240.

Towing capacity is the same 1500kg for the manual 1.6 and the diesel, dropping to 1200kg for the 1.6 petrol automatic.

The ‘intelligent’ AWD system automatically adjusts how much power is sent to which axle, and can send 100 per cent of torque to either the front or rear wheels depending on grip levels. Torque vectoring (a la the performance-honed Focus ST) grabs the inner front wheel’s brake during cornering to negate understeer.

All Ambiente variants come standard with 17-inch steel wheels, manually adjustable cloth seats 60:40 rear split-fold), an engine start button, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, a 3.5-inch TFT screen, rear parking sensors and voice control with USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Trend versions add 18-inch alloy wheels, silver roof rails, partial leather seats, automatically dimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone climate control, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a larger 4.2-inch screen and a bigger Sony nine-speaker sound system with digital radio receiver.

The flagship Titanium adds – among other things – 19-inch alloys, sunroof, bi-Xenon headlights, the hands-free tailgate, front parking sensors, heated front seats, keyless start, a 5-inch screen with rear parking camera and satellite navigation, and even small tables on the back of the front seats.

The Kuga will be the first Ford sold in Australia to feature Emergency Assistance – a safety system that automatically dials emergency services via the driver’s Bluetooth phone connection once an airbag deploys or the fuel shut-off kicks in – as well as digital radio.

Ford claims the Emergency Assist function has already saved the lives of incapacitated crash victims in overseas markets, such as the US.

Continuing on the safety front, mid-spec Trend and range-topping Titanium versions can be optioned with a $2650 technology pack that adds active safety features such as an automated braking system that can avoid or minimise a low-speed crash, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance with departure warning, automatic high-beam dipping and a driver fatigue monitor.

The Kuga achieves a top five-star crash rating.

All versions come with Ford’s seven-year, 105,000km capped-price servicing plan, with the total cost for scheduled services fixed at $2000 for the front-drive Ambiente, $2400 for all other petrol versions and $2795 for the diesels.

Ford Kuga Pricing*
Ambiente FWD $27,990
Ambiente AWD (a) $31,490
Trend AWD (a) $36,240
Trend AWD TDCi (a) $39,240
Titanium AWD (a) $44,740
Titanium AWD TDCi (a) $47,740
*Excludes on-road costs.

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