Here’s a thing: Good Housekeeping, you know, the magazine for home makers, has started recommending cars. Or rather, its readers have. They love the Ford Kuga, with 98 per cent of readers surveyed rating it as excellent and 96 per cent saying they would recommend it. Phew.
The Kuga and the smaller Ford Ecosport can now carry the famous “Reader Recommended” red sticker. The Fords are the first cars to get this accolade.
Next: Top Gear’s tips for a great washing powder – that’s a jest but the GH link shows how we can be influenced by surprising channels. Ever wondered why, for example, a TV cop is driving around Shetland in a top-end, brand new Volvo estate?
These high ratings for the Kuga have pleased Ford, which issued a press briefing. It is staging a model renewal strategy which sees some going out of favour and others coming to the fore. It is not alone in looking for new ways of re-charging its image.
Kuga has been selling in the UK since 2008 and the current, larger car dates from 2017. It is in a hot segment and SUVs play a big part in Ford’s European sales. Kuga is the most successful, followed by the Ecosport and then its biggest SUV in Europe, the Edge.
The snag is that everyone else is in the game, and at the de luxe end we see Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Maserati throwing their keys into the ring. Has Ferrari done one yet? I lose track. Porsche has been doing them for a while, setting the pukka theme with its Cayenne.
More than a fifth of Fords sold in Europe are SUVs. Last year was their best ever – at the expense of other Fords we were not buying, because Ford sales are dropping.
The Kuga faces not only the multi-brand SUV peer assault from the Volkswagen Group but from Kia, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Citroen, Peugeot and, the big one in Britain, Nissan. Its Qashqai has dominated the affordable sector. It is also built in Sunderland so that may appeal, but I’m sure most car owners have no idea where their cars are built.
The Kuga? Ford, so it is British? Not unless Valencia has moved from Espana. The Qashqai is a regular top ten seller in Britain, sitting at fifth in the first two months, with Kia’s cuter Sportage at eighth and the Kuga at ninth. In February the Kuga closed in on the Qashqai, with the Ecosport and the VW Tiguan both coming into the top ten while the Sportage faded out.
The familiar, loaded question is why we buy SUVs at all. The UK best sellers, all hatchbacks, are two other Fords, the Fiesta and Focus and the ever-young VW Golf, are far nicer to drive, surely. Well, that depends on you. The Focus is lauded by Ford for the ergonomic comfort of its driver’s seat.
Fortunately I am comfortable in any car if I can reach the pedals and steering wheel. Unfortunately, that makes me a poor judge of seat comfort. My clock-mender, though, has a tricky back and wasn’t happy with the seating comfort in his brand new Focus. This was compounded by the ride height. So, farewell Focus, hello a small SUV, the Mazda CX-3. The point? That an SUV has a higher seat position and so can be walked into rather than dropped down into.
Even these smaller SUVs have the advantage of better visibility and because they don’t need to tow a double-horse trailer they can be light and economical and don’t have to rely on diesel fuel for decent economy.
The current Kuga benefited from extensive refinement, with time and money and content being put into sound-proofing and general comfort. I was impressed. Tyre and road noise is subdued and the drivetrain – a diesel with manual gears in the factory demo model – is discreet and smooth. One passenger asked if it was an electric car – a tribute to its quiet manners.
When Ford brought in this Kuga two years ago, it updated its communications and entertainment and protection systems. There is a warning if you are about to reverse into crossing traffic. The ignition key can be set so that incoming phone calls can be blocked – seen as a safety device for young drivers. It can also restrict the car’s top speed.
The engine mix is still petrol or diesel, pending hybrid units on the all-new, larger Kuga expected later this year. It will be based on the platform of the Focus. The hybrid will be a plug-in, meaning the battery can be boosted from mains electricity. The engine is likely to be the 1.5 litre three cylinder petrol unit.
Verdict: Swan song for a best-seller.