More power, sharper pricing and the introduction of a base front-drive auto gives the improved 2015 Ford Kuga a fighting chance
WHAT IS IT?
Ford’s underrated Euro medium SUV is one of our segment favourites, combining all turbo powertrains with class-leading dynamics, leading refinement and a spacious cabin.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Addressing criticism that the now-discontinued 1.6-litre turbo petrol models lack grunt, Ford has pilfered the 2.0-litre turbo unit from the Focus ST for all mid and high-range petrol Kugas, introduced a more economical 1.5-litre turbo and auto (at last) on the base front-drive Ambiente, upped the diesel’s power and torque outputs and made a reverse camera available across the range. Phew…
Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4
THE WHEELS VERDICT
A 2.0-litre turbo fixes the old 1.6-litre petrol’s power deficit while the value-packed base 1.5-litre front-drive auto is a peach.
PLUS: Leading 2.0-litre turbo performance, dynamics and refinement, value, space
MINUS: Stupid name, excessive road noise, exxy diesel, fidgety ride on bigger wheels
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IN AN idealistic Wheels’ World universe, everybody would choose to drive light, nimble and efficient wagons over bulky and unwieldy SUVs.
We’re dreaming, of course, because nobody much cares for ’em outside of Europe. But, at the very least then, why don’t Aussie SUV buyers make more informed choices? Case in point – Ford’s underrated Kuga is outsold by the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Honda CR-V that it shamed in a recent comparo.
Yes, the name ‘Kuga’ is rubbish. There was no sub-$30K front-drive auto. The 1.6-litre AWD petrol models struggled under load, and only the flagship Titanium scored a reverse camera. Yet the dynamic Ford remained our favourite, and was worth the extra dosh.
Now, Kuga’s been given engine transplants, a natty rear-view camera in the centre mirror is available (but not standard) and petrol variant prices are down. The new 1.5-litre turbo petrol FWD auto with idle-stop starts off from $28,990 and while the fine TDCi diesel costs $750 more, it does offer extra oomph (though we couldn’t drive one on launch, sadly).
On paper, the 134kW/240Nm 1.5 turbo outputs are identical to that of the 1.6 turbo, but on the move the loss of the circa-70kg AWD gear means the expected volume selling Ambiente 2WD auto feels decisively quicker off the mark and pulls harder during an overtaking manoeuvre than before – and all without the loss of that engine’s revvy exuberance. Keeping in mind the prevalence of 2.0 atmo lumps in most equivalently priced competitors, and this Kuga feels downright spirited.
Stepping up to the 178kW/345Nm 2.0 turbo AWD is an interesting exercise in expectation management, since initial acceleration isn’t anywhere near as forceful as the similarly outputted Subaru Forester XT’s. That’d be the latter’s 100kg weight advantage talking. The flabby Ford only properly belts along once the tacho swings past 4000rpm, where effortless midrange punch is this four-pot turbo’s knockout party trick.
Pretty much everything else that’s wholesome and good about the Kuga remains intact, including the same roomy and practical cabin, fussy though informative dash, planted chassis, balanced steering, forceful brakes and composed (if occasionally fidgety) ride. Note that the Ambiente’s 17-inch Hankook tyres’ drone-prone propensity on coarser bitumen might be an issue for some.
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The bottom line is, however, that the key things that kept a good Kuga down have been systematically addressed. If it doesn’t break into the SUV bestseller podium then Aussie crossover buyers deserve to drive mediocrity. Or maybe Ford should consider importing the Focus wagon instead, which would make us even happier.
Model: Ford Kuga Trend 2.0 EcoBoost
Engine: 1999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 178kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 345Nm @ 2000-4500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 7.2sec (US Ford Escape official figures)
Fuel economy: 8.6L/100km
On sale: January 2015