The majority of buyers opt for the 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine, which is available with either 148bhp or 178bhp. Both engines are a little flat at low revs but build speed fairly swiftly when the turbocharger kicks in at around 1800rpm. The higher-powered version, unsurprisingly, delivers a bit more of a kick when you put your foot down hard, but it isn't worth the premium.
If you’re after maximum miles to the gallon, consider the entry-level 1.5-litre diesel. With only 118bhp, it struggles a bit when fully laden with people and bags, but is adequate most of the time and keeps the Kuga's price way south of better rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 and Peugeot 5008. In fact, if you're a company car driver, it's the engine we'd recommend. Just bear in mind that you can only have the 1.5 diesel engine with front-wheel drive.
A 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine is also available, with either 118bhp, 148bhp or 180bhp. The more modestly powered versions are available only with front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, with the most potent unit coming with four-wheel drive and an automatic 'box as standard. The 118bhp version is your best bet if you're buying privately – particularly if you don't do many miles.
If you need to tow, four-wheel-drive diesel versions of the Kuga can pull a braked trailer weighing up to 2.1 tonnes. By contrast, the 1.5-litre diesel with front-wheel drive can only pull a measly 1.2 tonnes.
Speed bumps and smooth-edged undulations are no problem at all for the Kuga, which deals easily with bigger bumps and without too much pitching and wallowing. The car keeps close check on its body movements at all times, so there's no nausea-inducing body bounce along country roads..
However, the Kuga doesn't deal so well with patched-up town roads and coarser surfaces, making the car shimmy and shudder subtly. ST-Line models, with their sports suspension, make things even more jittery, so are best avoided.
Ford’s line-up includes some of the best-handling cars on the planet, but sadly the Kuga isn’t one of them. Yes, it stays more upright than many rivals (including the CX-5 and Skoda Kodiaq) through tight twists and turns, but it also feels comparatively nervous since its front tyres try to follow every camber in the road and its steering is far too keen to self-centre.
You might imagine that adding sports suspension (standard on ST-Line trim) and big wheels would improve the handling, but we'd actually recommend avoiding this combination. With 17in alloys (standard on Zetec and Titanium trims) and regular suspension, the Kuga feels at its most stable and composed.
The 2.0 diesel engines are impressively hushed at low revs. True, the noise picks up when you put your foot down, but it never becomes intrusive. The petrol engines are even quieter and smoother at low engine speeds, but can sound a little thrashy if you rev them hard.
Meanwhile, the Kuga's gearshift and clutch have light but positive actions, making it relatively easy to pull away and change gear smoothly. Wind noise isn't too bad by class standards, although you will notice more road noise on the motorway than you would in an equivalent CX-5 or Kodiaq – especially on versions with big alloys.
All Kugas have in-and-out and up-and-down steering wheel adjustment, along with a height-adjustable driver’s seat. However, you do feel slightly nearer terra firma in the Kuga than in many SUV rivals – that won’t appeal if you enjoy a penthouse view of the road.
The driver's seat could do with a bit more support around the shoulder area, but is otherwise comfortable and reasonably supportive, with a good range of movement. Adjusting the angle of the backrest is a bit of a faff, although adding electric seats (a reasonably priced option on Titanium trim and standard on Titanium X, ST-Line X and Vignale) gets around this.
The Kuga's dashboard is reasonably easy to get to grips with, although we'd prefer it if the air-con controls were mounted a bit higher up.
Visibility to the rear three-quarters is hindered by chunky rear pillars, so it’s handy that rear parking sensors are standard on all but entry-level Zetec trim. ST-Line and top-spec Vignale models get an automatic parking system that will detect if a space is big enough and steer into it while you simply control the car's speed.
Your view out of the front is hampered slightly by curved corners at the bottom of the windscreen, but seeing out of junctions is easy enough and front parking sensors feature on ST-Line models and above.
Even entry-level Zetec models get a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a multi-function steering wheel, along with a USB socket to charge your phone. However, Zetec has a different infotainment system from the rest of the range, with a tiny 4.2in screen controlled by a confusing array of buttons underneath.
We'd certainly recommend upgrading to the 8.0in colour touchscreen with sat-nav if you're opting for Zetec, although that still has rather simplistic graphics. This system is standard on Titanium trim and above and does the job, although the infotainment systems in rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 and Skoda Kodiaq are much more user-friendly.
Sound quality is adequate rather than outstanding. There is an optional nine-speaker premium Sony sound system that is better (although still not brilliant).
The CX-5 and Kodiaq are much classier inside than the low-rent Kuga, which, frankly, looks and feels like a £15,000 car inside rather than one with an asking price starting at well over £20k. There are far too many hard and scratchy plastics on the dasboard and some of the buttons and switches feel rather lightweight.
If you're considering one of the entry-level trims, at least the Kuga doesn't feel too low-rent compared with similarly priced rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Seat Ateca. However, the higher trims and more powerful engines push the Kuga's price into a territory where its interior simply doesn't cut the mustard.
The range-topping Vignale model does at least have some fine-grain leather on the dashboard and seats, although the hard mouldings on the upper parts of the dashboard spoil the overall impression.
The Kuga is reasonably spacious in the front, although there are a couple of caveats. First, the curiously protuberant dashboard encloses your lower body quite closely and diminishes the feeling of space; secondly, versions equipped with a panoramic roof are a bit tight on head room.
A central cubbyhole doubles up as an armrest and offers a deep storage area that will hold a 500ml bottle. This is also where you'll probably choose to stow your phone, because it’s where the USB sockets are located.
