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First drive: Ford Kuga just $1000 less than Territory

Better late than never: Ford has plugged a chasm in its range with the German-built Kuga compact SUV, several years after its arrival on the European market.

Ford Kuga to prowl Australia in high-spec trim only until replacement arrives


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17 Feb 2012

FORD has launched its Kuga compact SUV for the Australian market ahead of mid-March deliveries – almost four years after it arrived in Europe – but a range comprising just two high-spec AWD, auto-only petrol variants mean it is priced just $1000 lower than entry-level versions of the larger Territory.

Replacing the decade-old Escape as Ford's compact SUV offering, the German-built Kuga's $38,990 entry price (plus on-road costs) is $10,000 higher than its Taiwanese-sourced predecessor, pitching it against mid- and top-spec variants of Euro SUVs like the Volkswagen Tiguan and Renault Koleos plus volume sellers like the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester.

Ford Australia says the Escape will continue alongside the Kuga as the brand's entry-level SUV until stocks run out later in the year and that its research points to an appetite in Australia for a highly-specified compact SUVs, despite the proliferation of entry-level front-drive variants priced around $10,000 less than the Kuga.

The Blue Oval blames its belated entry to this country's booming compact SUV sector on high demand in Europe and has secured production slots for just 200 Kugas per month, meaning it will barely outsell the old Escape, which has averaged monthly sales of 225 units since its March 2001 launch and has not broken the double-ton since May last year.

Speaking at the Kuga launch in New Zealand yesterday, Ford Australia general marketing manager David Katic said the number of customers signing up on its website to be kept informed about the Kuga was double that for the Ranger one-tonne ute, which itself received a “stellar” level of sign-ups – suggesting demand for the SUV will far outstrip supply.

Ford executives at the launch admitted there had also been supply constraints on the Mondeo mid-sizer and the third-generation Focus small car, both of which are sourced from Europe.

In its current form, the Kuga will only remain on sale here in until mid-2013, when it will be replaced by a significantly updated car, due to be unveiled at the Geneva motor show next month, which will be a mildly-tweaked version of the new North American Ford Escape that debuted at the Lost Angeles show late last year.

Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano said the strategy of introducing the Kuga to this country with such a limited lifespan was to build awareness of the nameplate ahead of the new car's arrival.

The company is adamant it will secure better supply for the second-generation Kuga as it put its hand up early for the car, meaning production planning in Europe will take Australian demand into account – although it is still hard to imagine any Europe-sourced Ford being able to match monthly volumes in excess of 1000 as regularly achieved by Asian products like the Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester.

That said, the new Kuga will be based on the global C1 platform that underpins the current-generation Focus, which will be sourced for Australia from Thailand from the second half of this year, meaning there is a significant chance that Kuga production for this country will also eventually shift to Asia – ensuring plentiful supplies.

In the meantime, the Kuga – which despite its age and being based on the previous generation Focus, is still highly regarded in Europe – will serve to act as Ford's foil against the facelifted Tiguan, segment-leading RAV4, all-new Mazda CX-5 (arriving next month) and Honda's new CR-V (expected to arrive in the third quarter of this year).

Two variants are available, both sharing a Volvo-sourced five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and five-speed automatic transmission. Although a diesel engine is available in Europe and the fuel is popular among Australian SUV buyers, there are no plans to introduce an oil-burner here as it is not available with an automatic transmission.

The Kuga has earned a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating and comes with a full gamut of safety aids including six airbags, electronic stability control with roll-over mitigation, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist and automatic hazard light activation, and front fog lights.

Being Focus-based and sharing that car's Control Blade multi-link rear suspension setup, the Kuga promises sure-footed road-holding, an engaging drive and a decent ride.

A handy flip-up tailgate window – as per the Territory – is standard equipment, as are keyless start, cruise control, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, voice activation, multi-function steering wheel, an eight-speaker sound system with MP3-compatible CD player and USB/iPod auxiliary inputs.

