Underdog SUV with a cat’s name
The European-built Ford Kuga was a short-lived nameplate in Australia, the mid-sized SUV appearing in showrooms between 2012 and 2016 and now replaced by the Escape.
Not to be overlooked as a used car, the Kuga has the medium SUV styling and dimensions so favoured by families and, being based on the talented Focus platform, this high-rider was one of the more joyful SUVs to pilot.
Spacious, comfortable, quiet on the road and relatively cheap to service, it added decent equipment in higher grades. With the right engine, it showed impressive pace too.
All Kugas are not equal. The first series, the 2012-13 TE, had been on sale in Europe for four years already, so the TF replacements were far more advanced.
There are reliability issues. Most Kuga owners have been happy but big-ticket failures have soured ownership for others.
Most dramas involve diesel versions, with numerous reports of the PowerShift automatic gearboxes having problems or needing complete replacement at grand expense.
These are different gearboxes to those Ford was obliged to replace on the Focus, Fiesta and EcoSport (while paying a $10 million fine for not handling customer complaints properly).
Numerous diesel owners report their Kugas going into limp mode, killing power due to the diesel particulate filter not burning off soot effectively, typically if they aren't driven longer.
It makes petrol Kugas a safer choice, unless you'll be covering high kilometres to warrant better diesel economy.
The Kuga arrived in February 2012 in Trend and Titanium grades, using the rapid 147kW 2.5-litre turbo from the Focus XR5 mated to a five-speed auto gearbox. It had independent rear suspension and all-wheel drive.
Goodies included 17-inch alloys, keyless entry and start, cruise control, Bluetooth, USB port, six airbags and emergency brake assist.
Titaniums had 18-inch alloys, panoramic roof, leather heated and power seats, dual-zone climate control aircon, rear parking sensors and rear tray tables.
In April 2013 the TF started with a more affordable Ambiente with six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive and less potent (but more economical) 110kW four-cylinder.
Driver enjoyment and comfort remained - at a slower pace - but rear seat and boot space increased.
The same engine was used in AWD Ambiente, Trend and Titanium grades, now with 134kW and mated to a six-speed auto.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel Kugas used another six-speeder, the more troublesome PowerShift. It was optional on AWD Trend and Titaniums.
Ambiente kit included 17-inch steel wheels, cruise control, keyless start, Bluetooth, USB and improved in-car connectivity with voice control, but with antique-looking 3.5-inch mono screen.
Trends added 18-inch alloys, power seats with leather inserts, dual-zone climate, auto headlights and wipers, rear air vents, Sony audio, digital radio and 4.2-inch colour screen.
Titaniums brought 19-inch alloys, glass roof, bi-xenon headlights, LED daylight running lights and tail-lights, front parking sensors, heated leather seats, ambient lighting, keyless entry, park assist, satnav, five-inch colour screen, rear camera and excellent hands-free tailgate.
In September 2014, Trend and Titaniums got a punchy 2.0-litre turbo and were joined by a front-drive Ambiente with auto gearbox. Diesel models now claimed a massive 400Nm and better economy.
From November 2015 all Kugas had reverse cameras, and the two top grades got eight-inch screens, satnav and updated connectivity. The following May, these were added to Ambientes.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Early Kugas may tempt with powerful engines and decent spec but the later series improves on them substantially. An excellent Ford service history is important, especially if picking the more troublesome diesels.
If during a road test you experience marked jerkiness, hesitation or nasty noises from the transmission, it probably spells trouble, so best walk away.
Avoid diesels used only for short journeys as the diesel particulate filter may not clean itself - take a long test drive to check it doesn't go into the dreaded limp mode.
Differential failure has been reported, so listen for nasty clunking noises underneath.
Possible coolant circulation issues in 1.6-litre petrol Kugas could crack the cylinder head, so ensure any you test doesn't overheat. Look for mayonnaise-type gunk under the oil filler cap.
Most examples are AWD but really are suitable for sealed roads only. Check for underbody damage or evidence of off-roading.
Owners have reported screen failures, while a couple have suffered water leaks, so look for carpet stains or mould.
The higher the grade and the later the model, the more you get. Look for Titanium and Trend with Technology Pack option, bringing AEB, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot and lane departure warnings.
Most Ambiente models didn't have rear air vents, so are not great for kids in the back.
There have been five recalls - three in the past 12 months - so check any you consider has returned to Ford for fixes. To check the VIN, view productsafety.gov.au.
Most serious was a March 2017 recall for fire risk due to an oil leak in petrol Kugas.
Really enjoyable to drive, attractive and well specified. Favour petrol examples from mid-2013 onwards, or if you can afford, post-September 2014 Trends or Titaniums for real shove. Only go for diesel if you're planning big trips.
JENNY MCDONALD: I owned a 2013 Titanium EcoBoost and really enjoyed the turbo 1.6's power for around town. I loved the luxury and technology, especially the blind spot assist and adaptive cruise control. I didn't like the small screen and there were too many buttons on the dashboard, it was quite confusing. It was an enjoyable ownership experience and I recently upgraded to the successor, a new Escape.
THE EXPERTS SAY
The second series Kuga added diesel variants and a smaller turbo engine. Three trim levels were available, the base model was a manual front-drive and the TF series sold nearly 18,300 examples.
Among used listings for both series, more than half are diesels, AWDs are in the majority and only a fraction are manuals.
The mid-spec Trend grade accounts for nearly half of those on sale, with the affordable Ambiente and flagship Titanium equally represented among the rest.
The 2013 Ambiente front-drive manual ($27,990 new) is now valued at $11,100. The Kuga Titanium diesel with PowerShift auto ($47,740 new) is still worth $19,000. For 2016, the Ambiente ($29,250 new) is worth $16,500 and the Titanium ($47,190 new) fetches $27,900.
Medium SUV rivals are Mazda's CX-5, the Nissan X-Trail and Toyota RAV4. The three Japanese rivals hold their value better than the Ford but most of the Kuga's depreciation seems to occur early then level out. A carefully maintained 2013 example should be a good-value proposition. - Red Book
FORD KUGA 2012-16
PRICE NEW $27,990-$47,190
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINES 2.5-litre 5-cyl turbo, 147kW/320Nm; 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 110kW/240Nm or 134kW/240Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 178kW/345Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 120kW/340Nm or 132kW/400Nm
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