When will it all stop? Just about every article I have read about the Ford Kuga since its arrival in New Zealand late last year, has started with some smart-alec comment about its name.
Usually it all revolves around the fact the name sounds like Cougar, but isn't spelt that way. That is then usually followed with some reminder that these days the word cougar relates to those older women who hunt down younger men.
It's all getting a bit tiresome, because it does detract a little from the fact that the Kuga is a very good vehicle that has finally - finally - made its way to New Zealand's new-vehicle market.
It's been a long time coming.
It's five years now since Ford of Europe introduced Kuga in two- and four-wheel-drive forms, with a choice of petrol and diesel engines. Up in Europe the German-assembled vehicle instantly proved very popular, but for a variety of reasons - probably primarily cost - Ford New Zealand chose not to import it Down Under.
FORD KUGA TITANIUM
POWER PLANT: Transversely- mounted in-line five cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine, 147 kW at 6000 rpm, 320 Nm at 1600-4000 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: On-demand all-wheel drive. Five-speed automatic transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, independent control blade setup at the rear. Stability control, traction control, ABS brakes.
HOW BIG: length 1580mm, width 2128mm, height 1710mm, wheelbase 2690mm.
HOW MUCH: $$53,990.
WHAT'S GOOD: Nice performance with a beautiful engine note, great ride and handling.
WHAT'S NOT: That dumb access to the engine compartment.
OUR VERDICT: This Kuga is a superb taste of what's to come.
But now it has. In what is in effect a year-long taster exercise designed to get customers used to having a Kuga in their midst prior to arrival of a brand-new version in the opening quarter of next year, a single all-wheel-drive 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-charged petrol model, specified to the high-end Titanium level, is now on the Ford NZ books.
And gee, it's a good vehicle.
Really interesting too, because it is an excellent example of how a car company can develop product using platforms and equipment it already has - for example, the Kuga is built on the Focus platform, and is powered by an engine supplied by Volvo which Ford used to own.
This isn't the first time we in New Zealand have experienced the excellence of this five-cylinder engine. It was once available in the Ford Mondeo (although only with manual) and in the Focus XR5, and is currently under the bonnet of a variety of Volvos, and its performance capability depends on how much turbo-charger boost is on offer.
In the case of the Kuga the turbo-charging is reasonably light, and as a result the maximum power is 147 kilowatts while the torque is 320 newton metres. But that feels enough. This Ford offers brisk performance, and it comes accompanied with a lovely five- cylinder engine note.
All the underpinnings are based on the Focus hatch, and for that reason it comes as no surprise that the Kuga rides and handles beautifully. In fact, I'd go so far to say that this $53,990 SUV offers a ride at least the equal of vehicles that are a lot more expensive.
It is quite high-riding, thanks to its extra SUV-like ground clearance, but despite that it takes on all the corners and bends with aplomb, while at the same time the on-demand all-wheel drive means security off the seal.
However, although the Kuga is an off-road capable SUV, I doubt it would be that capable, and more at home on the tarmac, with the odd foray up to skifields. Stuff like that.
The AWD drive system uses a Haldex torque converter to distribute grip to where it is needed, and this means the Kuga can operate as anything from a pure front-wheel-drive vehicle to one with a 50:50 front-rear torque split.
It's totally unobtrusive, and that's what I like about it. It simply goes about its business of providing optimum grip for those aboard when it is most needed.
This Kuga is a good-looking SUV with bodyshell lines in keeping with Ford's so-called Kinetic design philosophy. In many respects, it looks like an enlarged Focus, and at the Titanium level of specification it features nice use of chrome and runs on big 18-inch alloys.
The rear load area can be accessed either by opening up just the window or the entire tailgate, and a reasonably-sized cargo space can be made bigger via 60:40 split rear seats.
That's all easy enough to do - which is something that can't be said of gaining access to the engine compartment.
I'd asked our photographer to get shots of the in-line five, but he simply couldn't find out how to open the bonnet. Turns out he was required to twist the Ford badge in the grille to expose a lock, then pull a special key out of the Kuga's remote keyless entry fob, and use that to unlock the bonnet.
For the life of me, I can't understand why the Ford doesn't have a small pull-handle inside to pop the bonnet, just like most other vehicles.
The interior is lovely. The press-button start is a little strangely located in the middle of the upper part of the dashboard between the air conditioning vents, but it is easy enough to access. But everything else is where it should be, and the level of specification is very high.
I'm impressed with this Ford Kuga, even if it is five years old now. It's quite simply one of the best medium-sized SUVs on the market, and its quality must indicate that the new version is going to be a goodie. I can't wait.
- © Fairfax NZ News