New car report; Kuga in focus
In 2013, it’s a prerequisite for any carmaker who wants to foot it with the big boys to have a decent small SUV in their armoury. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, small SUV’s are currently the biggest selling automotive segment, so manufacturers are all hungry for a share of this big slice of pie.
Having dropped the square and aging Escape, Ford New Zealand brought a limited number of previous generation European Kugas to our market in 2012, making do with the old model until the new one was available. While it was quite a likeable little truck, with only one high spec model available, apart from nearing the end of its life cycle, it was also a bit on the pricey side. Presumably the rationale was that it’s better to offer customers something, even if it is an old model, rather than make them wait.
But now the wait is over and the new one is here, Ford has a thoroughly modern offering that can stand with the best. At the recent launch in Adelaide, Ford’s Dearborn, Detroit-based Chief Production Engineer Eric Loeffler said the 2013 Kuga (still called Escape in the USA) has more technology than any other Ford product, with design input coming from Ford design studios around the globe.
Loeffler says the Kuga is based around a three pillar philosophy of “cleaner, smarter and safer” and he says “the Kuga has driving dynamics that flatter the novice and reward the experienced driver”. Being based on the excellent Focus platform, it’s no surprise that handling is ahead of the pack.
Three models will be offered in New Zealand, Ambiente, Trend and Titanium. No 2WD and no manual gearbox options will come our way. In keeping with other recent Ford models, they’ll all be equipped with the EasyFuel, capless fuel filler neck. All models have alloy wheels, 17 inch for the Ambiente and 18s and 19s for the Trend and Titanium respectively. Multifunction display screens get bigger the further up the range you go too, with a 3.5 inch for the Ambiente, 4.2 inch for the Trend and 5.0 inch in the Titanium. The Trend has partial leather trim and the Titanium gets full leather.
Available with two efficient powerplants; one petrol and one diesel, both are Euro 5 compliant, with the 134kW/240Nm EcoBoost 1.6 litre GTDi (Gasoline Turbo Direct Injection) petrol engine achieving fuel economy of 8.0L/100km and the 120kW/340Nm 2.0 litre TDCi Duratorq Turbo Diesel 6.3L/100km. Both engines are mated to six speed automatic transmissions for our market, a traditional SelectShift for the 1.6 petrol and the PowerShift twin clutch unit in the 2.0 diesel.
Unlike most of their competitors, Ford has chosen to steer clear of Start/Stop technology, a decision Eric Loeffler said was taken due to US legislation insisting that headlamp illumination intensity must remain constant under all conditions. Therefore a transformer would be required to prevent the lights from dimming when the engine is cranking, so the added cost of installing Start/Stop couldn’t be justified, given the small fuel saving that might have been gained.
Nevertheless, with CO2 emissions of just 186g/km for the petrol and 168g/km for the diesel, the Kuga is pretty gentle on the environment.
Various new smart technologies have been adopted, including a new intelligent All-Wheel-Drive system that uses a magnetic torque system, using 25 sensors to analyse a multitude of signal inputs every 16 milliseconds – we’re told that’s 20 times faster than the blink of an eye! Using up to the minute software, torque can be split between front and rear, so in the event of understeer, torque can instantly be applied to the rear wheels, assisting to bring the vehicle back into line. Based on the driver’s steering angle, the software can determine where the driver wants to point the car and adjusts torque split accordingly. For those drivers keen enough to want to watch what’s going on, there’s also a display available on the dash, showing the power distribution.
There’s also a hands-free tailgate which opens by passing a foot under the rear bumper. We’ve seen this feature on premium models in the past, but it’s a first in this sector, however, if you opt for a towbar, the system is disabled.
Another first is the voice activated Emergency Assistance Ford SYNC connectivity, which in the event of an accident where the airbags deploy will call the Emergency Services even if the occupants are unable to. While the system can operate in Australia, there’s no infrastructure to cater for it here in New Zealand yet. As great as this is, the standard for the system currently being rolled out in Europe (called e-Call) requires the system to be operational regardless of whether or not a phone is tethered to the car, whereas Ford’s SYNC will only operate if a phone is connected via Bluetooth. So from a safety perspective, it’s a great start, but not foolproof.
All models in the Kuga range come equipped with seven airbags including a driver’s knee bag, Dynamic Stability Control, Brake Assist and a Trailer Stability Function. Cruise Control with Speed Limiter is standard equipment across the range.
There are also numerous safety features included in the Technology Pack, available as an option on Trend and Titanium models. These include Active City Stop, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Information System, Lane Keeping Aid, Lane Departure Warning, Auto High Beam Control and Driver Impairment Monitor.
The entry level Ambiente is available with the petrol engine only, and is priced at $39,990, while the Trend and Titanium come in petrol and diesel options. The Trend is priced from $43,990 and the Titanium $52,990. Diesel models carry a $2,000 price premium.
Pricing, driving dynamics, equipment levels, comfort, space and noise levels all impress, and with the 2013 Kuga, Ford will undoubtedly be gobbling up a decent chunk of that small SUV pie.