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2017 Ford Kuga review: First drive

4

The Good

  • Improved styling
  • Likable drive
  • Quiet cabin

The Bad

  • Less desirable than rivals
  • Can be a bit sluggish

We drove from Finland to Norway to see if the 2017 Ford Kuga sports utility vehicle is up to the test of freezing conditions, harsh terrain and, most difficult of all, family life.

The Ford Kuga first went on sale in the UK in 2008 and since then it has continued to sell rather well. Now we have a facelifted version with new bells and whistles, but has Ford done enough to make it worth choosing over the Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage? We drove the 2.0 TDCi 180PS with all-wheel drive to find out.

2017 Ford Kuga review: So what's new, then?

The most obvious change is the front end, which now has a trapezoidal grille seen on the larger and more imposing Ford Edge. We like that it looks more rugged and less dated than the old Kuga, but it is still brash at heart and a far cry from the delicate Tuscon.

Another nice addition is Sync 3, which is a vast improvement on the old Sync 2 infotainment system, which was unresponsive, unintuitive and generally a nightmare to use. Now you can pinch to zoom and swipe like on a smartphone, while the menu layout and responsiveness contribute to a system that works.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have been included so you can use apps on the go and other smartphone functionality. Sadly we were unable to test either because connecting a phone would have removed all the destination co-ordinates and then we would have frozen to death in the middle of nowhere.

On that note, Ford has added voice control so you can keep your hands on the (potentially heated) steering wheel. Press a button then make a request, such as "I need a coffee" or "I need petrol", and the new Kuga will help you find what you need. More than 22,000 commands have been added, apparently, so that should keep you busy.

Other additions include an electronic parking brake, hands-free tailgate you can initiate by waving your feet under the rear bumper, adaptive headlights, more cabin storage areas and sportier bodystyling if you go for the top-spec ST-Line trim (pictured).

You can also spec a better version of Active City Stop, which will stop the car in an emergency up to 31mph, as opposed to the old 19mph. So you are less likely to run over a reindeer or anything else that steps out in front of the vehicle, even if you fail to react in time.

2017 Ford Kuga review: Is it still boring to drive?

Much less so. Like the Edge, the 2017 Kuga has a commanding seating position and a compliant ride that keeps the car firm yet it can cope with all but the worst bumps. Body roll is present, but nothing unexpected and certainly never to the detriment of handling unless you drive it like a sports car.

The steering is light and effortless, but not so light you have no idea what the front wheels are doing. We could tell when the rear wheels were breaking away on icy roads and countersteer as appropriate, much to the relief our the cameraman we brought along for the trip.

Motorway cruising is a strongpoint as the adjustability of the seat and wheel makes it easy to get comfortable, while the seats themselves provide good levels of support and comfort – particularly the more bolster-heavy sports versions in the ST-Line.

The six-speed PowerShift Auto does a good job of smooth changes, but can be slow to react if you need to overtake. Not that it matters too much because the 180PS TDCi diesel has a healthy 400Nm of torque to propel it forwards.

Low-end grunt is plentiful, but the 0-62mph time of 10 seconds will never get the blood flowing. Plus it really struggles to gain speed approaching the motorway limit. We get the feeling the smaller power outputs such as 120PS may well be a little too relaxed.

The six-speed manual brings the 0-62mph time down to 9.2 seconds and feels faster, although the usually quiet cabin is interrupted by a displeasing revvy grunt if you try to utilise the extra pace. The gear changes are long and smooth, while the slightly raised location of the gear lever emphasises the utility SUV feel.

There is a reasonable amount of wind noise at higher speeds, no doubt because of that chunky front end and the sheer size of the door mirrors, but it never grates.

On first impressions on Finland and Norway's somewhat slippery roads, the new Ford Kuga never once gave us any cause for concern or stepped out of line. It offers a pleasant drive that will make the school run a little less mundane and is certainly an improvement on its predecessor.

2017 Ford Kuga review: Is the interior bearable?

It looks worse than it is because some of the various plastics, although cheap in appearance, are actually quite soft. It is certainly less offensive than what you get in the Focus RS, but then the Hyundai Tucson and Qashqai are better in this area. But not much.

