Ford KugaSales in the UK of SUVs, 4x4s and crossovers, call them what you will, have risen  in the past five years from 6.4% of the UK’s new car market to almost 10% in 2012.

With total sales of 201,102 units last year, a rise of 21% over 2011, the demand for these dual purpose vehicles is forecast to grow further as even more models become available, many new ones aimed at ‘supermini’ or B-sector customers.

The UK demand for SUVs and dual purpose vehicles is being driven by customers who want more appropriate, fuel efficient and versatile vehicles able to cope with the adverse weather conditions we are experiencing and the deteriorating road surfaces.
The arrival of the all new Ford Kuga  five door, five seater, two or four wheel drive SUV  is therefore timely and vehicles are rolling into UK showrooms from early February.  The new ‘One Ford’ global Kuga has more load space, more and higher grade specification, better residual values, cleaner engines, improved driving dynamics and at a lower price than the outgoing models.

Ford will grow their presence in the global SUV market with this new mid-sized Kuga range, to be known as Escape in the US, followed by the EcoSport supermini sized SUV late in 2013 and the larger Edge premium crossovers in 2014 which is already successful in the US. Ford expects to sell more than one million SUVs in Europe in the next six years, around 10% of Ford’s total volume by 2016.

Escape versions will be built in the US, Kuga production for Europe has been moved to Ford’s plant in Valencia Spain from Saarlouis Germany and Kugas for the Asian market will be built in China.  The first generation Kuga/Escape sold 300,000 units, 48,000 of them in the UK since it was launched in 2008.

Ford KugaThe new Kuga for the UK market is competitively priced from £20,895; this is £1,005 less than the outgoing starter model because the new range has a 1.6-litre EcoBoost 150PS petrol engine option rather than just a 2.0-litre TDCi diesel unit.  Right through the range Ford says all like-for-like models are lower in price with the top version, the 2.0-litre TDCi 163PS all wheel drive with automatic transmission, costing £29,795.

In addition to the 150PS 1.6 petrol engine, in due course an 180PS version of the same 1.6 unit will be introduced mated with an automatic transmission. Both will be front wheel drive only models. The range also has the mainstay engine, a 2.0-litre TDCi 140PS available with a 6-speed manual transmission with front wheel drive, or with all wheel drive, or with a 6-speed auto gearbox and all wheel drive.  The top of the range 2.0-litre TDCi 163PS engine has auto and manual gearbox options and both are all-wheel-drive.

In addition to engine choices there are Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X trim and equipment levels and a host of other extra costs options.  At the European press launch held in Valencia, Anthony Ireson, Marketing Director for Ford of Britain said, “The previous generation Kuga saw 74% of sales go to the higher grade Titanium and Titanium X versions. However this generation will see 48% of UK sales going to the Zetec specification because there are more engine options for this level including the new 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol units. Titanium X is expected to appeal to 28% of UK buyers and Titanium 24%.”

He added that of the 10,000 plus annual UK sales target, two thirds will go to retail customers although business user choosers and fleet customers share should grow as the new range is more attractive because of lower CO2 emissions and reduced prices all adding up to less company car tax costs.  Some business user chooser customers as well as retail buyers will also find the new 1.6-litre petrol engines a sensible financial option.

Ford KugaIreson said that two thirds of UK customers will continue to choose a Kuga AWD (all-wheel-drive) model and he anticipates that around 25% of customers will opt for the new 1.6-litre petrol engines.  The most likely popular version will be the Kuga 2.0-litre TDCi 140PS Zetec AWD manual priced at £23,395.  This returns 47.9mpg in the Combined Cycle with CO2 emissions of 154g/km which means VED road tax is £170 a year and Benefit-in-Kind tax for company car drivers is currently 24% rising to 25% from April.

First drive views
Although not its best selling model range, the first generation Kuga SUV launched in 2008 has been a significant model for the brand. It has been bought in the main by customers who have not had a Ford before and it has received the highest customer satisfaction ratings across the Ford range.

Given the growth of SUV/4x4 passenger cars, 21% in the UK last year alone, the all new mid-sized five door, five seater Kuga  launched from February, with lower prices from £20,895  (around £1,000 les) should appeal. They have more fuel and tax efficient 1.6 petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines, from 139gkm of CO2 and up to 53.3mpg and two and four wheel drive versions with manual and automatic transmission options. They have more load space with one movement fold flat rear seats which give between 82 to over 200-litres more space. There is improved passenger comfort, more equipment, more driving refinement, sharper steering, better noise insulation in the cabin, better handling and ride comfort, smarter more premium looks inside and out, a lighter and stiffer bodyshell and a five star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Ford KugaThe new Kuga is 81mm longer and this extra length is given over to providing more load space following feedback from Kuga owners.  The wheelbase remains the same at 2,690mm which means no more rear legroom but the seat backs reclining in steps so the rear feels roomier. A further up-market addition is the hands-free rear tailgate which is operated by placing a foot under the rear bumper. That activates the opening and closing sensors providing the key-fob is within the vicinity of the vehicle.

The interior quality of the vehicle with higher grades of trim is noticeable and the curved dashboard is now lower improving front visibility.  The sat/nav screen however is small by today’s standards and recessed too far into the fascia panel so it is not readily in the driver’s line of site.  There is a mass of buttons on the upper centre console operating the sat/nav, sound system, heating and ventilation and it really looks cluttered and not intuitive to use.  There are also numerous other controls on the steering wheel and control stalks. Button/control wise it is a very ‘busy’ design and needs changing. I understand moves are already underway to refine the design of the screen and controls after feedback from customer clinics and the media.

