The Ford Kuga (sold as Escape in North America) is one of those cars you don’t pay much attention to when they pass you by in the street, but that’s to be expected from most small family SUVs. However, spending two weeks with the Kuga has shown that it can be a nice car to live with, and you can always say that the rear looks similar to current Range Rover models (the taillights cut into the body panel like current Range Rovers). With a seemingly great demand for small SUVs, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Ford won’t have trouble selling the Kuga, but the aim of this review is to find out what sets it apart from its list of strong competitors, such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
This car has the top of the range diesel engine – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 163hp and 340Nm of torque. It sends power through Ford’s PowerShift transmission – a six-speed double-clutch transmission sending power to all wheels. Ford’s claimed fuel consumption figures are 5.5l/100km on the highway, 6.2l/100km combined, 7.4l/100km in the city, and 162g/km of CO2 emissions.
Get the Kuga moving and you’ll be glad to find that the diesel engine doesn’t make an intrusive noise, but you won’t mistake it for a petrol engine either, there’s definitely some diesel clatter coming from the engine bay. Its double-clutch transmission is a smooth unit for the most part, just the occasional first-gear lunges can interrupt smooth driving as the car tries to engage one of the clutches. Its torque is more than enough for everyday-driving, and there’s a nice turbo whistle to be heard when you roll the windows down as well – making the drive that bit more enjoyable for those of us who like mechanical noises.
You can select ‘D’ or ‘S’ for the transmission, with ‘D’ changing gears early and using higher gears for most of your commute, whereas ‘S’ will ride on a gear for a bit longer and change down earlier – all modes have rev-matching downshifts. One disadvantage with using ‘D’ is that you occasionally get turbo lag, but it only ever gets caught off boost if it's in a high gear at low speed and you want just a bit of extra acceleration (for example, if you want to move from 40km/h to 60km/h).
The Kuga doesn’t feel anything like a typical SUV to drive, that’s to say that there’s no excessive body roll, long-travel brake pedal, overly-soft suspension or slow steering. It rides through bumps well enough, only the occasional sharp imperfections make their way into the cabin, but I point that mostly to this Kuga’s 19-inch wheels and low-profile tyres. As mentioned before body roll is minimal, and the steering is light and easy to handle. If it wasn’t for the high driving position, you could easily think that you were driving a hatchback or mid-sized station wagon.
Depending on engine options, you can get the Ford Kuga with front-wheel drive or with Ford’s Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive system. You get the latter with the 2.0 TDCi 163 PS PowerShift, and it constantly monitors how much torque is required to which wheel depending on surface conditions. For example, it can send up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels if the front ones lose traction. There’s a decent amount of space for passengers of all sizes too, with the trunk able to take 456 litres of cargo (1,653 litres with the rear seats folded down).
This Kuga came with approximately CHF 12,000 worth of options, bringing its total price to CHF 55,395. Paying this much means that you have an extensive list of comfort features and driver aids, such as: a full leather interior; dual-zone climate control; automatic parking – which works brilliantly and can fit the Kuga in the tightest of parallel-parking spaces with accuracy; Bluetooth; USB connectivity; an auxiliary audio socket; electric tailgate; panoramic sunroof; reverse camera and parking sensors; keyless entry and start; Sony Navigation system; and a Driver Assistance Pack that includes lane-departure warning, blind spot monitoring, a road sign recognition system, as well as a driver alert system.
One of the negatives of driving the Kuga is the blind spot caused by the thick bottom of the A-pillars, making turning into slow blind corners that bit trickier. Another thing is the use of some really cheap and fragile-looking plastics around the gear selector and climate control. Unfortunately, this particular test car also came with an annoying noise from the rear axle once you got up to 80 km/h and worsened the faster you went. At first I thought that the rear differential was maybe low on fluids or worn out, that it may have been subject to abuse on a previous road test. So I got in touch with Ford Switzerland about the issue and we had the car sent to a local Ford dealer to get it checked.
The noise was traced down to a pair of shoddy tyres, and further research reveals that some previous Kugas with 19-inch wheels and certain tyre combinations suffered a similar problem. It would have been easy to dismiss the problem as nothing more than a faulty press car, but it looks like Ford have yet to find a solution to a common problem. It’s not a deafening noise, but it’s noticeable in the same way you hear an insect flying around in your bedroom as you’re trying to sleep.
With that said, I would recommend buyers to stay clear of 19-inch wheel options when ordering a new Kuga, or alternatively you can test drive a low-mileage used Kuga and see if it doesn’t make the noise. Otherwise the Kuga is a decent package overall; it’s comfortable around town, the engine has good torque and isn’t that thirsty, and it drives with the characteristics of a smaller car.
Written by Alex Kisiri