Two cupholders in front of the gearlever are fine for normal-sized takeaway cups and 500ml bottles but will struggle to take anything bigger. However, the broad door pockets will swallow a bigger bottle and the glovebox is perfectly adequate for storing a bottle of de-icer and a scraper.
Two tall adults will find it easy enough to get comfortable in the rear of the Kuga. However, it’s narrower in the back than simarly sized rivals and there's far less leg and head room than you'll find in a Mazda CX-5 or Skoda Kodiaq. Rear space is more on a par with the Nissan Qashqai from the class below. Avoid the optional panoramic roof if you want to fit tall adults in the back, because this reduces head room considerably.
All Kugas get map pockets on the back of the front seats, narrow door pockets and a 12V socket that sits above a fairly useless central cubbyhole that’s slightly too small to take a smartphone. Go for Titanium trim or above and you'll get a rear central armrest.
The 60/40 split-folding rear seats are easy enough to fold down from the side doors; you just pull a lever at the base of the seat and they collapse forward. It’s a one-handed job, although you’ll need both hands to pull the seats back up again – one to pull the lever, the other to push the seat upright.
It’s a shame that there are no handles to drop the seatbacks from inside the boot (these are offered in many rivals) and there's no option to have more convenient 40/20/20 split-folding seats. The Kuga's rear seatbacks can at least be reclined, but they don't slide back and forth like they do in the Kodiaq and Volkswagen Tiguan.
The Kuga’s 456-litre boot is smaller than most others in this class, but it is at least a neat rectangular shape, with a tall, broad opening and low load lip to make it easy to haul big items in. Inside, you'll find two bag hooks and a 12V socket, and the tailgate is easy to shut because it has a chunky handle within easy reach. Go for Titanium X, ST-Line X or Vignale trim and you'll get an electric tailgate as standard.
Unfortunately, there’s no variable-height boot floor like there is in many rivals, including the Kodiaq. Once dropped, the rear seats lie flat, but they do leave a big step up in the floor of the extended load area – this is annoying when you're trying to slide in bulky items.
At the lower end of the range, the Kuga seems reasonably priced; it isn't that much more expensive than smaller options such as the Seat Ateca and Nissan Qashqai. However, if you want a gutsy engine and a healthy amount of standard kit, all of a sudden you're looking at an asking price broadly in line with the excellent Mazda CX-5 and Peugeot 5008.
Admittedly, the Kuga is available with some pretty tasty discounts if you're prepared to haggle, but the flipside is that it won't hold onto its value as well as its aforementioned rivals. As a company car, however, the Kuga does make more sense – particularly the 1.5 diesel but also the 148bhp 2.0 diesel. The latter engine (with front-wheel drive) achieved a respectable 43.9mpg in our real-world True MPG test, although an equivalent CX-5 managed 47.4mpg.
Ford’s finance deals tend to be competitive, with low interest rates and dealer deposit contributions routinely available, along with fixed-price servicing that can be split into monthly payments. Vignale models are available with preferential finance deals, although they still don't make much sense.
Use our True MPG calculator and see what your car really does to the gallon
Entry-level Zetec trim offers the best value in the Kuga range because you get all of the essentials; air-con, electric windows and cruise control are all standard, although we would be tempted to pay extra for the optional 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system. Moving up to Titanium brings a few niceties, such as the upgraded infotainment system, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, part-leather seats and automatic lights and wipers.
ST-Line models are the sporty option so get a bodykit, sports suspension, 18in wheels, black detailing for the outside and floor mats with red piping. It also comes with a self-parking system, which not only brings front and rear parking sensors but also means the Kuga can steer itself into a parking spot.
The range-topping Vignale gets a powered tailgate and adaptive xenon headlights as standard, as well as a liberal upholstering of Windsor leather on the seats, interior doors and dashboard. But for the price of an ST-Line X or especially a Vignale, much classier, quicker and more refined cars, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Volvo XC40, our 2018 Car of the Year, are available.
The good news is that the Kuga is one of the most reliable cars in the class, only getting beaten by the Mitsubishi Outlander in our most recent reliability survey. Ford as a brand did rather well, too: out of 32 manufacturers, it came ninth, ahead of Vauxhall, Skoda and even premium brands such as BMW and Audi.
The combination of a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty and a year’s roadside assistance in the UK and Europe is merely average for this class, when alternatives such as the Kia Sportage offer a seven-year warranty as standard. You can extend the Kuga’s warranty to four years and 80,000 miles, or five years and 100,000 miles, for a reasonable extra cost.
Buy a Vignale model and you’ll get a car that goes through a myriad of extra quality checks after assembly compared with other Kugas and which qualifies for better dealer aftercare. Ford will even collect and return your car before and after servicing it.
Some Kugas offer the reassurance of four-wheel drive, but all have seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, as standard. It is, however, very disappointing that you have to pay extra for automatic emergency braking on even the range-topping models and it's unforgivable that you can't add this crucial safety aid on entry-level Zetec trim.
The Kuga scored the maximum five stars when it was put through the Euro NCAP crash test in 2012, with particularly strong scores for adult protection (94%) and child protection (86%). However, Euro NCAP's test is considerably tougher nowadays, so it's hard to say how well the Kuga will protect you compared with newer rivas.
An alarm and immobiliser are standard, and security experts Thatcham Research awarded the Kuga five stars (out of five) for its resistance to being stolen and four out of five for guarding against being broken into.
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