Ford's cute compact four-wheel drive Kuga finally goes on sale here next month. We've been asking about this car for years, ever since laying eyes on it for the first time in Europe.
But, as pleased as we are to see Kuga, there's a catch because we'll be getting the old one first, not the new one that has just been unveiled in the US - even though it's only 12 months away.
It's a strange decision by Ford, to introduce a car so near the end of its life cycle, but perhaps understandable in the current economic climate, with those questions that just won't go away over the future of Falcon and car manufacturing as a whole in this country.
Ford, for its part, says it wants to get the Kuga name and product out there in preparation for arrival of the new model. Besides, it adds, it's still a very good car and a very good looking one that has earned plenty of accolades.
Kuga replaces the long serving Mazda-based Escape which has been hanging on since launch way back in 2001 (in the States it will still be called Escape). We suspect the decision to launch now has got more to do with the money. Ford reckons it can get only 200 of these cars a month and that it will have no trouble selling all it can get its hand on.
As good as it may be, however, Kuga will have a big job ahead of it, entering an extremely competitive segment, with plenty of quality rivals - some of them cheaper. Time will tell . . .
Kuga sits on the same platform as Focus, but it's the previous one. It will be available in two models, Trend and Titanium, neither of them cheaper entry models. Both are powered by the same 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. There's no diesel at this stage. There's no manual either. Prices start at $38,990 for Trend and $44,990 for Titanium.
2.5-litre five cylinder Duratec turbo. It's the same engine as that in the previous Ford Focus XR5 but with the wick turned down. Power output is 147kW instead of the XR5's 166kW. Both engine however produce the same torque figure of 320Nm at 1600 revs.
Both versions of the Kuga are fitted with a five-speed automatic transmission that delivers power to all four wheels through an ``intelligent'' all-wheel drive system, giving the car sure-footed handling and some off-road ability. It's a traditional auto, not the Powershift twin clutch unit. You can change gears manually via the shifter, but there's no change paddles.
Takes premium unleaded. Claimed fuel economy is 10.3 litres/100km. We suspect it is going to use a little more than this. During the course of the drive program we saw between 9.4 and 12.4 litres/100km. The Escape had a reputation for being thirsty and this could be the case again. A 2.0-litre turbo diesel is offered overseas. Focus is available with a diesel, so we look forward to the arrival of a more economical diesel soon - but it probably won't be until the replacement model arrives (early next year)
Gets a full five stars for safety. Six airbags are standard along with ABS with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), DSC (with Anti-Rollover Mitigation), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Traction control, Driver and front passenger beltminder and Immobiliser (EPATS – Encrypted Passive Anti-Theft System)
It's inside where the Kuga is starting to show its age. None of the snazzy layout from Fiesta or Focus, but the stodgy old grey plastic setup you may have seen in Mondeo. The vinyl trim is soft to the touch where it counts, but decidedly cheaper and harder elsewhere. There's also a lack of storage receptacles in the the cabin.
Trend has 17 inch wheels while Titanium scores 18s. Standard equipment includes aircon, keyless entry and start, Bluetooth with voice control, Sony 8-speaker audio with USB port for iPods, rear tailgate with flip glass, leather wrapped wheel, cruise control, fog lights, roof rails and capless fuel filler. Titanium adds leather, panoramic sunroof, climate air, auto lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and power operated driver's seat.
No satnav, nor any mention of a rear reversing camera. No full size spare either, only a space saver.
It's no Focus. Being heavier with less power it is less responsive to the throttle. Being taller there is inevitably some body roll too - but not enough to be annoying. Other than that it sits reasonably flat in corners and has plenty in reserve for overtaking, although the transmission has a `think' before it kicks down. For the average driver it will be fine, but the more demanding driver could find it a little unexciting.
We like it. Looks good and goes well, but so do a lot of its competitors. The question that must ultimately be addressed however is why buy this Kuga when there's a new one just around the corner?
Price: from $38,990-$44,990
Warranty: 3 year/100,000km
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Engine: 2.5-litre 5-cyl turbo petrol, 147kW/320Nm
Body: five-door, five-seat
Dimensions: 4443mm (L), 1842 (W), 1710mm (H), 2690mm (WB)
Transmission: 5-speed auto, AWD
Thirst: 10.6L/100km, 244g/km CO2.