Ford has gone to town with the launch of its refreshed new Kuga SUV.
A fleet of the cars took part in the #KUGAdventure – an epic 5,000km roadtrip which began in Athens and finished in Norway.
We were invited to Leg 13 in Finland, driving some 500km up from Oulu to Ivalo, just inside the Arctic Circle. Our route took us along a series of challenging roads in sub-zero temperatures.
At our disposal were a selection of Kugas, sporting 1.5-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines.
All were fitted with Ford’s optional Intelligent All-Wheel Drive, which automatically adjusts the amount of power sent to each wheel, optimising handling and traction.
Finland’s combination of iced-up and snow-covered roads was the perfect test for the AWD Kuga, and it passed with flying colours.
It’s not a hardcore 4×4, but with the aid of Continental winter tyres it is very capable and was able to give that all-important confidence factor in often treacherous conditions.
The Kuga has been with us since 2008, though the second generation first appeared in 2012, and it’s selling better than ever.
However, cars in the hotly-contested mid-sized SUV sector need to be as competitive as possible. So, not only has Ford given the Kuga a major facelift, but it’s now also with some of the latest tech.
It’s up against formidable rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar, plus the new Peugeot 3008 and Seat Ateca, so it has to be good.
The good news is that Ford has done a great job with the new Kuga which is a car transformed.
The familiar Kuga profile is still in evidence, but the lines after softer and it has a more modern, sportier look.
Up front there’s a new nose with Ford’s signature trapezoidal grille, featuring new headlights and LED daytime running lights.
The rear tailgate has also been redesigned. It now incorporates new light clusters, bringing it into line with other models in Ford’s SUV range – especially the Kuga’s new big brother, the Edge.
Inside, the dashboard design is clear and the new SYNC3 infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen at its heart on the centre console, looks good and is easy to use.
The materials used have a quality feel, while the seats are comfortable, but as ever, if you can afford full leather seats, it’s worth the extra.
There’s good space up front with excellent visibility (the panoramic sunroof also bathes the cabin in light), though rear legroom is average in its class.
However, the new tech on offer also brings the new Kuga bang up to date.
Optional extras now in include Adaptive Front Lights (which are very effective), a heated steering wheels (also very useful in -5 Degree temperatures), semi-autonomous parking and Cross Traffic Alert, which warns drivers reversing out of a parking space of oncoming traffic.
There’s also Active City Stop which applies the brakes at speeds of up to 31mph if the system senses an impending collision.
Meanwhile, SYNC3 enables drivers to control systems including audio and navigation, connect to Android and Apple smartphones, and it can even recognise voice commands.
Despite the Kuga’s commanding driving position, it drives more like a hatchback with well-controlled body roll, while the ride is smooth and the bigger engines are refined.
We tried 180PS versions of Ford’s 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines in ST-Line and Titanium specs respectively.
Both units offer ample torque and decent economy (38.2mpg and 54.3mpg), while there’s little to choose between the slick manual and automatic six-speed gearboxes.
However, if economy is key, go for the new 120PS diesel engine (offered with front-wheel drive) which emits just 115g/km of CO2 and is capable of 64.2mpg.
The Kuga’s boot can swallow 456 litres of luggage (1,603 litres with the seats down).
And of course, the Kuga’s party trick is still intact – the rear tailgate can be opened and closed by simply waving your foot beneath the rear bumper.
Verdict: Priced from £20,845, the new Ford Kuga is better than ever. Packed with the latest tech and boasting a fresh, sportier design, it’s easy to drive, practical and good value for money.