Review and road test of the Ford Kuga (2013 - 2016)
A CLEVERER KUGA
By Jonathan Crouch
The Ford Kuga evolved in second generation form into a larger, more practical and more efficient proposition that on the used market will be equally attractive to Qashqai-like Crossover and RAV4-style soft roading SUV buyers. The single five-seat bodystyle is properly family-sized and gets some clever technology that segment buyers will like. Here, we're looking at the original 2013 to 2016 version of the MK2 model.
5dr SUV (1.6 EcoBoost - 150PS & 180PS / 1.5 EcoBoost - 150PS & 180PS / 2.0 TDCi 140PS, 150PS, 163PS, 180PS - 2WD & AWD) [Zetec, Titanium, Titanium X])
For a company that has counted on sports utility vehicles for such a huge proportion of its global earnings, Ford has had a surprisingly patchy track record with the things in the UK - until 2008 and the arrival of the first generation version of this model, the Kuga. Back then, so-called 'Crossover' vehicles - cars with the styling of an SUV and the sense of a family hatchback - were an emerging trend that almost every brand has since had to follow. This one copied the approach of Nissan Qashqai-class alternatives but added a butch-er look and a better driving experience, a combination that saw Ford garner over 45,000 UK sales in less than four years before the arrival of this MK2 model early in 2013.
The priorities here weren't difficult for Ford designers to tie down. Second generation Kuga buyers wanted their cars to be more efficient. And they needed them to be bigger. After all, in the original version of this model, luggage room and rear seat cabin space were inferior to that of most compact family hatchbacks - which simply wasn't good enough for a car of this size and class. Fortunately, the solution lay in a direction Ford was going anyway. The Blue Oval bean counters had already decreed that the second generation Kuga would be a global design that, badged over the Atlantic as the 'Ford Escape', must also satisfy the larger needs of North American buyers. In other words, it was always going to be bigger.
The extra size brought with it an extra presence and perceived purpose that, visually at least, positioned this design not only as a Qashqai Crossover competitor but also as a car you might take seriously against soft roading SUVs like, say, Toyota's RAV4 or a Honda's CR-V. In other words, this MK2 Kuga had wider appeal. It was certainly cleverer and more affordable to run. But then, plenty of other similarly targeted cars from this era make similar claims. This one sold until a heavily facelifted version was launched early in 2016.
What You Get
Though this second generation Kuga design shares many of the aesthetic cues that characterised its predecessor - the headlights for example and the rising belt line - it's also very much its own car - and very much larger too, 81mm longer than the original. There were lots of reasons why this second generation version needed to be bigger - with the need for extra interior space being just one of them. For one thing, this design needed to serve as a replacement for the pretty large Escape SUV model that prior to 2013, Ford had been offering in the States. For another, in Europe, it needed to distance itself from the slightly smaller EcoSport crossover that the Blue Oval brand launched in 2014. This MK2 model Kuga was certainly a global car in every sense, the chassis built in Cologne, the powertrain in Dagenham and the upper body and interior in Detroit, with final assembly for this Kuga in Valencia, Spain.
All very interesting to industry analysts no doubt, but you'll be wanting to know just how this Kuga will serve as everyday family transport. The old MK1 version wasn't much good for larger families, offering standards of rear seat passenger room and luggage space inferior to many compact family hatches. At launch, we wondered whether this second generation was going to be able to do better, mindful of the fact that it was still based on Focus underpinnings and shared exactly the same wheelbase as its predecessor. The answer was that the designers had packaged this MK2 model much better. Though the new design's extra length wasn't enough to permit the fitment of the kind of third row seating that some rivals offered, the rear seat did now provide the kind of comfortable space for two (or if they're friendly, three) adults that could be found in rivals like Nissan's Qashqai, Toyota's RAV4 or Honda's CR-V. There was decent headroom too, despite this car being 8mm lower than before - and buyers got the benefit of seatbacks that could be reclined for greater comfort on longer journeys.
