2017 Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi 180 4x4 Test Drive: The Winning Formula, Improved
A promising first drive in the most powerful diesel version of the facelifted Kuga
The Ford Kuga SUV is the brand's third best-selling model in Europe after the Fiesta and Focus, so getting its facelift right is essential for the company's success on the continent.
Launched in 2012, the second-generation Kuga (known as the Escape in North America) has now received its mid-cycle makeover and after my first contact with the 2017 model I have to say everything indicates it will be at least as successful.
In my eyes, it looks much better with the big grille and revised lights, but Ford has done more than just changing the exterior. Highlights include an all-new 1.5-liter turbodiesel, the long-awaited SYNC 3 infotainment system, and two new trim levels: the sporty ST-Line and luxurious Vignale.
I drove the mid-range Kuga Titanium model equipped with the most powerful diesel (180 PS 2.0 TDCi), all-wheel drive, and the six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch transmission.
Created for:highwaysoff roadall terrain
Hats off for:passenger spaceluggage spacecomfortroad handlingmodularitysafety
Bang for the buck:good
The 2.0-liter turbodiesel is punchy, thanks to the output of 180 PS (177 hp) and peak torque of 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) available from 2,000 rpm. The engine is also one of the most refined four-cylinder diesels I drove, producing little noise and vibrations. Combined with the six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch transmission and Ford's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system, it forms a strong package - dare I say, the best you can get on the Kuga.
Although the transmission is slightly slower than VW Group's DSG units, it's smooth and helps the SUV go from 0 to 100 km/h in 10 seconds and reach a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). Unimpressive, but this is no performance SUV.
The Kuga is one of the best-handling SUVs I ever drove — not counting performance models. It's neutral, predictable, and gives you the impression that it loves to go fast through turns. The all-wheel-drive system certainly helps convert torque into traction, and it does so on slippery surfaces as well.
You can tackle low- and even medium-difficulty off-road trails in the Kuga with confidence. On snow-covered country roads, the permanent AWD system and the decent ground clearance made sure I didn't get stuck.
The revised Kuga hasn't been assessed for safety in Europe yet. However, there are no structural changes compared to the pre-facelift model, which means the ratings hold true for the new one as well. Euro NCAP gave the Kuga a five-star maximum overall evaluation in 2012, with the SUV deemed to offer 94-percent protection for adults passengers, 86 percent for child occupants, 70 percent for pedestrians, and 100 percent for safety assist systems.
In North America, the 2017 Escape fared equally well in NHTSA testing, receiving five stars overall (five for frontal crash, five for side crash, and four for rollover).
The Kuga offers a good compromise between ride quality and handling — provided you don't get it in ST-Line trim, which comes with a lower, "sports" suspension and bigger wheels. The suspension silently absorbs road irregularities, and the cabin is remarkably quiet: there's less engine, wind and road noise than you would expect. The seats are comfortable, with rear passengers also benefiting from adjustable backrests on the model I drove.
Drivers of all sizes can find a good driving position thanks to the standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and height-adjustable seat with variable lumbar support — although the lowest position is rather high for my taste.
Materials used inside the cabin have improved with the makeover, with the Kuga now featuring soft, rubbery plastics on the upper half of the dashboard and front door panels — not the rear door panels, though, that get hard plastics. The lower half of the cabin gets the same disappointing treatment, but fit and finish are solid.
The soft leather covering the steering wheel feels nice to touch, as does the shift knob adorned with metal trim. And I'd rather have a good-quality fabric upholstery instead of the faux leather seating surface Ford offers on the Titanium.
The Kuga remains a good compromise when it comes to making efficient use of space. The 4.5-meter long crossover offers enough room inside for five passengers, even on long trips, thanks to the flat floor — there's no center tunnel at all. There will be some shoulder-rubbing, though, if three adults share the back seat. Legroom is generous in the back, as is headroom.
However, that is at the expense of cargo volume, which is smaller than what most rivals are offering: 456 liters up to the parcel shelf with all seats in place, and 1,603 liters with the rear seats folded down.
The 2017 Kuga heralds SYNC 3's arrival to Europe, which means Ford finally offers a decent multimedia interface in its compact SUV. Everything's better than before: the graphics are crisper, the system responds quicker to inputs, and you no longer need to press your finger hard against the 8-inch touch screen — it reacts much better to the human touch.
If you don't want to use the display, the shortcut keys at the bottom of the screen are useful when on the move. The bad news is entry-level Trend models still come with the obsolete SYNC Gen 1 as standard, so make sure you pay extra for SYNC 3.
While Ford claims the Kuga burns 5.2 liters/100 km on the combined NEDC cycle with corresponding CO2 emissions of 134 g/km, during my rather short time with the car I managed to get as low as 7 l/100 km and I reckon even lower figures are possible. That's decent fuel consumption for an all-wheel drive, automatic model.
The manual version is rated at 5.2 l/100 km as well, while the smaller 1.5-liter TDCi unit is said to return 4.4 l/100 km — however, the latter is only available in a front-wheel-drive configuration.
The Ford Kuga Titanium comes as standard with most features needed by a typical user. These include the SYNC 3, an audio system that can play music from CDs, radio or over USB and Bluetooth, Ford Key-Free System, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, electronic parking brake, ambient lighting (for front passengers only), 17-inch alloys, and more.
Still, you'll have to pay extra for things like cruise control, parking sensors, rearview camera, Active City Stop, panoramic roof, and other features.
The Ford Kuga represents a very mature offering in the European compact SUV segment. It's a competent all-rounder: great on the road, reasonable off-road, technically up to date, as well as practical and comfortable inside. A Titanium model with the 180 PS diesel, PowerShift transmission, and all-wheel drive starts from €36,400 in Germany, making it almost €2,000 cheaper than a similarly-equipped VW Tiguan Comfortline.
There are more affordable ways to get a Kuga on your driveway, nevertheless. An entry-level Trend model with the 120 PS 1.5L EcoBoost engine, 4x2, and a six-speed manual gearbox starts at €23,300. There's a Kuga for everyone, so make sure you know what you want before entering a dealership.