Ford Kuga review – a perfectly likeable, but increasingly outdated, small family SUV

Chris Knapman
With so many rivals to choose from, the Kuga is a slightly niche choice - James Lipman

The Ford Kuga has been around since 2008 as an SUV-shaped alternative to the company’s Focus and C-Max. A second generation model followed in 2012, which was itself given a makeover four years later to equip it with a revised engine line-up that includes the 1.5-litre petrol unit from the Mondeo in three different power outputs, plus 1.5- and 2.0-litre diesels.

As ever this five-seat SUV promises the easy-to-live-with ethos of any other Ford combined with the space and tougher styling of an SUV, while top-spec Vignale models are aiming to be properly plush. Whether or not that makes it a match for rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-5 we are about to find out.

Space   6/10

Boot is disappointingly small

Credit: James Lipman 

Pop open the Kuga’s boot (by waving your foot under the bumper on higher spec models) and you might be surprised by the space - or rather lack thereof - on offer. Fact is, the Kuga has one of the smallest load bays among any of its rivals, and is even beaten by some cars from the class below. What’s more, folding the rear seats (in a 60/40 split) leaves a step in the floor whereas most others give you a nice flat surface to help fit long loads. At least folding the seats is easy thanks to a lever that drops them flat.

The same lever can be used to adjust the angle of the backrests for those in the back. It’s a nice touch that along with a good amount of headroom and reasonable space in the footwell makes the Kuga capable of carrying four in comfort. You can get a third person in the middle rear seat without too much cause for complaint, and getting in and out is easy thanks to the wide doors and raised ride height.

In the front there’s a suitably wide range of storage options and plenty of space to stretch out.

Comfort   7/10

Not the softest SUV, but not terrible either

Credit: James Lipman 

Decent seats that feature lots of adjustment make it easy to get comfortable, and the steering wheel has a wide range of height and reach adjustment too.

Ford’s 1.5-litre petrol engine is impressively hushed, only really gaining a voice when you rev it hard, and even then it doesn’t sound unpleasant. There’s also diesels of 1.5 and 2.0 litres. So far we’ve only tested the latter and found it to be a little noisy compared with, for example, the 2.2-litre diesel in the Mazda CX-5.

The Kuga’s ride is also a touch on the fidgety side, if not outright uncomfortable, and body control is good so you don’t find yourself being thrown from side to side. We would though avoid anything larger than 18-inch wheels to ensure the maximum levels of comfort. In doing so you also keep road noise to a minimum, although the Kuga still isn’t as good in this regard as a Nissan Qashqai or the aforementioned CX-5. Wind noise is well controlled though.

Dashboard layout   5/10

Too much unappealing plastic, and fiddly to use

 

Credit: James Lipman 

Style is of course down to personal tastes, but to us the Kuga’s dashboard with its various swoops and angles looks a bit disjointed. It feels pretty well built, if a little heavy handed with the black plastic.

For the 2016 Kuga facelift Ford wisely replaced the dated old screen and its mass of buttons with its newer Sync 3 infotainment system, at least on all but the entry-level Zetec. The overall result is much improved, although it’s still far from the easiest system to use. For a start you have to angle your wrist awkwardly to hit any icons at the bottom of the screen, but what’s worse is when you connect your smartphone using, say Apple CarPlay, and can then no longer access the normal satnav screen. Instead you must use your phone’s navigation which then chews through your data allowance.

The trip computer sitting between the dials is also a little fiddly to navigate, although the resolution of the screen itself is good. The separate panel of heater controls is clearly labelled.

Easy to drive   6/10

Make sure you choose one with parking sensors

The Kuga has power-assisted steering that becomes lighter at parking speeds to help with manoeuvring. Sure enough, you won’t struggle with twirling the wheel to get it into parking spaces.

What might prove to be a problem is the lack of visibility as you peer over your shoulder, making it worth opting for a model with parking sensors or - better still - a reversing camera.

All of the engines have enough power for overtaking, but with the 1.5-litre petrol you’ll need at least 2,000rpm on the dial before anything happens. Below that it’s as flat as a pancake.

The standard six-speed manual gearbox is easy to use, plus you can specify an automatic gearbox on all of the Kuga’s engines. Four-wheel drive is restricted to the most powerful petrol and diesel models.

