David Motton

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The popular Ford Kuga has been updated, but in a highly competitive SUV market, does it have what it takes to shine as a tow car? Let's find out!

Overview

Ford facelifted its Kuga SUV last year, with new looks, a new 1.5-litre diesel engine, and an updated infotainment system.

The new unit may be suitable for lightweight caravans, but the 2.0-litre diesel 180PS engine in our test car can handle heavier tourers.

The range includes both front- and four-wheel-drive models – ours is a 4x4. There’s a choice of manual or PowerShift automatic ’boxes, and we’re testing an auto.

The Kuga was a decent mid-size SUV before the revisions, but there are many fine rivals.

What tow car talent does this revised version have? Does the new Kuga stand out from the crowd? And is ST Line, with its sports suspension, the best choice for an entertaining drive without sacrificing ride comfort?

Let’s hitch up and find out!

Towing

Ford Kuga buyers have a choice of three petrol engines and three diesels, with power outputs ranging from 120PS to 180PS.

The 2.0 TDCi with 180PS (178bhp) is the most powerful diesel, and it musters a generous 295lb ft of torque.

The Kuga is heavy enough to make a suitable tow car for a wide range of caravans.

With a kerbweight of 1716kg, the Ford has an 85% match figure of 1459kg.

The legal towing limit is 2100kg (whether you choose a manual or an auto), and the noseweight limit is 100kg.

We matched the Kuga to a Swift Expression 646 with a Mass in Running Order of 1453kg – and for the most part, the Kuga towed it well.

The engine has more than enough muscle to pull a caravan of this weight, as the 30-60mph time of 12.1 seconds shows.

However, the gearbox can be too keen to hold a high gear rather than change down for quick acceleration. It’s more responsive in Sport mode, though, readily dropping a gear or two.

Accelerate hard and the engine becomes a little gruff at high revs, but in regular towing it sounds unobtrusive.

At a motorway cruise there’s barely a grumble from under the bonnet and, although there is some wind and road noise evident, you don’t have to raise your voice to hold a conversation.

At 60mph on multi-lane roads, the Ford Kuga is very stable. Whether overtaking a lorry or dealing with sidewinds, it never gave us any cause to feel nervous.

It was a different story in the lane-change test, although to be fair, the Kuga’s struggles weren’t really down to the car itself.

Ford supplied our test car on winter tyres, but we visited the test track in temperatures of 17°C, some 10°C above the level at which winter tyres offer an advantage over summer rubber.

As a result, even at fairly low speeds the front tyres struggled for grip when turning in, and when swerving back the other way the van pulled the back of the car out of shape.

We’re sure that the Ford would have performed much better on summer tyres. Our feeling is that it will handle the lane-change well, because the steering is well-weighted and precise, and the sports suspension helps to keep body lean in check.

Indeed, you can read our test from this year’s Tow Car Awards, where we put a different, summer-tyre-shod Kuga through its paces.

The winter tyres didn’t hinder the Kuga in an emergency stop from 30mph. The best-performing cars manage this in 10 metres or just under, while the Kuga needed a reasonable 10.7 metres.

With four-wheel drive, plenty of torque, an automatic ’box and an electronic parking brake (one of the changes made last year), starting on a hill isn’t a problem. The one-in-10 slope at our test track was easy enough.

Aside from its disappointing performance in the lane-change test, the Kuga towed well.

Everyday driving

The Kuga drives well, and away from the track the relatively poor grip from winter tyres in warm weather was less noticeable.

In fact, driven sensibly the Kuga handles well, with little roll and a balanced feel.

The precise steering offers more feedback than than a Hyundai Tucson’s, for example. It shifts along at a decent pace, too.

As when towing, the gearbox can need a little persuasion to grab a lower gear promptly, but in Sport mode it’s more eager, and there are gearshift paddles behind the wheel if the driver wants to take charge.

Once in the right gear, the engine’s 295lb ft of torque is muscular enough to provide swift acceleration.

Make the most of the car’s performance and the sports suspension keeps any body movements in check.

However, the suspension is rather firm, and both driver and passenger are jostled around over roughly surfaced roads.

Having driven the pre-facelift car with standard suspension, we think most drivers will prefer it for its more supple approach to bumpy Tarmac. That said, the ST Line’s set-up is firm rather than downright harsh.

Low-speed manoeuvres aren’t quite as easy as in cars with a conventional automatic gearbox.

