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Ford Kuga Titanium 2.0 TDCi Roadtest

A text-book interpretation of SUV principles and practice.

its chassis has much in common with that of the Focus

"You always know where you are with a Ford," said a friend of mine, as he consulted a road atlas in a vain attempt to discover our whereabouts. A lifelong Ford fan, he had blagged a ride with me in the new Kuga, Ford's first and only entry into the so-called 'Crossover' market. Crossover is a new name for SUVs, presumably coined to make them sound less gas-guzzling.

In the Kuga's case, this slight deceit is unnecessary, as all the launch models are powered by the Ford-PSA 2.0-litre TDCi engine, which is good for 50-something mpg in the right circumstances. A five-pot petrol model will be launched in due course, but in the meantime, it's diesel or nothing.

Unfortunately, Ford's timing is poor. Unwittingly, the company has launched the oil-burning Kuga just at the time when the price of diesel fuel has gone through the ceiling, and therefore it is entering a diminishing market. On the other hand, if you wanted to launch a car that was bound to have popular appeal, what better name to choose than Ford? It is one of the few brands capable of exerting sufficient demand to offset a downward trend.

As a late entrant into the market segment, Ford has had plenty of time to study the competition, and to figure out exactly what it is that people want of an SUV, or crossover, or what you will.

The starting point was Europe's best-selling car: the Focus. Despite the Kuga's vastly different appearance, its chassis has much in common with that of the Focus, and consequently delivers on-road driving dynamics that mirror, if not entirely replicate, those of its stablemate. Add to that Ford's typically bid-you-welcome ergonomics, and undemanding driveability, and the result is a car into which Focus drivers could upscale with a sense of familiarity.

The engine, too, is tried and tested. The familiar 2.0 TDCi engine appears throughout the Ford range, and mated to a six-speed manual transmission appears particularly suited to the Kuga. In my opinion, all SUVs should have diesel engines: the fuel economy and lower emissions to some extent mitigate the environmental footprint, and at the same time provide the right torque characteristics for occasional off-road use.

Comparatively Low Co2 Rating

In respect of the latter, the TDCi engine delivers a peak torque of 320 Nm at 2000 rpm. Allowing for the usual extent of near-peak ouput, that means a useable torque envelope from around 1600 to close on 3000 rpm. The lower end is ideal for precise control when driving off-road, and the overall spread enables prompt in-gear acceleration, helped by a transient overboost facility that briefly increases the peak torque to 340 Nm during heavy acceleration.

The mid-range punch is typical of a modern diesel engine, and to some extent entails your disregarding the quoted 0-62 acceleration time of 10.7 seconds, which seems unremarkable. During a typical cross-country drive, and using intermediate gears, the Kuga's responses belie the quoted straight-line performance. It's the same old story: torque not horsepower determines mid-range performance, and the Kuga has torque to spare. Top speed is 112 mph, but in the UK at least, a mere 2000 rpm on the clock at motorway cruising speeds is a far more significant measurement, and again, a product of the engine's flexibility rather than outright power.

A probe up the exhaust pipe would also reveal another significant measurement: 169 g/km, which Ford claims is the lowest CO2 rating for any 2.0-litre all-wheel-drive vehicle. It's certainly lower than the Volkswagen 2.0 TDI Tiguan, which is a quoted 182 g/km. That may not sound like much of a difference, but, next year, when the new VED bands take effect, the Ford will fall into Band H at £175 per annum, and the VeeDub, Band J, at £260 per annum.

The Kuga's comparatively low CO2 rating is a function of the combined fuel consumption, which, at 44.1 mpg, is around 5 mpg better than that of the Tiguan's. OK, so the Ford is more expensive, but only by £30. The VW Tiguan Sport is listed at £22,470, and the range-topping Kuga Titanium (as tested) at £22,500. Needless to say, the Ford test car was loaded with extras, to the extent that the bottom line maxed at £27,450, which will pretty much buy you a lead-in Toyota Land Cruiser.