Fun to drive   7/10

Pretty good for this type of car

Credit: James Lipman 

The same good body control that stops the Kuga from leaning too heavily in corners also helps make it a reasonable amount of fun to drive, at least by SUV standards. Adding to that is responsive steering and a front end that feels as though it wants to grip when you push it through a turn rather than simply asking the electronic aids for help.

All that said, this is still a high-riding SUV as opposed to a Focus RS hot hatch so don’t go expecting miracles. In fact even amongst its direct competitors the Kuga is beaten by the Seat Ateca and Mazda CX-5 when it comes to smiles per mile.

All in all the Kuga is secure, confidence-inspiring and pleasing to hustle along a back road – but we’d stop short of calling it exciting.

Reliability    6/10

Not disastrous, but others are still better

Ford’s warranty lasts for three years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. It’s about the minimum a manufacturer can get away with these days, with others offering much better alternatives, such as the four years you get with a Renault Kadjar, the five years offered on a Toyota Rav4 or Hyundai Tucson, or the seven years supplied with a Kia Sportage.

Ford’s reputation for reliability also took a hit in the latest 2017 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Survey where it came 16th out of the 25 manufacturers included. That put it above Honda, Renault and Citroen, but below Skoda, Seat, Volkswagen and Nissan. In addition, the previous version of the Kuga managed only an average scores in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index based on the frequency and cost of aftermarket warranty claims.

Fuel economy   6/10

A little disappointing compared with the best in class

On paper the Kuga looks reasonably economical; you can expect up to 45mpg from the petrol or 64mpg from the 1.5-litre diesel. In reality we struggled to exceed 35mpg in our petrol Kuga test car, whereas in a Seat Ateca a genuine 45mpg is on the cards. Opt for four-wheel drive or an automatic gearbox and you can expect the Kuga to be thirstier still.

A 1.5 diesel should average in excess of 45mpg, while for the 2.0-litre it’s more like 40-45mpg. In either instance a Renault Kadjar or Nissan Qashqai with a 1.5-litre diesel engine will easily beat it by returning more than 55mpg in everyday use.

Affordability   8/10

Leasing costs look particularly attractive

Credit: James Lipman 

The Kuga is more expensive to buy than a Nissan Qashqai, Seat Ateca or Renault Kajdar, but cheaper than a Mazda CX-5. In reality you should be able to talk a Ford dealer into making enough of a discount to put the Kuga near the top of the class, at least with its entry level engine options. Move beyond that and it starts to look increasingly hard to justify against some very good rivals.

Resale values are robust though, which helps to keep leasing costs down. In fact, the Kuga is very competitively priced in terms of monthly finance payments.

Safety   7/10

Others have overtaken it here

As with its rivals, the Kuga comes as standard with systems which help to prevent skidding under braking and around corners. Additionally every Kuga gets both front and side airbags for driver and passenger, and a knee airbag for the former, as well as curtain airbags which run down the side windows.

What’s disappointing is that autonomous emergency braking costs extra on all models, particularly as it comes as standard on so many cars these days. The same applies to lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Standard spec   7/10

The base model has all the equipment most people will need

Credit: James Lipman 

The Kuga range starts with the Zetec model, which for us still represents the sweet spot in the range. In this trim the Kuga comes with cruise control, a digital radio, Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, a heated front windscreen, air-conditioning and keyless start.

Move up to the Titanium version and you also get automatic headlights and wipers, part-leather trim, dual-zone climate control, and a rear parking sensors.

The Titanium X model adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, an opening glass panoramic roof, xenon headlamps, an electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, and tray tables on the backs of the front seats.

ST Line models joined the range as part of the 2016 facelift and feature smarter trim and sports suspension. Then there’s the top-spec Vignale, which is intended to serve as a rival to premium-badged rivals such as the BMW X3, but frankly that looks like a hard sell to us.

Our favourite version

Zetec 1.5 Ecoboost Zetec 150 FWD, list price £22,895

Options you should add: Metallic paint (£570) and rear parking sensors (£275)

The verdict   6/10

The Ford Kuga is a perfectly likeable SUV, provided you can live with the smaller than average boot. It is also reasonably fun to drive and quiet on a long journey, but since its launch more desirable cars such as the Seat Ateca, Peugeot 3008 and Mazda CX-5 have also surfaced, which when you look a little deeper make more sense on both practical and financial grounds.

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