With that said, Ford has worked hard to make it more livable. There are far fewer buttons and the ones it left behind are in sensible places for the most part.

It is now possible to spec a heated leather steering wheel for added comfort. As standard, you can also charge your phone using the new USB port hidden within the middle central storage area made possible by the swap to an electric parking brake.

The back has good levels of leg room, although the panoramic roof on our car seemed to bring the head room down to the point where the six-foot-plus club may need to tilt their head. It feels like a big car but being smaller than the Edge has its physical limitations.

Boot space is 485 litres, which is behind some of its competitors, but then that should suffice for all but the biggest shopping sprees. Plus the storage space outdoes some of its competitors when you fold down the rear seats.

2017 Ford Kuga review: What about engine options?

The entry-level 2.0 TDCi is dead so those who want the lowest CO2 emissions of 115g/km and the highest fuel economy figure of 67.3mpg combined will need to opt for its replacement, the 120PS 1.5TDCi diesel with front-wheel drive.

There is also a 1.5-litre petrol, which manages the same 120PS and a slightly faster 0-62mph time of 12.5 seconds (versus 12.7), but the increased torque makes the similarly powerful diesel quicker the rest of the time.

Atop the range is a 2.0TDCi with 150PS via a 150PS output in the diesel camp and a 1.5-litre EcoBoost with 182PS and all-wheel drive, which is the fastest but also by far the least eco-friendly, with CO2 emissions and fuel economy figures of 38.2mpg combined and 171g/km, respectively.

In the case of the new Ford Kuga (and most SUVs), going diesel is your best bet in terms of value for money and long-term running costs. As for size, the bigger, torquier engines will be less revvy and therefore better on fuel.

2017 Ford Kuga review: Value for money?

Standard equipment is generous, which is a good thing because Ford obviously knows it has to work harder to tempt badge snobs. Standard equipment on the base Zetec includes 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, keyless start, hill start assist, Ford DAB radio and cruise control. Yours from £20,845.

Next up the ladder is Titanium, which starts from a heftier £24,245 and adds Sync 3 with navigation, posher alloy wheels, electronic parking brake, rear parking sensors, front scuff plates, automatic halogen headlights with daytime running lights and rain-sensing wipers.

Our ST-Line car came with 18-inch alloys, the aforementioned bodykit (which makes it look meatier), enhanced Active Park Assist, ST-Line interior tweaks such as different seats, gear knob and steering wheel, and sports suspension for a firmer but more involving ride. Prices start from £25,845.

Should you wish to make family life more comfortable, there are many, many options available. The Convenience Pack adds a more capable version of Active Park Assist so it will control the steering when perpendicular parking.

Meanwhile the X Pack (£2,650) adds the panoramic roof, different alloys, heated front seats and Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive beam shape that help keep them from blinding oncoming road users.

There is also the option of all-wheel drive on all but the most basic 1.5-litre engines, just in case you crave more traction. Useful in snow, but perhaps overkill for British roads, generally speaking. Unless your kids go to school on the side of a mountain.

2017 Ford Kuga review: So why would you buy one?

Because the Qashqai is a bit sterile and you want a touch of brash American styling from your SUV. Or because you like a generous level of standard equipment and an enjoyable drive without spending a fortune.

Although UK roads will prove tougher to shine on, we found the Kuga to be a capable machine that offers a solid all-round package. It lacks the finesse of some of its rivals, sure, and the interior could be better but neither issue really spoils the numerous improvements in other areas such as a pleasant drive.

Stay clear of the petrol engine, consider ditching all-wheel drive and you end up with strong enough value for money to make it worth considering in the increasingly crowded SUV market.

Key Specs

  • 2.0 TDCi AWD diesel
  • 180PS
  • 295ftlb (400Nm)
  • 0-62mph in 10 seconds (six-speed PowerShift auto)
  • 132g/km of CO2
  • 54.3mpg (combined)
  • From £20,845 (ST-Line from £25,845)

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