Those reclining seatbacks have an impact on luggage space of course in a boot area you can access with a hands-free tailgate system that can be opened or closed simply by a kicking motion beneath the bumper - assuming the original buyer paid extra for that feature. Ideal if you're approaching the car heavily laden with shopping bags. Once inside, you'll find 438-litres of space if the seatbacks are in a fully reclined position - about 10% more than the MK1 model could manage and about the same amount more than, say, a Toyota RAV4. Make the seatbacks more upright and you can increase the space available to 481-litres. Or 492-litres if you re-position the adjustable load floor to its lowest setting.
Plus of course you can fold the seatbacks flat, a neat operation that needs just a pull on the seat-mounted lever that sees the rear backrests flip and fold forward. The result isn't a totally flat load area but it is quite a large one with at least 1,615-litres of space, a massive 260-litres more than was available in the first generation version of this car and nearly double what you'd get in a comparable Nissan Qashqai. It all puts this MK2 model's growth into perspective.
At the wheel, the dashboard layout is likely to be familiar if you've driven one of Ford's Focus or C-MAX models from this era. As with those designs, there a winged dial pack and extensive use of brightwork finishes across the fascia. An infotainment system too, though this one doesn't offer a touchscreen set-up, instead operated by a controller that's a bit of a reach away. Still, it all feels of decent quality and though the dash top feels a little scratchy, most of the rest of the fascia is built from smart soft-touch materials.
What to Look For
In our owner survey, we came across plenty of owners who loved their Kugas. Inevitably, though, there were a few buyers who'd had problems. A known problem is water leaking to the driver's side front footwell; apparently, this is caused by a water outlet pipe in the air conditioning being blocked. One owner also reported a leak in his car's roof above the rear passenger driver's side seat. One owner had an oil cooler fault which led to oil leaking out and the need for a new engine. And another reported an intermittent tapping noise from behind the dashboard. We came across reports of a creaking driver's door, a sticking power tailgate, sticking door locks and a faulty handbrake. Look out for all these things, as well as the usual signs of unwise off road use.
(approx based on a 2013 Kuga 2.0 TDCi 140PS ex vat): Brake pads are between £9 and £17, though you can pay in the £30 to £35 bracket for pricier brands. Brake discs will cost around £67. Air filters sell in the £8 to £16 bracket. A wiper blade costs in the £5 to £8 bracket, but you could pay up to around £30 for a pricier brand. A water pump will cost you around £55 to £65 to replace. A radiator is just under £140. Shock absorbers are around £120. And a timing belt is in the £33 tp £53 bracket, though you could pay up to around £80 or even as much as around £125 for a pricier make.
On the Road
Making a car bigger is not usually a recipe for improving its on-road dynamics. Quite the reverse in fact. Which might be a cause for concern if the reason you chose the first generation version of this model was the way it felt almost as sharp as a Focus to drive. But loyal Kuga customers needn't fret too much. This second generation version might not have quite the same sheer 'chuckability' as its predecessor, but it's still a class-leading driver's car. If we had to sum up the difference with this MK2 model, we'd say that it grew up a bit - become a bit mellower - with a personality changed towards something a bit more family-friendly. A bit like a mate you've known for ages who's just had kids. He's still fun, just a bit more measured in his outlook.
This car still knows how to thread a series of corners together though. Yes, the chassis feels a little softer in an attempt to give what is still a very firm set-up a bit of extra suppleness over poor surfaces - a change that Kuga regulars might feel has meant the sacrifice of that extra enth of body control. Plusher variants came fitted with the desirable 'Ford Stability Control' package. This includes 'Roll Stability Control' to keep that bodyroll in check. And, perhaps most significantly, 'Curve Control'.
What's 'Curve Control'? Well, it's there to act as a safeguard should you get carried away with this Kuga's dynamic prowess and enter a bend with too much speed - say on a curved sliproad coming off a motorway. Hit a situation like this without reducing speed sufficiently and Curve Control can step in and safely slow the vehicle down by around 10mph per second. It does wonders for your peace of mind.
