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We review the 2019 Ford Kuga

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The Car.co.uk verdict:

3.1

As a car-buying nation, the only thing we seem to love more than a Ford Focus or Fiesta is an SUV – so what happens when our favourite manufacturer produces our favourite class of car? Unfortunately, Ford hasn’t quite managed to set the SUV world on fire with the Kuga; it ticks a lot of ‘average’ boxes – but not much else.

Entry level cars feel a little under-spec’d – and top-end Kugas are well-equipped but are edging toward the cost of some premium alternatives. Even die-hard Ford fans might struggle to fall in love with the lukewarm Kuga.

Pros

  • Great reliability – even compared some prestigious opposition
  • The best hands-free powered bootlid that we’ve tested
  • Opening panoramic sunroof is a unique touch

Cons

  • Fairly disappointing boot size when compared to others in the class
  • Bulky, deep dash is neither attractive nor practical
  • For top-end Kuga price, you could be shopping for a Volvo XC60

At a glance

  • Looks
  • Practicality
  • Engine & power
  • Reliability
  • Equipment & options
  • Interior
  • The drive
  • Cost
  • Safety
  • Why buy

Looks

3 out of 5

A fairly beefy large SUV – but not one that stands out in a crowd

When you stand face-on with the Ford Kuga, you’re looking at a chunky SUV that’s got hints of the rough and tough Ford Ranger pick-up truck. The Kuga isn’t a bad looking car all told; it just doesn’t really have anything that makes it stand out from the crowd.

Aside from the entry-point Zetec model, all Kugas come with purposeful looking roof bars – but that and its elevated ride-height is as far as its SUV prowess goes. At entry-level, you’ll get 17-inch alloys – and they become 18 or 19-inch depending on the spec you choose, but that’s about it. The Kuga is bland, which is a shame - because it’s in a sea of competitors that are anything but; especially the Skoda Kodiaq and Citroen’s C5 Aircross.

If your mind is made-up and you’d like a nice-looking Kuga, the best you can hope for is the ST-Line or ST-Line Edition vehicles. Both have black roof bars, smoked lights, and black alloys that give the Kuga a slightly more aggressive look – but it’s a look you’ll be paying close to £30,000 for, so you’re going to have to be bowled over by the Kuga’s looks to part with that kind of money.

Practicality

3 out of 5

SUV style – but without the space

Practicality is generally right at the top of most SUV buyer’s wish-lists – which is why it’s such a mystery that Ford seems to have dropped the practicality ball with the Kuga.

From the outside, the Ford Kuga’s dimensions look reasonable – but at around 450l, the boot is significantly smaller than most other similar sized SUVs, but there’s an annoying deep body-coloured lip that looks very easily scratched if you ever decide that a dog, bike, or anything more than soft bags are going in the back. If you do need to move anything large, you’ll get around 1,650l with the rear seats flat – but they do create a lip that’ll need some working around. On the plus side, getting into the boot couldn’t be simpler – Ford has created one of the most reliable hands-free powered bootlids we’ve come across.

In the passenger compartment, you’ll fit 3 kids comfortably or 3 adults with a bit of a squeeze. Ford has inexplicably given you the option to tilt your seat forward if you want to feel like you’re sitting on an upright school chair – but there are no options for back and forward movement, although legroom is adequate. 

In the front, you’re surrounded by storage that’ll stash enough chargers, snacks, and drinks for the most epic of journeys, although you’ll want to make sure you’ve programmed the satnav before you pull away, because, in an attempt to make the dash look bulky, the touchscreen is somewhat difficult to operate. All in all, the Kuga looks the part – but it’s lagging behind virtually every competitor when it comes to delivering solid practicality.

Engine & power

3.5 out of 5

A broad range of engines with a couple of stand-out units

At the most cost-effective end of the Kuga’s engine choice is the 1.5-litre Ecoboost 120PS, it’s the most economical petrol engine at 35.3mpg combined – but it’s guilty of feeling a bit underpowered in such a stocky SUV.

