Kuga gives rivals a tough ride

Ford ranks among the biggest makers of 4x4s in the world.

You may not think so but Ford has been blazing the trail with its Explorer and other models ever since it churned out wartime Jeeps. So when it came to creating the new Kuga family SUV 4x4 Ford knew what it had to achieve to wipe the floor with the opposition.

But this view is not a single opinion. Autocar magazine's group test of all the major players in the sector saw the Kuga give every main rival a really tough run for their money - and win.

It will maybe come as a shock to some but there could hardly be a more impartial judge than the world's oldest weekly car magazine, a publication that knows what car tests are all about.

As relative newcomers with around 70 years' testing experience between us, we feel we have enough nous to know a good motor when we see one. And the Kuga ranks as more than good. In fact, buyers swapping from conventional family cars are placing so many orders that Ford has raised Kuga production by 10 per cent.

For those who thought maybe the old Kuga was a little small, the new car grows in all dimensions without becoming bloated. One of the problems with cars of this genre is that they can tend to wallow a bit. But the Kuga rides and handles well even though its occupants enjoy the same commanding eye level as those in a Land Rover Discovery.

With its 2.0 litre, 163 bhp diesel engine, the Kuga Titanium test car showed great ability. It felt keen all the time, could quite happily settle at a motorway cruise and yet still give a 37 mpg average consumption in mainly urban running. Longer trips should see this improve greatly.

Many of these cars get used around town and in these conditions the £1,500 extra for the Powershift automated gearbox makes a lot of sense although the six speed manual box is sweet enough to use.

Either gearbox endows the car with a 2.1 tonne towing limit, comfortably achieving the Caravan Club's recommended 85 per cent of the kerb weight rule that would suggest an ideal trailer weight of 1.9 tonnes.

Seats down, there's a load capacity of 1,653 litres, almost 300 litres up on the old Kuga and a useful 456 litres with all the seats in place. For a car aimed at serious leisure users, it could hardly be better.

The natural territory of cars like the Kuga is urban tarmac but this is one that could cut it off-road in most of the conditions a leisure user is likely to encounter.

There's a good choice of models in the new range, starting with a 1.6T petrol Zetec at £20,895 in front wheel drive form. But with the more versatile diesel 140 bhp only £1,000 more the right choice is obvious for better economy and future price resilience. The same diesel can be had in the Titanium but the higher output 163 bhp is worth paying for as it brings the full 4x4 that so many owners will find invaluable.

Maurice and Annette Hardy

Car: Ford Kuga Titanium 2.0 TDCi 163PS

Does it fit your ego...

0-62 mph: 9.9 secs

Top speed: 123 mph

Bhp: 163 @ 3750 rpm

Torque: 251 lb ft @ 2000 - 3250 rpm

...and your wallet...

Price: £25,545

Combined: 47.9 mpg

CO2 emissions: 154g/km

Insurance Group: 21

Best bits: comfortably bigger; vastly better.