What is it?
Ford calls it a cross-over, we’d call it a compact four-wheel drive. Either way the Kuga is a handsome, tall family wagon that looks a cut above your mundane estate, allows you to look down on the world from loftier seats, offers decent room and majors on a fine driving experience.
And it does provide four-wheel drive, although the electronically-controlled Haldex clutch usually sends more than 95 per cent of the engine’s torque to the front wheels, the rear axle playing a greater role only when needed.
There’s no use of the brakes to limit wheelspin either - Ford considers this potentially counter-productive if all four wheels are on a slippery surface - and nor is there hill-descent control.
So the message is clear - the Kuga is all about on-road driving, but it will drag a boat and trailer up a seaweed-slathered slipway, and it will be that bit more secure in treacherous road conditions, too.
The guts of this car are derived from the Focus family component set, but the bodyshell and most of the interior are entirely new. Only one engine is available at launch, a 134bhp 2.0 TDCi diesel and six-speed, although a197bhp 2.2-litre five cylinder petrol will appear later in the year. Expect a 2.2-litre diesel eventually as well.
What’s it like?
Largely as you’d expect a Focus-derived SUV to be, really, though its dynamics are better than might be anticipated given the challenges of making a tall, relatively heavy vehicle of this kind athletic.
It’s particularly impressive for its fuss-free agility, direct steering, lack of roll and the relatively high speeds you can reach before understeer sets in, or would if the ESP was disengaged.
Despite the need to be pretty firmly suspended to achieve such a deft way with bends it rides comfortably too, though sharper bumps are more likely to be well rounded-off rather than fully absorbed. The bodyshell feels impressively robust over rutted tracks and the suspension operates with impressive quiet, too.
Do not, however, expect this taller car to handle exactly like a Focus - its capable, but less physically engaging than the lower-slung hatch, as you’d expect.
The 2.0 TDCi serves performance that’s typical for the class, being brisk rather than rapid and arriving at 62mph in 10.7sec. So you’ll sometimes need to stir the six-speeder for pacey progress, its wide gate demanding fairly deliberate movements.
We sampled three diesel Kugas and all sounded a little different, the best of them pretty civilised even if the oil-burner’s clatter never completely subsides. The other two, almost certainly sub-standard because they were pre-production, were too obtrusive, as was the wind noise coming from the screen area in all three.
Other plus-points are plentiful, and start with the lowest CO2 emissions in the class at 169g/km. Besides this are rear seats that fold easily, the two-piece tailgate, an exceptionally large glovebox and a decent centre cubby complete with auxiliary socket and an optional USB port.
An optional and very large panoramic glass roof is a very welcome addition, as are bump-absorbent plastic front wings, an optional 240-volt power socket, shopping bag hooks in the boot, picnic trays in the rear for the Titanium and a padded depression in the front door tops for tired elbows.
Should I buy one?
If a practical SUV is what you need, then the Kuga should be on your shortlist. Its chassis stands a good chance of out-pointing the current best-in-class Honda CR-V - also a surprisingly good drive - and the Ford is decidedly better looking too.
Overall, this is a well-polished effort from Ford that’s high on visual appeal, practical detail design and enjoyable manners. It certainly doesn’t redefine the class, but it’s a front-runner.