Youíd think that Britainís biggest car seller would have all the bases covered, but with only the hardcore Maverick 4x4 to offer, Fordís showrooms contained no direct rival to Land Roverís Freelander until mid-2008. As many families were clamouring for an all-action SUV, the Kuga arrived not a moment too soon for Fordís balance sheet.
Did watching the evolution of the growing SUV market give Ford an advantage and help it build the best car in the class? From outside at least, it appeared so, as the Kuga looked more ďsprinterĒ than bulky prop forward, and the technology matched its looks.
The bestselling 138bhp 2-litre TDCi model emits no more CO2 than a family hatchback (169g/km in four-wheel drive and 159g/km in two-wheel drive) and can manage almost 45mpg ó unheard of in a 4x4 a decade ago. Ford also produced a hotshot Kuga with the 197bhp 2.5-litre petrol turbo engine of the Focus ST.
In mid-2010 a more powerful (161bhp) 2-litre diesel was added, with a dual-clutch, semi-automatic Powershift gearbox that was also made an option on the 138bhp diesel.
The Kuga feels agile on the road, and has precise steering and a controlled and enthusiastic approach to cornering. Off-road it may not meet a farmerís needs, but anyone off to a reservoir with their dinghy will find its four-wheel drive coping manfully with slimy slipways.
Inside, the Kugaís raised seating position provides a good view, and the fit and finish of trim are respectable ó the cabin has much in common with those of the Focus and C-Max, and the Kuga is in fact based on their platform. That is also its Achilles heel, as itís scarcely any longer than the Focus, and so by no means cavernous.
With below-average front and rear legroom, and a 360-litre boot (less than half the capacity of the Freelanderís), space for occupants isnít the Kugaís greatest strength. However, its practical, split-level tailgate helps to make amends.
All models have alloy wheels, air-conditioning and a CD player, while attractive options include satellite navigation, a reversing camera and a panoramic sunroof.
Reliability and servicing
The Kuga has proved to be robust and has been the subject of only one recall: a potential brake issue affecting diesels built between November 1, 2008 and March 12, 2009. A dealer can check if an affected car has been attended to. Servicing is not costly and is needed every 12,500 miles or once a year, whichever comes first. A major service (about £250) is scheduled after every two minor services (typically costing £150 each).
By restricting the supply of new Kugas, Ford has given it strong residuals. There are only two trim grades ó Zetec and Titanium ó and the three engines mentioned. If fuel economy is no great concern, the 2.5-litre turbo petrol looks particularly good value. When new it cost about £1,000 more than the equivalent diesel, but after a couple of years it sells for some £2,000 less.
Needs to know
Four-wheel drive: All petrol models have 4WD but the diesel is available with either 2WD (front-wheel drive) or 4WD. Expect to pay about £400 less for a 2WD model
Gearbox: Standard six-speed manual is a joy to use. From February 2009 the 2.5-litre petrol model was also given the option of a five-speed automatic
Keyless start: This is standard on all models, though keyless entry is an optional extra
Service history: All models require servicing every 12,500 miles or once a year
Tailgate: Split-opening tailgate offers a quick and convenient means of loading light shopping through the rear window
Wheels: Alloy wheels are standard on all models, but the 2.5-litre petrol car sits on larger 18in rims. Tyres for both types cost about £200 apiece