2013 FORD KUGA REVIEW
What's hot: Polished peformance from diesel, solid handling, tech-laden Titanium
What's not: A bit exxy, petrol auto needs work, puzzling gaps in equipment list
X-Factor: No more five-cylinder fun, but the Kuga's now a far more practical proposition
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $27,990 - $47,740
Engine/trans: 110kW/240Nm 1.6 petrol manual FWD | 134kW/240Nm 1.6 petrol auto AWD | 120kW/340Nm 2.0 diesel auto
Fuel economy listed: 6.7 l/100km (Ambiente 1.6 FWD) | 7.7 l/100km (Ambiente 1.6 AWD) | 8.0 l/100km (Trend & Titanium 1.6 AWD) | 6.3 l/100km (Trend 2.0D AWD) | 6.4 l/100km (Titanium 2.0D AWD)
There's an all-new Ford Kuga in town, arriving in Australia just 14 months since the already ageing first-generation model debuted here.
That first model was a bit of a curio. Its turbocharged inline five made it a cracking drive, but with only two model grades and a $38,990 starting price, it lacked the broad appeal needed to capture a meaningful slice of the medium SUV segment.
It needed a diesel, it needed a 2WD entry model, it needed more fuel-efficient powertrains and it desperately needed an interior overhaul.
The new Kuga delivers all these things.
The price of entry has also plunged to $27,990, and there’s now plenty of equipment on offer - particularly in the $47,740 Kuga Titanium TDCi flagship.
But is it more than 'just a jacked-up Focus'? More importantly, can the Kuga justify its relatively high cost compared to competitors like the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia’s excellent Sportage?
To answer those questions, we put the 2013 Ford Kuga through the wringer at its local launch this week.
The second-gen Kuga makes massive strides in quality, ergonomics and comfort.
While its predecessor was saddled with a bland, dated interior design, the new Kuga borrows heavily from the Focus to deliver a dashboard that’s eye-catching and functional.
The base model Kuga Ambiente gets some antiquated monochrome LED displays, but the Trend and Titanium model grades have much larger colour LCD screens with very slick graphics.
Plastics are of a generally high grade, and most switchgear - particularly the indicator stalks - feel very premium.
Front seat comfort is great thanks to a pair of supportive and well-cushioned seats, although there’s no height adjustment for the passenger in the Ambiente, nor is there a powered passenger seat in the top-dog Titanium.
The seating position is quite high though, and all-round visibility is excellent.
The back seat features a reclining backrest, decent legroom and plenty of width for two adults to sit in good comfort. Headroom can be tight for those over six feet (especially with the Titanium's moonroof), but minimal transmission tunnel intrusion means even the centre seat is usable for adults.
One small debit for the Ambiente grade is its lack of face-level air vents for the rear seats. Trend and Titanium models get a pair of vents on the back of the centre console, so their absence on the base model just seems stingy.
The Kuga isn't short on standard equipment however.
Key among these is the Sync system, which besides incorporating voice-activated commands and Bluetooth phone and audio integration, also automatically calls 000 in the event of a serious collision.
All models also get auto up/down power windows, push-button ignition, cruise control, a USB audio input, trip computer and foglights. Seven airbags are standard across all models, as is stability control, ABS, EBD, traction control and brake assist.
Step up to the mid-range Trend and you get dual-zone climate control, partial-leather seats, a powered driver’s seat, auto-on headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, a digital radio tuner and a 4.2-inch colour infotainment display.
The Titanium adds a panoramic glass sunroof, bi-xenon headlamps, front parking sensors, a reversing camera, LED daytime running lamps, full-leather upholstery, heated front seats, keyless entry, active park assist and satellite navigation.
The Titanium also gets a nifty auto-opening tailgate, which activates by kicking your leg under the rear bumper. Definitely a handy feature when walking back to the car with an armful of shopping.
Storage space is pretty good. Changes to the Kuga’s length have yielded a 71 litre improvement in seats-up boot capacity, taking it to 481 litres in total.
The two-position boot floor also allows a flat load area with the 60/40 split rear seats folded, making for a capacity of 1603 litres.
In-cabin storage is good too. There’s generously-sized door pockets, flip-up meal trays for the rear passengers (Titanium only) and an incredibly deep centre console box.