In addition to the usual glovebox, centre console and door bin storage areas are map pockets behind the front seats, a false floor in the rear footwell area and under-seat storage wells. There are also three 12-volt power outlets around the cabin.

Opening the Kuga line-up is the $38,990 Trend variant – expected to account for 65 per cent of sales – which rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and has a leather-trimmed steering wheel complementing the manually-adjustable, cloth-trimmed front seats.

The $44,990 Titanium flagship upgrades to 18-inch wheels and a leather interior with six-way electric adjustment for the driver's seat, extra adjustability for the front passenger seat and heating for both. Rear passengers gain flip-down tray tables plus a central armrest with internal storage and integrated cup-holders.

A heated front windscreen, panoramic glass roof and rear privacy glass are also added, along with dual-zone climate-control, automatic headlights and wipers, reversing sensors, a set of floor mats and stainless steel front scuff plates.

It is just as well that Ford is aiming the Kuga at young childless couples as boot space is not a strong point at 360 litres with the 60/40 split rear bench up, expanding to 1355 litres with them folded flat. Underneath the boot floor is a space-saver spare wheel.

Volkswagen's Tiguan, not noted for ample cargo capacity, trumps the Kuga by 45 litres with the seats up and 155 litres with its seats folded, while other rivals like the Forester and Koleos offer superior seats-up storage to the tune of 90 litres.

The 147kW/320Nm 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine – a slightly de-tuned version of the one used in Ford's Focus XR5 hot hatch – hauls the 1653kg Kuga to 100km/h in a claimed 8.8 seconds and consumes 10.3 litres of 95 RON premium unleaded per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle.

At 4443mm long, the Kuga sits between the Tiguan and Forester, while its 1842mm girth makes it wider than both but slightly narrower than a Koleos. Its 1710mm height makes it one of the tallest in its class, belying a relatively low-slung 188mm ground clearance that threatens to reduce its off-road credentials.

The Kuga's equipment levels are generous compared with Japanese rivals of similar performance like the Toyota RAV4 V6 and turbocharged Subaru Forester XT, but the comparisons get more interesting when the Euro-sourced and Euro-centric Kuga is compared against Volkswagen's Tiguan.

A natural rival to the Kuga, the Tiguan provides a comparatively good value proposition with the just-released 132TSI Pacific special edition priced at $35,990 with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Although it cannot quite keep up with a Kuga in the performance stakes – mainly due to the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission being temporarily replaced by a conventional six-speed unit – the Pacific is more fuel-efficient and comes with luxuries unmatched by the Kuga Trend.

These include automatic headlights and wipers, front/rear parking sensors and rear camera with park assist, dual-zone climate-control, rear armrest and an auto-dimming interior mirror.

Ford communications and public affairs director told GoAuto the lack of a reversing camera on the Australian-delivered Kuga is due to its integration with the satellite-navigation system, which is also unavailable due to a lack of digital maps caused by its arrival so late in the model cycle.

Unlike its Kuga Titanium rival, the $42,990 Tiguan 155TSI flagship – which is $2000 less expensive, faster and more efficient than the Ford – does not come with leather as standard but makes up for it with technology including a rear camera, graphic parking sensors, fatigue detection and six CD changer.

Keeping with the European brands, the Korean-built, French-badged Renault Koleos Dynamique 2.5 AWD rivals the Kuga Titanium for standard equipment and adds satellite navigation for Trend-like price of $37,990 – although its naturally-aspirated petrol engine is less powerful (but slightly more efficient) compared with the Ford.

The $44,490 Koleos Privilege flagship goes even further, adding equipment not offered on the Kuga Titanium such as Xenon headlights, front/rear parking sensors, keyless entry and a Bose premium sound system.

Ford quotes identical 750kg figures for braked and unbraked trailer-towing duties, while most rivals can haul two tonnes braked.

Ford Kuga pricing (plus on-roads):
Kuga Trend (a)$38,990
Kuga Titanium (a) $44,990

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