Ford Kuga (2008-2013)

Ford was slow to cash in on the SUV craze. When its Kuga appeared in 2008, some of its rivals were in second or even third-generation form; the Toyota Rav4 that launched the segment arrived in 1996. But the Kuga was worth waiting for because in typical Ford fashion it was one of the best cars in its class to drive, build quality and reliability were decent and you got plenty for your money. In common with most of its rivals the Kuga was designed mainly for road use, but as the safest compact SUV that Euro NCAP had ever tested - and for a host of other reasons, the Kuga makes great sense as a family car.

Key dates

6/08: The Kuga reaches UK showrooms in 134bhp 2.0 TDCi form and with a choice of Zetec or Titanium trims and intelligent all-wheel drive.
12/08: There's now a 134bhp front-wheel drive 2.0 TDCi, with lower CO2 emissions. A 197bhp 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol Kuga is also introduced, with 4WD and six-speed manual or five-speed auto transmissions. 
6/10: A high-spec trim level 'Individual' arrives with 19-inch alloys, roof rails, privacy glass and extra bodywork detailing. There's also a new 160bhp 2.0 TDCi and the 134bhp version is boosted to 138bhp. Ford's Powershift six-speed dual-clutch transmission is now optional with the 2.0 TDCi engine.


  • You need a special cable, part #1529487, for an MP3 player to work through the car's audio system.
  • Kugas with four-wheel drive can suffer from failure of the Haldex coupling, which is very costly to fix.
  • All engines have a cam belt that needs to be replaced every 10 years and 100-120,000 miles. 
  • Many owners have had problems with fuel leaks after filling up; it comes out of the breather pipe near the filler.
  • Some interior trim wears quickly, especially the gearstick gaiter. The seat trim can also wear; even if it doesn't, creaks are common.
  • The seals for the rear lights can perish, allowing moisture in, so condensation forms inside the clusters.
  • Alloy wheels of all sizes corrode badly; the machined faces suffer the worst.
  • The window seals can squeak where they come into contact with the glass. Buy some Gummi Pfledge (search online) to quell the racket.

We like

  • Great to drive
  • Lots to choose from
  • Strong value
  • Very safe
  • Looks smart
  • Frugal diesel engine

We don't like

  • Narrow model range
  • Patchy reliability
  • No good off road


Ford S-MAX (2006-2014)

When the Ford S-MAX arrived in 2006 it cut a dash like no other car in its segment. Seen by some as the world’s first seven-seater sportscar, thanks to its handling prowess, the S-MAX was capable enough to secure the 2007 European Car of the Year award. For many, having a family means an end to enjoying driving, but thanks to Ford, you don’t have to make such compromises. The S-MAX also makes a brilliant tow car when fitted with one of the larger engines; even when you’re not towing, some of the smaller units can feel a bit weedy. As an all-round family car however, the S-MAX is up there with the best of them, proving that the best things don’t always come in small packages.

Key dates

6/06: The S-MAX reaches UK showrooms in 2.0 and 2.5T petrol forms, alongside 1.8 and 2.0 diesels. 

5/07: ESP becomes standard range-wide 

8/07: A 2.3-litre petrol engine joins the range. 

3/08: A 175bhp 2.2 TDCi (in high-spec Titanium form only) debuts, alongside a 1.8-litre flex-fuel Econetic version that can run on E85 petrol; it’s badged FFV (FlexiFuel Vehicle). 

3/10: A facelifted S-MAX arrives, with a redesigned nose, new safety technologies, an upgraded interior plus new 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines, along with a new dual-clutch transmission badged Powershift.


  • There’s no spare wheel and no provision for one; instead you have to use a tyre sealant.
  • If the car has front parking sensors, make sure they work; they sometimes don’t.
  • Some versions have hydraulic power steering, some electric. Both systems can be unreliable.
  • The S-MAX is a heavy front-wheel drive car. As a result, the front tyres tend to wear quickly.
  • The 1.8 and 2.2 diesel engines can be hesitant and suffer from poor economy if the ECU software hasn’t been updated since it left the factory.
  • Electrics and electronics can play up, so make sure everything works. Focus on the climate control, rear window demisters, active lighting systems and stereos.
  • Blocked ventilation drains can lead to the interior flooding, potentially the wiring loom. Fixing this properly is then very costly.

