Ford Australia will axe the Kuga name in favour of Escape, as it lowers the cost of entry to its mid-sized SUV.
The Kuga name will disappear from Ford showrooms in January when the 2017 Ford Escape arrives, though, despite the new name, Ford’s ‘new’ midsize SUV is a facelift rather than an all-new model.
Changes compared to the Ford Kuga aren’t wholesale – the most notable are new front and rear plastics, a reprofiled bonnet, revised tailgate, new headlamps and tail lamp designs, a new set of 18- and 19-inch alloy wheel designs and a slightly remodelled interior with higher-quality materials.
The centre console features a repositioned gear selector and cupholders, as well as an electronic parking brake instead of the Kuga’s traditional handbrake lever. Access to the ventilation controls is improved, and Trend and Titanium grades also get laminated side glass for improved noise suppression.
Meanwhile, infotainment fit-out gets a boost from Ford’s latest Sync 3 system, which replaces the current Sync 2 software and features intuitive voice commands, an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, integrated sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring on all Escape variants.
The Escape will be sourced from the same Spanish factory that currently builds the Kuga and the powertrain lineup will continue to encompass 1.5-litre turbo petrol, 2.0-litre turbo petrol and 2.0-litre turbo diesel options. Outputs are the same, though the 2.0-litre is more efficient than before with a 0.2L/100km drop in combined-cycle consumption, down to 8.6L/100km.
Auto-equipped models gain a set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and engine start-stop will become standard.
Mechanical changes may be minor, but the range offering has been tweaked to broaden its appeal. Prices for all petrol models are down, while the entry-grade Ambiente 2WD manual drops from $29,250 to $28,490. More importantly, the previously AWD-only Trend grade can now be had in 1.5-litre 2WD form as well, netting a $3000 saving against the all-paw equivalent.
With most Kuga shoppers gravitating toward the Trend, the addition of a more affordable 2WD variant in the Escape line-up is expected to garner more customers for Ford.
And while the Kuga name copped flak from some corners of the motoring media, Ford Australia insists its move away from that badge had more to do with aligning its product portfolio with the rest of Ford’s global empire.
“We’re revitalising our SUV line-up, leveraging our global heritage and expertise, to bring the Escape into the family,” said Ford Australia spokesman Damion Smy.
“The Kuga name has been criticised in the media, but it wasn’t a substantial hindrance to the success of Kuga – which was increasing in sales in 2016 until we announced this new model back in August.”
The Escape may not be an entirely ‘new’ entrant, but Ford is banking that its more well-rounded range, sharper styling, improved equipment levels and reduced price will put it in good stead with motorists shopping in the increasingly vital medium SUV segment.
That segment continues to grow as SUV sales snare greater and greater chunks of the new car market, with medium SUV sales so far this year registering nearly 19 percent growth against 2015’s figures.
Plus with the imminent departure of the Ford Territory from local showrooms after Ford Australia’s closure of its Broadmeadows assembly plant, the Escape will need to pick up some of that slack.
The Territory will be replaced by the slightly smaller Edge in early 2018, though those looking for a seven-seat Ford SUV will need to aim for the Ranger-based Everest instead – a seven-seat option exists for the Chinese market, but Ford Australia has confirmed Australia-bound cars won’t be sourced from that country.
Meanwhile the Everest range will gain a more affordable five-seat model in the second-quarter of 2017.
Escape Ambiente 2WD 1.5 manual - $28,490
Escape Ambiente 2WD 1.5 auto - $29,990
Escape Ambiente AWD 1.5 auto - $32,990
Escape Trend 2WD 1.5 auto - $32,990
Escape Trend AWD 2.0 auto - $35,990
Escape Trend AWD 2.0 diesel auto - $38,490
Escape Titanium AWD 2.0 auto - $44,990
Escape Titanium AWD 2.0 diesel auto - $47,490