The same engine comes in a 150bhp state of tune, which gets the Kuga up to speed in a slightly more meaningful way. Unfortunately, the 150bhp engine represents the sportiest Kuga engine available; the 176bhp 1.5-litre Ecoboost is only available if you want a 4WD version of the Kuga, and the extra weight drags the performance right down.

If you’re planning a lot of miles, then you’ve got a handful of diesel options to pick from. The 1.5-litre TDCI 120bhp is the most economical when it’s attached to the 6-speed manual transmission – although the best of the diesel units is the 2.0-litre TDCI 150PS, a seemingly dull engine that really comes to life when the turbo wakes up.

If you’d like a bit more performance from your diesel, it’s worth test-driving the 180bhp version of the 2.0-litre TDCI engine – not because it’ll impress you, but instead because it’ll probably convince you to save some money and stick to the 150bhp unit.

Reliability

4.5 out of 5

Solid reliability that’s almost best in class

You’ll find no complaints about the Ford Kuga’s reliability record. Customers and motor industry studies confirm that aftersales problems are very limited – putting the Kuga’s reliability performance ahead of premium SUVs like the Jaguar F-Pace, Audi Q5 – and even Ford’s own luxury Edge SUV.

While the Kuga’s warranty is a fairly standard 3-year, 60,000-mile arrangement, this can be extended to 4-years and 80,000 miles, or 5-years and 100,000 miles for a relatively small sum. Interestingly, Ford has seen it fit to step up their customer service for Vignale customers too – with a better aftercare package that includes the free collection and return of your car when it’s serviced.

Equipment & options

3 out of 5

Only mid-range Kugas represent a reasonable balance of spec against cost

At entry-level, the Ford Kuga spec is a little lacking. The Zetec has cloth seats, a tiny 4.2” TFT infotainment screen, and cruise control – but not much else. For the additional £3,500, stepping up into the Titanium Edition represents far better value for money; you’ll get the nice-looking roof rails, LED running lights, auto-wipers, a better infotainment screen, and part-leather seats.

Titanium X adds the hands-free power tailgate, 19” wheels, Bi-Xenon headlights, LED rear light clusters, the power opening panoramic roof, and full black leather inside. If you’ve got sportier aspirations, the ST-Line cars are around the same cost as Titanium X versions – and they have a rear spoiler, red brake calipers, red stitching in black interior leather, a flat-bottomed wheel, and an aggressive-looking body-kit to liven things up.

The final step on the spec ladder is the Vignale trim level. Bedecked with plush premium leather seats, a leather-clad dash, park-assist, rear camera, and a premium styling kit, this top-of-the-range car is going to cost you around £34,000 before you’ve added any options. While there’s no denying Ford has loaded the Vignale with nice extras, it does mean your Kuga is approaching the same price as an entry-level Volvo XC60 or Land Rover Discovery Sport with options – a stable of vehicles it will struggle to compete with.

Interior

3.5 out of 5

A fairly smart and comfy interior that’s guilty of feeling a little cheap in places

The Ford Kuga interior inspires the same kind of absence of emotions you feel as you look at the outside of the car. It’s absolutely fine and does the job; but if you’ve been in a Skoda Kodiaq or new Honda CR-V, it just doesn’t compare.

The Kuga’s dash feels purposefully over-designed, like the word ‘chunky’ has featured heavily on the designer’s brief. Rather than looking chunky and useful, it just looks needlessly bulky – with no real benefit to the lumps and bumps that have been created.

Aside from the aesthetics, everything works as it should. The seats are comfortable all-round, and the ST-Line cars have nice bolsters that keep you firmly in place if you ever forget where you are and decide to drive your Kuga like a sports car. The materials that surround you are generally reasonable too; there’s a nice soft-touch dash, and the steering wheel feels nice in your hands – but you don’t have to look far to find some cheaper surrounds and pockets here and there.