In deciding what should be 'extras', Ford appears to have taken a leaf out of BMW's book, and made sure that all the must-have bits that lift the car into the sub-premium sector are excluded from the standard specification. For example, the Titanium X Pack, which includes leather trim, heated front seats, a powered driver's seat, a panoramic sunroof, and Bi-Xenon headlights, adds £2,000 to the sticker price. Touch-screen navigation adds another £1,000, and a Convenience Pack - parking sensors, folding mirrors and keyless entry - a further £750. And so it goes on: £4,950 in total.

But if you can live without all the lifestyle stuff, the standard model delivers all the sensible bits at no extra cost. For example, electronic stability control is standard on the Titanium, along with roll-over mitigation, side and curtain airbags, ISOFIX mounts, dual-zone air-conditioning, a 'Power' start button, and, of course, the Haldex automatic all-wheel drive system, which you will also find on the Tiguan.

A Sense Of Command And Security

All models feature a split tailgate: split in the sense that the window can be opened independently of the entire tailgate. If, like me, you always reverse into parking spaces, this feature is handy if you are parked close to a wall, especially as the luggage cover is so designed that small parcels can be loaded without having to release it. And if you find manoeuvring in tight spaces a rather hit and miss (sometimes) affair, another handy Kuga feature is the use of plastic for the front wings, which, says Ford, '...provides greater resistance to dents'. Post Office vans used to have rubber wings, so nothing new there.

Much more of a novelty on Titanium models is an inverter-fed socket at the rear of the centre tunnel. Providing a 230-volt 'mains' supply, it enables rear seat passengers to plug in appliances of up to 150 watts. For 'appliances' read laptops and the like: ironing is out of the question.

In common with the equivalent Mondeo model, the Kuga Titanium utilises Ford's 'modern techno' fascia design, which integrates all the controls into a brushed-aluminium centre stack that is both neat and functional, and much more tactile than plastic. It also adds a premium feel, enhanced by the pin-sharp, 32-bit display graphics of the optional multi-media system. This central display is augmented by another, much smaller, screen, located between the analogue instruments. As well as keeping you abreast of essential data, the mini-panel also serves as a repeater for the satellite navigation screen, and provides a pictogram of your route through the next junction.

Compared to the Focus, the wheelbase on the Kuga has been lengthened by 50 mm and the track increased by 43 mm. The changes are intended to offset the higher centre of gravity, but incidentally have given the designers plenty of room to optimise the interior layout, which appears to favour passengers rather than parcels. Even with the rear seats folded, the maximum load volume is 1355 litres, and with the rear seats in place, the volume is restricted to 360 litres, or 12 cubic feet. I suspect this is measured to the window-line, because a calculation based on the linear dimensions produces a volume of more than double that amount. But however you measure it, the boot (with the rear seats in place) is wider than it is deep, which is generally more convenient.

Measuring the passenger space is a much simpler affair. Take one averagely sized adult and multiply by five: there will still be a little room to spare. As ever, Ford has managed to optimise the packaging, and the interior is spacious and comfortable, and, with an optional panoramic sunroof, light and airy. The sense of comfort and well-being is enhanced by the low noise levels and excellent ride quality, partly the consequence of the Kuga's having the same 'control blade' rear suspension as the Focus.

It also shares with the Focus the familiar MacPherson-strut front suspension. Naturally, the suspension components have been 'tuned' to reflect the entirely different architecture of the Kuga, and the result is a handling package that will undoubtedly suit the much faster 5-cylinder petrol model, aimed at drivers who want to combine a measure of performance with practical SUV attributes. I have already mentioned the familiar Ford ergonomics, and these combine with the agile platform and the security of on-demand all-wheel drive to generate a sense of command and security that is sometimes absent from SUVs. Despite its being styled and equipped as an SUV, the Kuga acquits itself in a manner surprisingly close to that of its hatchback sibling.

But whether or not potential buyers are aware of its close ties to the Focus, or even care about it, is a moot point. What matters is that it is a Ford, and that's really all I needed to have written about the car. As we approached the outskirts of Worthing, my friend looked up from the Hampshire page in his atlas and said: "I was right; you know where you are with a Ford."

Posted on 18.06.2008 by Graham Whyte
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