We like

  • Value
  • Choice
  • Dynamics
  • Practicality
  • Smart design
  • Spacious cabin

We don’t like

  • Unreliable early cars
  • Small boot seven-up


Ford Mondeo (2007-2015)

The only problem with modern Fords is the low-rent image – the product itself is generally superb. Take the Mondeo for example. It’s got loads of space, it’s comfortable and it’s excellent to drive. Build quality is generally very good, and so too is reliability. There are loads of them about so prices are keen, while it’s a smart-looking car too. But less practical German rivals have become the default choice in the segment, proving that sometimes car buyers don’t know when they’re onto a good thing.

Key dates

2/07: The third-generation Mondeo debuts with 1.6, 2.0, 2.3 or 2.5-litre petrol engines, along with 1.8 or 2.0 TDCi turbodiesels. There are four-door saloon, five-door hatchback or five-door estate bodystyles, with Edge, Zetec, Ghia or Titanium X trims.

8/07: A Titanium trim level arrives.

3/08: The low-CO2 1.8 TDCi Econetic and diesel range-topping 2.2 TDCi debut.

5/08: A new top-spec trim is unveiled, the Titanium X Sport.

9/10: A facelift brings a fresh nose, higher quality interior and extra kit, a 1.6 Ecoboost petrol engine plus a 197bhp 2.2 TDCi option.

06/11: A refresh brings more efficient engines, including a 114g/km 1.6 TDCi Econetic.


  • Some owners have found that the diesels don’t like cheap supermarket fuel; it can lead to misfiring.
  • Some cars feature 18-inch wheels, which produce a ride that’s too harsh for some; 16-inch items are best.
  • The windows can open by themselves when the car has been left locked for a while, but there’s no way of testing for this fault.
  • The air-con condensor can fail prematurely on early cars; many have been replaced under warranty by now, but check it anyway.
  • Some of the interior fittings are proving fragile, especially cubby hole lids. Icons can also wear off the stereo buttons.
  • Remote central locking fobs can be temperamental, so lock and unlock the car several times to see if it works intermittently.

We like

  • Value
  • Comfort
  • Spacious cabin
  • Driving experience
  • Huge boot

We don’t like

  • Low-rent image


Richard Dredge


Ford C-Max (2003-2010)

Sold as the MPV for those who didn't want one, Ford's C-Max has always been a car that put the fun back into transporting the family. With its great engines, neat looks and excellent dynamics, the C-Max offers fun in a segment where it's often sadly lacking. However, for a segment that should major on practicality, the C-Max isn't as versatile as it could be, but that doesn't stop it from being a desirable family hold-all.

Key Dates

10/03: The Focus C-Max debuts with 1.6 or 1.8-litre petrol engines, plus 1.6 or 2.0 TDCi (turbodiesel) units.

7/04: A high-power 115bhp 1.6-litre petrol is introduced.

1/05: A 90bhp entry-level 1.6 TDCi appears

10/05: The 1.6 TDCi gets a diesel particulate filter

7/06: A 113bhp 1.8 TDCi turbodiesel engine joins the range

8/06: The 1.8 petrol engine gets a flexi-fuel option, badged FFV, allowing the car to run on petrol or bio-ethanol.

3/07: A facelifted brings a new nose plus LED rear lights and extra equipment. Any Focus references are dropped, the car now known simply as the C-Max.

Ford C-Max (2003-2010) Checklist

  • The front suspension can creak and groan.
  • Xenon lights can go awry; repairs are expensive.
  • Some people find the seats uncomfortable on long journeys.
  • Standard bulbs are a pain to replace - it's best done by a dealer.
  • Check that the clutch isn't slipping; premature wear can be an issue.
  • Air-con systems can be temperamental.
  • The interior trim isn't always especially durable, with many C-Maxes suffering at the hands of small children.

We Like

  • Great engines
  • Excellent dynamics
  • Strong value
  • Low running costs
  • Practicality

We Don't Like

  • Versatility could be greater
  • Variable build quality


Ford Focus (2004-2011)

The second-generation Focus didn't create the same stir its predecessor did. Introducing significant improvements was always going to be tough, but Ford pulled it off somehow; the Mk2 Focus was sleeker, better to drive, more reliable and more refined than its predecessor. Thanks to it being the UK's best-selling new car month after month, there are huge numbers available - with an engine, trim and bodystyle for everyone.

Key Dates

9/04: The second-edition Focus arrives in three or five-door hatchback, saloon and estate forms. Engine options span 1.4 petrol to a 2.0-litre diesel.