But then, this is already a car that instils driving confidence. Like many of Ford's modern-era models, this one features two clever systems - Torque Vectoring Control and Enhanced Dynamic Cornering Control - both designed to help get its power onto the tarmac more effectively, something you really notice when turning hard through a tight bend, a time when you also note the surprisingly feelsome nature of the electric power steering. And a time where, if you've specified it, you'll also begin to appreciate the tarmac benefits of the 'intelligent all-wheel-drive' system that was freshly developed for this second generation Kuga.
For the MK1 model, the Blue Oval's engineers bought in the same off-the-shelf Haldex 4WD system that many other brands used at the time, able to divert all power to the front until a lack of traction prompted a proportion of drive to be diverted rearwards. The replacement in-house 'Intelligent AWD' set-up that Ford introduced on this second generation design works in a very similar way but offers the added benefit of an AWD information screen showing you at any given time on a bar graph just how much torque is being sent to each wheel. As before, the power distribution is a process that's completely seamless - so if you find yourself somewhere slippery and need a bit of extra traction, it's all automatically done for you and there are no fiddly knobs, buttons or levers to manipulate.
The result is welcome peace of mind on the kind of wet or icy mornings that'll make you glad you chose this car rather than something more conventional. It's on days like these that you might also be glad you opted for the full-on 4WD version, though to be fair, a front-driven 2WD model might be almost as good fitted with a set of winter tyres. Your call. What you shouldn't expect this car to be is any kind of serious off roader - there isn't the ground clearance for that. But it'll be quite up to taking on rutted forest tracks and muddy carparks.
Quite up to the towing duties that many will assign to it too thanks to a clever Trailer Sway Control system and the torquey nature of the engines on offer - 340Nm of pulling power being available from the 2.0-litre TDCi Duratorq diesels that most customers will choose. There's a choice of two, developing either 140 or 163PS. These units were respectively uprated to 150 and 180PS in 2015. There's the option of either two or four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox or a twin-clutch Powershift auto transmission. Go for a manual and rest to sixty two mph takes around 10.5s on the way to around 117mph in the lower-powered 140PS version, figures you can improve to 9.9s and 123mph in the 163PS model.
The alternative route for buyers is petrol power, something that was only available in the previous MK1 model Kuga with a thirsty 200PS 2.5-litre engine that almost nobody bought. That changed with the availability in this MK2 model of a couple of 1.6-litre EcoBoost engines offering 150PS with manual transmission or 180PS as an automatic. These were replaced in 2015 by 150 and 180PS 1.5-litre units that were much the same. Either way, these EcoBoost powerplants really do make a lot of sense if your annual mileage isn't high enough to justify the upfront price premium of a diesel. OK, so the pulling power on offer - 240Nm - isn't as great as you'd find in a TDCi, but if you're not a tower, you ought to find the performance on offer to be quite sufficient, rest to sixty two mph occupying 9.7s in both cases. The pokier unit does have a slightly higher top speed though, 124 rather than 121mph and comes only with AWD and auto transmission. The 150PS engine is front-driven with 2WD. Whatever unit you choose, refinement is impressive, thanks to double door seals and foam baffles for the B-pillars.
When this MK2 model Kuga was introduced in 2013, it was clear that at last, Ford had got serious about SUVs. Like its contemporaries from this era, it's aimed at the urban, rather than the Amazon jungle, but unlike rival contenders, it can reward on twisty tarmac as well as straight stuff, capability enhanced by some clever roll stability and curve technology. In fact, there's so much clever stuff here. Depending on specification, this car can park itself, raise its tailgate for you, brake to avoid an accident and even automatically call for help after a crash.
The most important changes that Ford made with this MK2 design though, were fundamental ones. More frugal, cleaner powerplants. A proper petrol option for the first time and, most importantly, a cabin that now at last was properly big enough for family duties. In other words, Ford's global mid-sized SUV has been as thoroughly thought through as you would expect it to have been.
Ford Kuga (2013 - 2016) review by Jonathan Crouch