After a couple of false starts Ford finally has a world-class compact SUV on sale in Australia. After more than a decade of the rather rudimentary and box-shaped Escape, and a fleeting 12-month appearance of the superseded Kuga model that replaced it out of Europe, we now have the car that all this fuss was about.
The new Kuga is Ford’s global SUV. It was designed in North America after borrowing heavily from the company’s European influence and will be made in four factories around the world, including the USA, Russia, China and Taiwan.
Our Kuga comes to us from Valencia, in Spain. But it very nearly could have been built by Ford Australia in Broadmeadows. This new generation Kuga shares its underpinnings with the latest Ford Focus, which was to be built in Melbourne from 2011 -- until those plans were axed in 2009.
Explore the 2012 Ford Kuga range
It all seems like ancient history now, but given that the small car and compact SUV segments are the two biggest in Australia, Ford would have been on a winner if these were made here.
Ford has an attractive headline price for the new Ford Kuga range. The basic front-drive model starts at $27,990, undercutting some of the toughest competition.
But that price advantage evaporates as soon as you tick the box for automatic transmission, as 99 per cent of customers do in this class of vehicle. The jump to the base model auto adds a whopping $3500 (not the typical $2000) because it also comes with all-wheel-drive.
The mid-grade Trend model (available as an all-wheel-drive only) starts at $36,240 as a petrol, while a diesel engine adds $3000 (to $39,240).
Unfortunately, you don’t get a rear camera on the four most popular models in the range (see “technology”). You have to climb all the way to the top Titanium model, which starts at $44,740 (petrol) and $47,740 (diesel). Most of the Kuga’s main rivals have rear cameras as standard even though they start close to or below $30,000. At least rear sensors are standard.
Metallic paint adds $385 on all models. And a technology pack that includes auto emergency braking, radar cruise control, blind spot warning, lane keeping, auto-dipping highbeam cost $2650.
The new Ford Kuga SUV will be the first car on sale in Australia to automatically phone emergency services if you crash.
The driver has 10 seconds to cancel the call if police and ambulance are not required, but if the line is silent the car will give 000 operators its GPS co-ordinates to send help. The system is so sophisticated Ford is training emergency services across Australia on what it sounds like and how it operates.
The technology is standard on all new Ford Kuga SUVs, which start from $28,000. The only requirement is that a Smartphone is connected to the car via Bluetooth -- and that the crash happens in mobile phone range.
Holden had a similar system from 2001 to 2010, but it required drivers of crashed vehicles to press a button to enlist help. The Ford system is automatically triggered when airbags deploy.
The Kuga is among a growing number of cars making it increasingly difficult to have a crash. As with a number of cars from Volvo, Volkswagen and Subaru, the new Ford Kuga will brake automatically to avoid rear-ending another car in low-speed traffic.
It will also steer straight if you wander from your lane, warn you of cars about to overtake you, and automatically dip the highbeams as other vehicles drive towards you at night.
For mums and dads on the run, the new Ford also has a tailgate that can be opened with a deft swing of your foot (similar to kicking a soccer ball), providing the key is in your pocket or within 1 metre of the car. It’s handy for those will their hands full, or little ones to watch.
But for all the gadgets, the car that Ford describes as the “Smart SUV” does not come standard with a rear-view camera -- even though most of the top SUV competitors have it across the range and is now seen as a basic feature.
A rear camera is only available on the top-line Ford Kuga which starts at $44,000, whereas the Mazda CX5, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V and Nissan Dualis have a rear camera on all models, which near or below $30,000.
Up to two-dozen infants die in driveway incidents each year and hundreds more are seriously injured. Up to 80 per cent of cases involve an SUV or ute -- even though they only account for about one-third of vehicles on the road.
When asked why Ford had not made a rear camera available even as an option on the most basic version of its latest family car, the sales and marketing representative for Ford Australia, Brad Brownwell, said: “Part of the philosophy was … to get people to go up to the [dearer models].”
The Ford representative downplayed the safety benefit of rear-view cameras. “You don’t want people to look in their mirrors and just stare at the little [screen] and throw the car in reverse. You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings”.
The new Ford Kuga looks a lot like the old one, mainly because Ford liked the European model so much.
This car replaces the box-shaped Escape in the US which is why, rather cleverly, it has the same cargo space as the old Escape, even though it looks smaller thank to its sleek lines and sloping roof.
As with most new Fords, the Kuga gets the company’s premium-look interior with a “command centre” in the middle of the dash for all the main cabin controls. It looks impressive but is not as practical as big simple buttons and dials. Less would have been truly more in this regard.
Seven airbags and a clever stability control system that keeps the car secure in corners. According to ANCAP, the new Ford Kuga has among the highest score in its class. Earning its five star rating, the Kuga scored 36.33 points out of a possible 37 (compared to 35.91 for the new Honda CR-V and 35.1 for the new Mazda CX-5). Then, of course, there is also the equipment designed to stop crashes in the first place (see “technology”).
On the road, how the new Ford Kuga drives depends on which model you choose. During the media preview drive in Adelaide this week, Carsguide sampled all three model grades and both the petrol and diesel engines.
The diesel is surprisingly quiet for this type of engine, and has good power once you're on the move but can feel a little sluggish around town in low-speed situations because of both the delay in the diesel engines power delivery, and the response time of the twin-clutch automatic gearbox.
The 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine feels spritelier by comparison, and its conventional 6-speed automatic transmission is a smoother operator.
The new Ford Kuga feels secure in corners and the steering is very precise, however the trade-off for this is a busy and at times firm ride over what appears to be smooth road.
Inside, the new Ford Kuga is one of the roomiest among its rivals with good head and knee room for backseat passengers and a deceptively big cargo area.
However, the tapered window line which gives the Kuga its sleek appearance comes at the expense of visibility when parking. Despite all the Kuga's worthy safety technology, a rear camera is inexplicably not standard across the range of a vehicle that needs it most. Four of the six models are not available with a rear camera, even though its main competitors have the safety feature as standard, at a lesser price.
Another issue that we would like Ford to address on the mid-life update of this car would be to include a digital speed display on the screen in the instrument panel, as Ford has done with the Falcon and Territory, and as is increasingly common on new models sold in Australia.