It has failed in its ambition to move upmarket with its larger cars, not because they are not good enough but because buying habits have moved away from the Mondeo class. Also, most of us now use some sort of contract plan to buy a car and the monthly hike to, say, a Mercedes over a Ford or Vauxhall, is affordable. The current Ford flagship trim is Vignale and applied to the Kuga you can spend £35,000.
The upmarket ambitions are still there, headed by the largish Edge SUV, a bullish car with the Ford America face. The Ranger pick-up also takes Ford into the higher price bracket – facing an array of Japanese models, mostly made in Thailand.
Then there’s the Kuga, smaller than the Edge, now looking similar for 2017 with that Detroit grin. Most are front-wheel drive, with a choice from Ford’s four-cylinder petrol and diesel power and, depending on the engine/trim chosen, the option of automatic gears.
Tested here is the 4x4 with a 178bhp 2-litre diesel and manual gears (auto gears are offered). It’s a handy tool for general jobs and is rated to tow 2,100kg. The ground clearance shames a few more overt all-roaders and it rode a guttered back lane without once scraping its chassis – which was a surprise.
Kuga is in an ultra competitive sector, facing the Teutonic Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia’s Sportage and Hyundai’s Tucson – with facial similarities – and Toyota’s long-lasting RAV4 and Honda’s sweet CR-V. Oh, don’t forget the Mazda CX-5.
I can’t steer you towards a sure-fire champion. They are all good enough. Points to influence are the seven-year warranty on the Kia and five years on the Hyundai and Toyota. The choice is muddied by the recent arrival of SEAT’s first SUV, kin to the Tiguan and called Ateca from a town in Spain even most Spaniards don’t know about.
Make what you will of the name Kuga – sounds like the Mazda-based Cougar coupé of yesteryear which I liked but many didn’t. The Kuga SUV is actually a recent facelift of the last model, so not the newest knife in the box. The control area has been tidied up and given a larger screen with smart connectivity, and while the navigation system (standard on some models) is fast and accurate, you must programme it by touching the screen or speaking to it. I still prefer remote input using a rotating wheel to touch operation. Note that the entry Zetec Kuga (from £21,395 with a 1.5-litre, 118bhp petrol engine) makes do with a smaller screen which does not support navigation.
Dashboard design is a matter or opinion. The Kuga is OK, not as smart as a Tiguan. There are cupholders and large door pockets and a central cubby for more stuff, plus two USB sockets – set deep enough to make them fiddly to access.
The rear seats fold forward by pulling a lever inside the car by the seats. You can’t do this from the load area – where some Mazda-type remote levers would be useful. The boot floor is low, covering the slim jim spare wheel, leaving a ledge when the seats are flat. Raising them back is a muscular, two-handed move.
By the time you read this Mazda’s new CX-5 should be here – a model which is a favourite with owners though not on everyone’s radar because of the brand’s awareness profile. If you don’t have a local dealer you maybe won’t know about Mazdas.
And so to the roads of northern England where I tested the Kuga over ten days. There is improved refinement, with notable reduction in wind and road roar – riding on Michelin’s Latitude Tour, a quality summer tyre which gave excellent grip and handling.
My demo car’s trim was the second-tier Titanium (from £24,845) which has the eight-inch screen and navigation, 17-inch wheels, an electric parking brake, some part leather seats, automatic wipers and rear parking sensors – not as good as a proper camera, which is not offered.
The Titanium’s 4x4 178bhp pack pushes the price to £29,000 which includes metallic paint.
I did enjoy the Kuga. The engine worked well and was refined. The official combined fuel average was 54.3mpg. In my hands its journeys averaged 37 to 47mpg on the trip computer with an overall score in the low 40s.
Verdict: Give it a try but shop around.