Kuga combines power and class

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 April, 2010, 12:00am

There's a touch of the Power Rangers in the design of Ford's compact SUV, the Kuga, particularly at the front end and particularly in frozen white, the colour of the test car.

It's a striking design dominated by opposing trapezoid intake grilles, with the trapezoid motif continuing in the vents under the dramatic bi-xenon headlights and the fog light enclosures. Power creases add drama to the bonnet, while pronounced wheel arches, high rear shoulders and integrated roof rails add to the dynamic looks. It's almost like the Kuga will morph whenever you're not looking. Children will love it.

Although the seating and trim are mainly dark, lightened by dashes of silver on the steering wheel, fascia and centre console, the full-length, fixed panoramic sunroof makes the interior light and airy. Durable leather is used for the seats and parts of the trim, but the plastic bits are of a high quality and feel good to the touch. The height-adjustable seats are very comfortable and supportive, the steering is adjustable for rake and reach, and the high driving position is near perfect.

As expected from a Ford, all the controls are modern and logical, with a quality feel. The instrument panel is clear and well designed, while the gear lever is close to hand for manual changes of the automatic five-speed transmission. There is adequate room in the back for two adults or three children, but head room and leg room are somewhat limited. The dual-aperture tailgate opens in either small or large mode and the luggage space is a reasonable 410 litres, increasing to 1,355 litres with the rear seats folded.

Sensors detect the driver's encrypted security key and ready the engine for action; a simple push of the discreet power button is all that's needed to get things going. Power is provided by the same turbocharged, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder Duratec engine found in the sporty Focus ST and RS models, but the engine has been detuned to about 200bhp, resulting in a 0-100km/h time of 8.8 seconds and a top speed that will nudge 200km/h. Some 320Nm of torque is available from just 1,600rpm, so overtaking is effortless.

The sophisticated Haldex 3 intelligent all-wheel drive is mainly biased towards the front, with more than 95 per cent of the power driving the front wheels under normal driving conditions. However, when the situation warrants it, the system will send up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear wheels.

The Kuga chassis, with all-independent suspension, is based on that of the Ford Focus, Europe's best-selling family saloon. The Focus has the best combination of ride, roadholding and handling of any family saloon I have ever driven. However, the Kuga sits 80cm higher than the Focus, has a higher centre of gravity and carries a lot more weight, so it cannot match the exemplary driving dynamics of its sibling. Nonetheless, it is very good for this type of vehicle, precise in the corners, understeering progressively as the limit of roadholding approaches, and with a firm but comfortable ride.

So is the Kuga a mini-Range Rover, as some claim? The Range Rover excels in off-road conditions, but both these cars will spend most, if not all, of their time in an urban setting where the Range Rover is ahead in terms of performance, prestige, luxury and effortless cool. But the Kuga is just as good-looking, has decent performance, handles better, is more economical and is just as practical. At HK$388,000, it is also less than a third of the price. The Kuga wins on points.