The New Kuga – the Perfect European Ford for America?
By Andy Bannister
If recent reports are serious about Ford building more European Fords in North America, one obvious contender could be the impressive new Kuga crossover newly on sale on this side of the pond.
The Kuga is a rather late entry by Ford of Europe in the growing niche for small/medium SUVs, but looks and quality are spot-on and the company should make real inroads into the sales of rivals like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4.
The model is based on the C-car underpinnings of the European second generation Focus and its C-Max medium MPV brother, which helped enormously in reducing development costs for the Kuga and rushing it to market. In the UK, it comes with only one engine – a frugal and low emission 2.0-lite 136bhp turbo diesel and two plush trim levels, Zetec and Titanium. A larger and more punchy 2.5-litre turbo diesel will follow.
With the European Focus widely acknowledged as an outstandingly capable car, the Kuga benefits hugely from its association, with Ford boasting it is much easier to drive, more responsive and more comfortable than the usual 4X4.
The curious name is oddly familiar as Ford Europe previously sold a Cougar a few years ago – the Mercury-derived coupe which wasn’t a huge success over here. Ford’s 4X4 track record in Europe isn’t that good either – it previously struggled to sell a version of the US Ford Escape, called Maverick, and before that rebadged a dismal Spanish-built Nissan.
By starting again and going for the style-conscious buyer rather than the rugged end of the market, Ford seems to have picked a good bet. Blurring the line between the family car, MPV and SUV seems to be an increasing trend, and in Europe the dramatic success of the smaller Nissan Qashqai is something Ford will hope to emulate.
The Kuga is an undoubted styling success although some people may not like the fake air vents under the headlights and just ahead of the doors, set into the plastic front wings. Also plastic is the upper tailgate surround which can be opened separately from the main tailgate.
Inside it features lots of familiar bits from the C-Max, and an air of quality and solidity that is a world away from the cruddy interiors Fords used to foist on customers a decade or so ago.
Here in Europe the Kuga is quite an aspirational product, and the marketing guys have come up with a fictional character called “James” as the target market. He’s married, has a good income and wants an alternative to a boring family car, supposedly to reflect his personality. Lots of skis and surfboads will therefore feature in Kuga advertising.
The German Ford factory at Saarlouis is tooled up to build 65,000 a year, and Ford must be hoping the economic slowdown doesn’t deter buyers like James from splashing out. Indeed, there’s already talk of another factory in booming Russia, where Ford is a big player and the Kuga should sell like hot cakes.
In North America, the next European Fiesta and the latest Focus are already earmarked for local production, but Ford’s next European model up – the very competent Mondeo – may not be the right size for US buyers.
A previous “world car” arrangement which saw the first generation Mondeo twinned with the North American Ford Contour wasn’t seen as hugely successful.
If American buyers are ready to downsize but want some European style, maybe the Kuga – with a different name and a more appropriate choice of engines – could be just the car to build?
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