ON THE ROAD
The 2.5 litre turbocharged inline-five has been replaced by a 1.6 litre turbo four, and a 2.0 litre turbodiesel gives buyers a more frugal powertrain option.
Both the 1.6 petrol and the 2.0 diesel are good engines in their own right, but neither are perfect.
1.6 Turbo Petrol
The petrol engine is small, and in the base model FWD Ambiente only produces 110kW and 240Nm. Plus it's only available with a six-speed manual.
But opt for any AWD variant, and the little 1.6 gets a different tune and a much more substantial 134kW output - just 13kW less than the old Kuga’s turbo 2.5 litre.
Being of small displacement, the 1.6 in either of its configurations needs a lot of revs to stay happy. Mid-range torque is adequate for pottering around town, but overtaking or pressing on in steeper hills will require 4000rpm at a minimum.
Annoyingly, the shift calibration of the six-speed automatic (standard on all AWD 1.6s) takes little of this into account.
It shifts smoothly enough, but the system tries to move up the gears as fast as possible (in the interests of fuel consumption), dropping into sixth the instant the accelerator is lifted.
Combined with tardy kickdown performance, the 1.6 litre engine is very easily caught off-guard by sudden demands for power. Steep hills tend to confuse the gearbox too, making it pause while it figures out the best ratio.
Using the manual shift mode is one workaround, but with the tiny toggle switch on the gearlever being the only way of actuating a manual shift, you may as well not bother.
Fuel economy is pretty decent. Ford claims the 1.6 turbo consumes 6.7 l/100km in Ambiente FWD trim, with the AWD Trend and Titanium requiring 8.0 l/100km on the combined cycle.
For driveability, the turbodiesel fares better. Peak power is 120kW while torque maxes out at 340Nm, and with peak torque available from just 2000rpm it’s a far more relaxed engine than the 1.6 petrol.
The diesel is mated to a twin-clutch six-speed automatic gearbox, which differs markedly from the conventional hydraulic automatic used by the petrol Kuga.
Shifts are crisp (though not as sharp as the DSG-equipped VW Tiguan), and the shift mapping syncs up better with the engine’s torque delivery characteristics.
The diesel option is a better powertrain package all round - it’s just a shame it comes at a $3000 premium over its petrol equivalent.
Handling is rather good, with a pleasing balance between ride comfort and roadholding. Road noise is also low, and there’s hardly any wind noise to note.
The Kuga points into turns keenly, and the steering carries good on-centre feel and a progressive increase in weighting the further you turn the wheel. It's lacking in feedback though, and doesn’t have the same razor-sharp response as the Kuga’s smaller cousin, the Focus.
The Continental tyres of the Trend and Titanium offer commendable grip, and the AWD system’s ability to shuffle 100 percent of torque to either axle adds confidence in slippery conditions.
The Goodyear tyres of the base model Ambiente aren’t quite as sticky as the Continentals, but roadholding is still more than acceptable.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The Kuga has matured a lot, which is no doubt going to give a big boost to the nameplate’s popularity in this country.
By adding more powertrains to the range, reducing fuel consumption and dropping the price of entry, Ford has come up with a medium SUV that’s more than capable of taking the fight to the established competition.
It’s still just a touch too expensive for what it is, though, and the base model Ambiente is so much more spartan than the rest of the range that you may as well head straight for the mid-grade Trend.
There’s no problems with either engine, but the transmission calibration of the petrol’s six-speed auto is too conservative.
Fix that, and driveability would be substantially improved. Until then, the diesel is a far better machine.
The Kuga has much potential, and it will be interesting to see if it will sway SUV buyers away from RAV4s, CX-5s, Foresters and X-Trails. We’ll be taking a closer look at the rest of the range soon, so stay tuned for more in-depth reviews of the 2013 Ford Kuga.
Pricing (excludes on-roads)
- 2014 Kuga Ambiente FWD 1.6 petrol manual - $27,990
- 2014 Kuga Ambiente AWD 1.6 petrol automatic - $31,490
- 2014 Kuga Trend AWD 1.6 petrol automatic - $36,240
- 2014 Kuga Trend AWD 2.0 diesel automatic - $39,240
- 2014 Kuga Titanium AWD 1.6 petrol automatic - $44,740
- 2014 Kuga Titanium AWD 2.0 diesel automatic - $47,740