On the plus side, opting for a panoramic roof doesn’t just flood the car with light, it’s one of the few on the market that actually opens. If you long for a return to the days of sunroofs, you’re in luck.

The drive

3 out of 5

A comfortable Ford SUV without the spark of a Fiesta or Focus

As reasonably priced cars go, the Fiesta and Focus are hard to beat when it comes to driving pleasure – they’re both comfortable, but both capable of putting a smile on your face when they’re tangling with country roads. On that basis, surely Ford could make sure the Kuga offers a little of the same?

When it comes to ease of driving, the Kuga is respectable. The steering is nice and light, manual shifts are smooth and easy – as are shifts in automatic versions of the car. Sadly though, this isn’t a Ford that handles particularly well; pointing it in the right direction feels positive, but it does feel like every bit of the 1,700kg kerb weight is preventing you having a good time when the going gets bendy.

The Kuga is a perfect motorway machine. With plenty of visibility and a range of engines that are quiet and economical, you’ll eat up the miles – but the same can’t be said for roads in and around town. If your local council don’t do a great job of attending to pot-holes, you’ll want to avoid the ST-Line options with their bigger alloys and stiffer suspension – the Kuga does feel unsettled over rough roads.

Cost

2.5 out of 5

The Kuga struggles to be competitive against strong opposition

As standard, the Ford Kuga’s price starts at £23,375 for a Zetec spec car. Realistically, if you want a car that stands up to others in the class, you’d need to choose the Titanium Edition with a Driver’s Assistance Pack added (more on that later) – costing a total of £28,000.

At £28,000, the Kuga attracts a number of competitors – not least the universally well-received Skoda Kodiaq that’s enormously well spec’d even at entry level.

If you were looking for a well-spec’d diesel Vignale Kuga, it’s possible to break through the £40,000 mark – which could shift your competition focus towards an excellent Audi Q5 or a Discovery Sport with plenty of extras. With these options on the table, the Kuga becomes a far less desirable vehicle to drive.

Safety

2 out of 5

Some crucial safety assistance either missing or optional

While there’s a good handful of positives about the Kuga’s safety – there’s also a couple of concerning points. If you’re purchasing a top-of-the-range Vignale model, you’d probably expect plenty of safety kit – but you’ll still be missing auto emergency braking. It seems downright confusing why this wouldn’t be included as standard on a car that’s likely to cost upward of £35,000 – and equally confusing why it simply cannot be added to the Zetec model.

If you’re happy to buy a car that’s lagging behind many others with emergency braking kit, then you’ll be protected by 7 airbags in the cabin. You can add ‘Active City Stop’ to all models above Zetec if you’re willing to £1,075 for a Driver’s Assistance Pack – you’ll also get help with lane keeping, driver alertness, blind spot protection, and adaptive cruise control.

Ford’s safety kit is good when it’s onboard, but the Kuga isn’t a cheap car – it feels like a poor show seeing crucial safety aids missed off standard equipment lists.

Why buy

3 out of 5

An average car with some excellent competition

If you can get beyond the fact that the Kuga is well below par when it comes to modern safety equipment, you’re looking at a vehicle that’s really just very average. The Kuga isn’t the worst handling SUV you’ll find, nor is it the least well-equipped – in fact, 10-years ago it would have been an excellent car. The trouble is, a lot has happened in those 10-years – SUVs are now some manufacturer’s best-selling cars – and they’re getting seriously good.

Top of that seriously-good pile stands the Skoda Kodiaq. It outclasses the Kuga virtually every way, from the way it looks, right through to its never-ending equipment list. The Kodiaq’s hard to beat – but the Kuga isn’t, which is why there’s also the Mazda CX-5, the Peugeot 5008, the Nissan X-Trail, the Honda CR-V, and the Citroen C5 Aircross in the canyon of quality between the two cars.

If you’ve got a lifelong loyalty to Ford, the Kuga won’t be an abject disappointment; the drive is fine, the handling is okay, and the way it looks inside and out isn’t awful, but this is a very tough class in which to survive as an average car.