The interior spec list for the expected most popular Zetec version includes alloy wheels, front fog lights, twin exhausts, front/rear underbody scrape plates, power/heated door mirrors, heated windscreen, electric windows, keyless start, manual air con, sport front seats with cloth upholstery, cruise control with speed limiter, alarm and mini spare wheel. Titanium additions include auto headlights and wipers, DAB radio, Ford Sync with emergency assist, partial leather seats and Roll-Stability Control. Titanium X additions include 18-inch alloys, Bi-Xenon automatic levelling headlights, electrically adjustable driver seat, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate and full leather upholstery.

Ford KugaTo reduce noise intrusion acoustic glass is used for the windscreen and thicker glass for the side windows.  Better insulation is used throughout including foam filling for the upper body beams and panels.  One of the first characteristics I noticed driving the new Kuga was just how quite it was inside, so quiet in fact wind noise was more noticeable although the door mirrors have been specifically designed to be more aerodynamic.   It was very easy to have a conversation without the need to speak louder even when driving at high speeds.  The second most noticeable change was just how comfortable the ride is from the new model even with the larger 18-inch alloy wheels fitted. Zetec and Titanium versions have 17-inch ones and I suspect ride comfort would be even better with those.  Not only are the seats better the suspension is more compliant giving a supple and flowing ride with little bodyroll.  The suspension has seen a lot of changes with wider shock absorber tubes, new lower location point bushes and new rear antiroll bar. For an even more controlled ride Titanium and Titanium X models get Roll-Stability Control, a further step towards driving refinement.  The revised steering remains sharp, precise and linear in the level of power assist it provides.

The Kuga retains its four door coupe side profile with a higher domed bonnet at the front with a new three horizontal part grille. The wider wheelarches and high rising waistline give it a chunkier, more muscular appearance with more visual impact and moving it away from the image of yet another soft off-roader or crossover model. Using lightweight steel weight has been shaved from the vehicle and new Kuga models range from 1,580 to 1,707kg depending on engine, transmission and two/four wheel drivetrain choice.

Ford KugaThere is a new generation all-wheel-drive system which includes Curve Control which controls against severe understeer by braking and reducing engine torque. Torque Vectoring Control is introduced to the drivetrain, this reduces torque-steer.  The electronically controlled AWD system constantly delivers variable amounts of power to the front or rear wheels depending on driving needs.  Normally for on-road driving most of the power is fed through the front wheels. On acceleration more power is automatically fed to the rear axle, up to 100% if needed. For off-road driving the all terrain mode is selected to provide secure front and rear wheel drive and grip.  This is no heavy duty 4x4 but it will do the job coping with steep muddy farm tracks, snow, sand, towing and generally coping with life on our poor quality, potholed road surfaces.

At the Valencia based motoring media first drive experience of the new Kuga only the 2.0-litre TDCi Duratorq 163PS turbodiesel powered models were available either with the six-speed manual or six speed twin clutch automatic transmission.  We get to drive the main selling 2.0-litre 140PS versions later this month in the UK.

Having more power and more torque resulting in more speed, more chance to sample the higher cornering speeds and the overall handling and comfort refinement the new Kuga offers was a logical choice.  If it works with this engine it will work with the lower power units as well.  The 163PS (160bhp) 340Nm (250lb ft) four cylinder unit Ford Kugacommon- rail, direct injection turbocharged diesel provides ample ‘grunt’ from 2,000rpm so it is response for acceleration and relaxed at high cruising speeds.  Driving over a winding and mountainous route this engine returned 33.3mpg with the auto twin clutch gearbox and 34mpg with the six speed manual transmission, both impressive given the terrain.  Officially this version in auto form will return 45.6mpg and the manual 47.9mpg.

The outgoing Kuga was not short of handling refinement, ride comfort and ability. The new generation is significantly improved in all areas and costs less to buy and run.  We wouldn’t expect or accept anything less in this competitive and growing market sector, a sector that Ford has not dominated to date but with the C-Segment Kuga now, the smaller B-segment EcoSport SUV due later this year and the larger D-segment Edge in 2014, things could change in Ford’s favour. They need to with continued losses in the recessionary eurozone in terms of sales volumes and profitability.

MILESTONES. New Ford Kuga 5-Door mid-sized SUV, 2.0-litre TDCi 163PS Auto AWD   Titanium X. Price: £29,795.  Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, four cylinder, common-rail direct injection Duratorq turbodiesel, 160bhp, 250lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, 6-speed, Powershift twin clutch automatic,  intelligent all-wheel-drive. Performance:  122mph, 0 to 62mph 10.4 seconds, 45.6mpg Combined Cycle (33.3mpg on test), CO2 162g/km VED road tax £170. BIK company car tax 26%. Insurance group: 23 (tbc). Dimensions/capacities: L 4,524mm, W 1,838mm, H 1,744mm, load bay 456 to 1,653-litres. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. For: New standout styling, fun and efficient to drive, comfortable and quiet to ride in, smart technologies, fuel and CO2 efficient  engines, cheaper to buy, improved interior quality and more load space. Against: Fussy layout for too many control buttons, small and remotely positioned info/sat/nav screen, no more rear passenger legroom, non-generous warranty.   Miles Better News Agency 

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