The demand in the UK, the EU and global markets for SUVs, Crossovers and 4x4s continues and the surge in additional models from brands new to these sectors builds on their fashionable must have appeal, says David Miles.
In the UK last year there were 437,000 new car registrations for what the industry calls Dual Purpose vehicles.
We can add in at least another 100,000 of what we call Crossovers, models such as the Nissan Qashqai and Juke which the manufacturer classes as Lower Medium and Supermini cars/hatchbacks although the market them as Crossovers.
The mid-sized Ford Kuga is classified by the industry as a Dual Purpose Vehicle and in the UK 35,481 were sold last year putting the range in second position behind the Kia Sportage which achieved a shade over 40,000 sales and ahead of the Range Rover Evoque with 27,161 sales.
However the same sized Qashqai, classed by Nissan as a Lower Medium sector hatchback, although it has SUV styling with the availability of some 4WD variants, eclipsed these Dual Purpose/SUV models with 62,682 sales in the UK and the smaller Juke recorded nearly 39,000 registrations.
Whatever we call these types of vehicles there is no doubting their popularity and just driving on our roads today they are commonplace in the hands of young families, older ‘empty nesters’ and business and fleet users.
Ford’s latest face-lifted Kuga five door SUV range has 41 different variants on offer with on-the-road process ranging from £21,895 through to £31,045. But such is the competitive nature these prices are only a guide as dealerships of most brands are always offering promotional discounts on prices.
The latest Kuga range has a wide offering of specification levels depending upon the engine chosen and some are available with 2WD or 4WD. The spec levels are Zetec, Titanium, Titanium X, the new sporty ST-Line and ST-Line X and the plush Vignale.
The engine options are1.5 EcoBoost petrol with 120, 150 or 182hp power outputs, a new 1.5 Duratorq TDCI 120hp turbodiesel and 2.0 Duratorq 150 and 180hp units. The 2.0 150hp diesel unit is the most popular choice in the UK overall although company car drivers will find the smaller 1.5 120hp diesel unit now more appealing because of its lower 115g/km CO2 emissions which leads to lower Benefit-in-Kind tax. Lower mileage retail customers will likely choose the 1.5 EcoBoost 150hp unit giving a good blend of affordable price, performance and with 45.6mpg Combined Cycle fuel economy.The choice of specification will be decided on price, engine power and spec level. None of the specification levels are skimpy. Even the cheapest Zetec has 17-inch alloy wheels, air-con, electric windows, DAB radio/CD player, Ford Sync 3 with emergency assistance, audible text messaging, cruise control with speed limiter, hill start assist, heated windscreen, leather steering wheel and gear knob, electronic stability, tyre pressure monitoring and paddleshift gearchange levers for the automatic transmission versions and all from £21,895.
With this Zetec spec and the more useable 1.5 150hp EcoBoost petrol engine retail customers get a good deal with that version priced at £22,895. The same Zetec spec with the new 1.5 120hp diesel unit costs £23,495, again a good price for fleet and tax conscious company car users. Both have 2WD. The least expensive 4WD version is 1.5 EcoBoost petrol 182hp engine with Zetec specification priced at £27,695.
All 2017 Kuga versions having minor styling and spec changes inside and out that include a new design trapezoidal grille, similar to that used for the relatively new Ford Edge large SUV, new headlights incorporating LED daytime running lights, new rear light clusters, a reshaped tailgate and a nip and a tuck to the detailed styling.
The latest Kuga remains a five door, five seater SUV with reasonable but not class leading interior space and a practical shaped boot with a flat load floor giving 456-litres of space which increases up to a maximum of 1,653-litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down. It’s practical and user friendly but not the most spacious in its sector.
As for the interior the visual changes are minimal, just a cleaning up of the switchgear and the low resolution info screen has been replaced with a more modern affair. The latest SYNC 3 info connectivity, voiced operated system now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has a higher resolution scren and for higher spec variants the 8.0-inch unit is still recessed into the dash rather than it being outside the fascia which would make it easier to reach the controls especially whilst the vehicle is being driven.The quality of the cabin hasn’t changed that much. It’s still a mix of soft touch materials on the fascia and doors but there are areas where the plastic is hard and scratchy such as the revised centre console which houses the new electronic parking brake. In this competitive market sector, even in its uprated 2017 model year form, the Kuga has less perceived quality for the interior trim and design than say the class-leading new Peugeot 3008 and then of course we also have the new high-fliers in the sector like the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Renault Kadjar, SEAT Ateca, Skoda Kodiaq and the VW Tiguan.
The quality and level of specification does improve as you move up through the range but at a considerable price hike. Depending on the spec level chosen new technologies available include Active Park Assist, Park-Out Assist for parallel parking, Active City-Stop, Hands-free Tailgate and Intelligent All-Wheel Drive.
My test drive version was the 2.0 TDCI 150hp turbodiesel with the new ST-Line spec, six-speed manual gearbox and 2WD costing £28,745. This is the most popular engine overall in the range and it mixes well with the new sports level of suspension. This version has nice kerb appeal with the body wearing the £545 optional extra cost Shadow Black paintwork with black grille and black 18-inch alloy wheels.
The body also has a sports styling kit with a large rear spoiler. Under the skin is the sports suspension which together with the larger wheels does firm up the ride and most noticeable was the increase in road noise intrusion. The firmer suspension and larger wheels don’t detract from the Kuga’s usual compliant ride comfort.
There is perhaps less bodyroll during cornering and the vehicle felt well balanced with plenty of cornering and acceleration grip despite it only having front wheel drive.
The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder TDCI turbodiesel engine with 150hp is a strong and responsive performer well able to cope with ease at high cruising speeds and it responded well for acceleration overtaking slower traffic and during driving on winding country roads providing full use was made of the manual gearbox.
There is a healthy supply of 370Nm of torque but that only becomes fully available at 2,000rpm so to get the best acceleration response you have to be in the right gear in the six speed manual gearbox. Wrong gear and it can be a bit sluggish to respond when wanting to overtake slower traffic travelling at 40 to 50mph. The top three gears lean towards overdrive ratios for fuel economy hence the need to change to a lower gear than perhaps you might in other similar capacity and power turbodiesel engines.
Overall my conclusion is that if a customer chooses the right model at the best price to suit their particular needs, the Ford Kuga can still be an attractive purchase if not a class leading one.
Ford Kuga ST-Line 2.0 TDCI 6-speed manual 2WD £28,745
Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 4-clinder turbodiesel, 150hp, 370Nm of torque from 2,000rpm, 6-speed manual, front wheel drive
Performance: 121mph, 0-62mph 10.1-seconds
Combined Cycle 60.1mpg (44mpg on test), CO2 122g/km
VED road tax £160/£140, Bik company car tax 26%
Insurance group: 23E Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles
Dimensions/capacities: L 4,541mm, W 1,838m, H 1,749mm, boot/load space 456 to 1,653-litres, braked towing weight 1,900kg, 5-seats/5-doors
For: Wide range of models and prices, improved 2017 high tech spec levels, good to drive with sharp handling and a compliant ride, ST-Line styling additions improve kerb appeal
Against: Not as roomy as some in its class, some cheap looking interior trim, top spec models are expensive but there are deals to be had, warranty period not as generous as some competitor models.
© David Miles