3/06: A 1.8-litre petrol engine arrives.

9/05: The 221bhp Focus ST appears,

7/06: A coupé-cabriolet is introduced.

12/07: A facelifted Focus brings sharper looks, a much better interior and cleaner engines. The 1.6 TDCi Econetic is introduced.

1/09: The 301bhp Focus RS appears.

Ford Focus (2004-2011) Checklist

  • Clicking noises on the 1.6 auto requires re-routing of the gear shift's control cable.
  • Coupé-cabriolets can suffer from sealing issues.
  • Estates can leak because of poor sealing around the tailgate hinges.
  • Diesel engines can revert to limp-home mode when the intercooler pipe cracks or through throttle butterfly faults.
  • The dipstick on 1.6 diesels can fall apart.
  • Replacing the passenger side headlamp bulb isn't easy.
  • The windscreen can leak in the top centre while the front door seals also work loose.
  • The trailing edge of the front wheelarches can corrode.
  • Windscreen washer pipes leak, allowing water to drain into the spark plug holes, leading to the plugs seizing in place.
  • Starting and running problems can be due to the battery draining overnight; the only fix is a software update.

We Like

  • Value
  • Dynamics
  • Practicality

We Don't Like

  • Ubiquity
  • Breathless 1.4 petrol


Ford Fusion (2002-2008)

The Fusion sold badly because buyers didn't get it and neither did the press. It's easy to see why; you could hardly call the Fusion a looker and to make things worse the car was just as bland inside, with a disappointing lack of versatility. However, with most of the Fiesta's good points in evidence along with a higher driving position, the Fusion is not without merit.

Key Dates

8/02: The Fusion goes on sale, with a choice of 1.4 or 1.6-litre petrol engines, or a 1.4-litre turbodiesel.

11/04: There's now a 1.6 TDCi engine available, with 89bhp.

10/05: Ford ditches the 1, 2 and 3 trim levels for Style, Climate and Zetec instead. At the same time, a facelift brings new bumpers, lights and grille, extra equipment and a revised dash.

Ford Fusion (2002-2008) Checklist

  • Water gets into the engine bay, causing damage to the plugs, leads and coil pack.
  • The end of the plastic dipstick of the 1.6 TDCI engine can break and drop into the sump; retrieving the errant part means removing the sump.
  • The timing belt tensioner can fail on the 1.4 TDCi engine; listen for a whirring noise.
  • The Durashift automated manual gearbox can be unreliable, as the system's brain can fail - expensively.
  • The electronic accelerator control can fail on the 1.4 petrol engine.
  • The pins holding the pedals in place can fall out, leading to an inability to brake or declutch.
  • Clutches can appear to fail, when it's actually only a spring washer coming loose behind the pedal.

We Like

  • Good to drive
  • Elevated driving position
  • Affordability
  • Spacious cabin

We Don't Like

  • Dull design
  • Lack of versatility


Ford Puma (1997-2001)

It may be little more than a Fiesta in drag, but that's not a bad thing because Ford's familiar supermini has long been a cracker. However, because the less practical Puma often appeals to those who regularly drive it on the doorhandles, you need to make sure that you don't end up with a lemon because of a previous owner's abuse.

Key Dates

6/97: Puma launched with a 1.7-litre engine only

2/98: There's now a 1.4-litre engine available

10/99: The Racing Puma arrives, with 152bhp; just 500 are made. The 1.7 Millennium limited edition also appears

10/00: A 1.6-litre engine replaces the 1.4-litre unit and the special edition 1.7 Black goes on sale

11/01: The limited edition 1.7 Thunder debuts

Ford Puma (1997-2001) Checklist

  • Look for evidence of abuse; Pumas are often driven 'enthusiastically'
  • Ford recommended fresh oil every 10,000 miles, but twice as often is better
  • Fully synthetic oil is bad news, so ask what's been put in
  • A misfiring 1.7-litre engine is usually down to leaking core plugs dropping coolant onto the spark plugs
  • Make sure the heater works properly; the valves are unreliable
  • Look for uneven front tyre wear, suggesting the front wheels have been kerbed; it can be tricky to get the tracking right after this
  • That uneven front tyre wear can also point to worn suspension bushes - clonks will usually be in evidence too.

We Like

  • Handling
  • Affordability
  • Low running costs
  • Performance

We Don't Like

  • Abused examples
  • Firm ride
  • Visibility