Ginger Ale is a new launch colour for the Kuga in European markets

'Ginger Ale' is a new launch colour for the Kuga in European markets

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Ford sees no reason why near-record fuel prices should make now a bad time to be launching a new SUV. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Glenn Brooks learned on the UK market launch of the abstemious new Kuga.

It’s clever marketing to tackle the fuel consumption issue head-on, and what’s more, to tackle it with a petrol engine. The 150PS version of Ford’s 1.6 EcoBoost as featured in the Mondeo is new to the Kuga. This direction injection turbo four-cylinder unit returns an official 42.8mpg and 154g/km of CO2, according to the European Commission’s tests. That’s for the front-wheel drive variant.

If you prefer the superior torque of a diesel, then Ford has an alternate powertrain. Choose the 2.0-litre TDCi Duratorq and you get 140PS, 53.3mpg, 139g/km. You can also have front- or all-wheel drive. Even better, there’s a 163PS version of this engine. The equivalent numbers are 47.9mpg and 154g/km. A six-speed manual is standard for all three engines, with a six-speed auto available for the 163PS diesel.

Other technology highlights with this second generation model include a clever evolution of SYNC. For the first time on a European markets Ford, there is now a system which automatically alerts the emergency services if an airbag fires. It does this by using the GPS locator and your paired Bluetooth phone. The really clever bit is that it will make the call in the local language of the country or part of the country where the car has crashed.

The Kuga has another first for the company, a new intelligent all-wheel drive system with what is termed Curve Control. This means that at low speeds, the software tells the axles to concentrate on traction, but as the pace goes beyond 18mph, driving feel, handling and response become the priorities. Curve Control acts as a safeguard if you find that you’ve entered a bend too quickly. In simple terms, it automatically mitigates against severe understeer by braking and reducing torque.

“The obvious example is on a curved slip road coming off a motorway,” says Ford of Europe’s medium car chief programme engineer, Michael Nentwig. “If the driver hasn’t reduced speed sufficiently, this system can step in and safely slow the vehicle by around 10mph per second”.

Something else that is worth noting is a European segment-first hands-free tailgate opener and closer. Should you see someone looking as though they’re trying to kick their Kuga, this is what they’re up to. If you hate getting your hands dirty opening your car’s tailgate, you’ll love this innovation, which is becoming popular on many pricier vehicles. Sensors in the bumper detect your shin and the kicking motion, so one wave of the leg and up goes the tailgate. The system still works if you order your car with a tow bar.

One of the things I do when a manufacturer lends me a car or invites on a press launch of a new model is to see if I can find parts of the interior where there are rough edges or cheap parts. Ford once had a pretty poor record in this area but I have to say, the Kuga is close to the class leaders, in a segment that includes the BMW X3. Spaces between panels are all less than 0.5mm, the instrument panel is soft to the touch, as is the door upper roll, and I could find no exposed fasteners on moving parts such as the sun visors, glove box or tailgate. Tidy.

How about the manufacturing story? I’m glad you asked. Production of cars for European markets began at Valencia in February, but the US-built model beat our car to the market: the Louisville, Kentucky plant began making the Escape for North America in May last year. 

The Escape is not available with any diesel engine, while another difference is its 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as the base unit, which was carried over from the old Mazda Tribute-based first generation Escape. So yes, here is another example of the One Ford system linking formerly regional but now global models.

There will be more to come, from a manufacturing perspective. In addition to the US and Spanish plants, the Escape/Kuga should eventually be made in Taiwan and Thailand too. The Kuga for China began coming down the line at a Changan Ford joint venture plant in the city of Chongqing just three months ago.

Ford is yet to say where it will manufacture an Escape-based Lincoln SUV (codename: C506), but it would make sense to run it down the same line at Louisville. Production of the 2014 Lincoln MKC, a would be rival for the Audi Q5, is due for US launch in about a year’s time.

Knowing that this vehicle was developed with the need to launch a premium-priced derivative off it explains why the basic architecture feels so sophisticated, especially for a high-volume brand product.

The Kuga sits on an adapted Focus-based platform, and shares the same 2,690mm wheelbase as the first generation version. Despite having identical dimensions between its wheelarches, the new car is longer and has a larger boot – Ford says it increased the luggage carrying capacity by 82 cubic litres in response to requests from owners of the old Kuga/Escape.

It isn’t just engineering and manufacturing which makes the Kuga an interesting model from a global perspective. Ulrike Dahm is the colour and trim supervisor for Ford of Europe, and was heavily involved in the interior palette for the new vehicle.

“In Asia, lighter interiors are more desirable,” Dahm claims. “Many people live in huge cities where space is at a premium, so having a light and airy interior is seen as luxurious. In Europe, colours and trim take a lot of influence from the tech industry and are generally darker,” she adds.

That would explain the mock-ebony trim that surrounded the Sony audio system in the cars I drove on the launch. I liked it but a journalist buddy who writes for regional newspapers told me she doesn’t care for it, claiming it was reflective and distracting. This so-called ‘Piano Black’ capping is restricted to higher-end Kugas so my mate who forgot to bring her sunglasses to the media launch was happy to find boring grey trim in the cheaper variants. One thing we did agree on was how much we liked a new Ford colour, Ginger Ale – which is best described as a subtle green.

The interior is certainly a big improvement over the old model. It now closely resembles the Focus and C-MAX, which to me is a very good thing. The one-movement folding of the rear seats is something I could play with for hours and not tire of, it’s so clever to watch in action: a lot of effort went into designing it, I’m sure.

Ford of Britain thinks it will sell some 10,000 Kugas in an average calendar year and I would say that’s probably on the conservative side, especially with the changes to the way the D-segment is shrinking and SUV sales keep on rising. Prices for the new model starts at £20,895, for which you get Zetec trim and a 1.6 EcoBoost engine with standard stop-start but no AWD. They rise to £29,795 for the Titanium X 2.0 TDCi 163PS AWD automatic.