The Ford’s PowerShift is a dual-clutch system rather than a traditional auto with a torque converter, and low-speed ‘creep’ isn’t as smooth as we’d like.

Overall, though, the Ford Kuga is enjoyable to drive, and more sporty than most of its rivals.

Space

The Kuga is a reasonably practical car, but it’s a long way from being class-leading in terms of both passenger and luggage space.

Up front, the driver and front passenger sit high, with a good view.

The dashboard is mostly clear and easy to use, and now boasts Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system.

The 8-inch screen is mounted high so it can be viewed without the driver taking their eyes too far from the road. It features voice control, and it’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto if you want to link it to a smartphone.

However, the dashboard sticks out around it, which gets in the way when using the screen. It’s more of an irritation than a major problem.

In the back seats, there’s reasonable head- and legroom, and only a slight transmission tunnel hump.

But, you’ll find more space in some rivals – a Honda CR-V has considerably more room in the back seats, for example. The rear seats recline but don’t slide back and forth to free up boot space.

It might have been better if they did, because the Kuga’s 456-litre luggage capacity is quite meagre for an SUV of this size. A Kia Sportage has 491 litres, and a Honda CR-V has 589 litres.

These days, you expect levers to fold the rear bench by the tailgate, as well as on the seats themselves, but the Kuga’s are only on the seats. With them folded, the boot capacity increases to 1653 litres.

In isolation the Kuga is fairly practical, but if space is a high priority there are roomier SUVs.

Running costs

The Ford Kuga starts from £21,395 for the least-powerful petrol version.

Our 180PS ST Line PowerShift AWD is close to the top of the range, and costs £31,795.

That’s more than the most expensive Seat Ateca (£30,525), but undercuts a top-spec VW Tiguan (£33,115).

A little polite arm-twisting should pay off in the showroom, with a transaction price of £28,639 according to What Car? research.

Your money buys a respectable list of standard kit, too, including 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, rain-sensing front wipers, automatic headlights, cruise control, a heated windscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and black roof rails.

The facelifted Kuga hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but the car earned five stars in 2012.

Safety kit includes driver, passenger, front side, and front/rear curtain airbags, as well as stability control.

Ford’s Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert is a £425 option, warning of vehicles in the blind spot and watching for traffic when reversing out of a parking space.

Active City Stop, which can slow the car from low speeds if the driver fails to do so, costs £200. We’d like to see it as standard kit.

The official combined economy figure is 54.3mpg. We saw 26.2mpg towing on A-roads and motorways.

According to our colleagues on What Car?, the Kuga should be worth 41% of the original list price after three years and 36,000 miles. That’s a reasonable return.

Technical specs

Engine size1997 cc
Kerbweight1716 kg
85% KW1459 kg
Towball limit100 kg
Maximum towing limit2100 kg
Power178.0 bhp
Torque295.0 lb ft
Official MPG54.3 mpg
CO2134 g/km
30-60mph12.1 seconds
30-0mph10.7 m

Verdict

So, what tow car ability does the latest Ford Kuga have? It is a good car, but not an outstanding one.

It’s more enjoyable to drive than most rivals, but you can buy roomier cars for similar money.

It’s certainly a fine car to tow with. Although it struggled with the lane-change test, that almost certainly has more to do with the tyres fitted to our test car than any more fundamental shortcomings with the Ford.

At speed, we found the Kuga to be stable and secure. We’d be happy to set off on a long tow behind the wheel, confident that we would reach our destination without any anxious moments.

The Kuga accelerates well, too. The gearbox may sometimes need a bit of persuasion to drop a gear, but fundamentally there’s plenty of muscle to tow any suitably matched caravan.

That performance is obvious in solo driving, too, and ST Line’s sports suspension makes for agile cornering with little body lean.

However, the more sporty set-up does add a firmer edge to the Kuga’s ride – on balance, we think most drivers will prefer the more forgiving standard suspension.

The Ford loses out to some rivals in terms of interior space. Passengers are reasonably well looked after, but boot space is relatively cramped.

If you want plenty of room for bags, you’re better off with a Honda CR-V.

Price-wise, the Kuga isn’t cheap – certainly not in ST Line spec – but What Car? research shows that big discounts are available after haggling.

We’ve enjoyed towing with the Kuga, but it’s a solid performer rather than a class leader.

Conclusion

Pros

  • It's a solid, stable tow car
  • As a solo drive it is agile, thanks to that ST Line suspension

Cons

  • Competitors have bigger boots and better rear-seat space
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