Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

New 2013 Ford Kuga – First Drive at the European Launch, Valencia

Ford Kuga

Ford Kuga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it first saw the light of day in 2008, the Kuga has been something of a success story for Ford in Europe, selling over 300,000 units and, according to Ford themselves, attracting buyers who would previously have overlooked the brand. In such tough economic times, it’s tricky attracting sales at all so what’s the Kuga’s secret and does this new, updated model retain it’s predecessor’s magnetic pull?

New 2013 Ford Kuga

New 2013 Ford Kuga

Like it’s stablemate – the Focus, this new Kuga is a global car for Ford. It not only replaces our first generation model but is also sold in the USA under the moniker ‘Escape‘, replacing a much larger 4×4 of the same name. Think it’s impossible to tempt an American out of his gas guzzling pick-up? You may be surprised to read that the Ford dealerships in the US can’t get Escapes into their showrooms quickly enough – it’s an incredibly popular vehicle and, with 5 NCAP and also 5 NHTSA stars, incredibly safe too.

2012 Ford Escape

The Kuga is known as the Escape in the US. This is the previous model Escape

Visually, I always found the first generation Kuga very inoffensive with a certain ‘Tonka Toy’ charm that distinguished it from the opposition. It had real road presence, bulges in all the right places and a nice shiny pair of twin exhausts that hinted at a cheeky fun factor on the road. This latest Kuga has undoubtedly retained many of these endearing features but I can’t help but feel that, visually at least, it’s all got a bit grown up. Amalgamating the Kuga with the Escape has inevitably resulted in a slight compromise with it’s styling. Thankfully however, the US market have adopted our curvy Kuga more than we’ve endured their boxy Escape.

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully, sometimes

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully. Sometimes

The new model is longer (81mm) and marginally narrower (4mm) than the outgoing model which does give it a more sensible, upright silhouette and detracts from its previous squat image with its shorter, less cumbersome overhangs. Ford claim to simply be listening to market feedback who apparently demanded more luggage space. One can’t fault them for this but it just seems a shame that the trade-off for a larger boot (up 82 litres on previous model) is inevitably a loss in the looks department. On the boot subject, Ford are very proud of their new, automatic, hands free tailgate which is designed to allow items to be quickly stowed away, without fumbling around in the rain for the keys. With the ‘correct’ kick under the rear end, the system does open and close as advertised. Be warned though – looking foolish is easily achieved, either by adopting the wrong style of leg movement or, as I did, by solidly cracking one’s shins on one’s own bumper.

It’s that same story up front too. Here is where the influence of the US market is more obvious and the result is a far more angular, dramatic ‘face’. It’s all new, triangular air intakes are slightly reminiscent of Porsche‘s Cayenne – certainly not the prettiest car in the world but definitely one of the more striking.

Some fantastic design features inside

Some fantastic design features inside

Inside the new Kuga, there’s a reassuring air of quality that seems to be indicative of most current Fords. The standard of materials used and imagination in design are largely unseen in this price bracket and are testament to Ford’s commitment to forgetting mistakes made in the past and establishing themselves as a marque of quality once more.

Ford were keen to point out the various innovative features they’ve added to the new Kuga, all aimed at a more satisfying, safer driving experience. The AWD system now boasts Torque Vectoring Control, Torque Steer Compensation, Curve Control for over-zealous cornering and Active Nibble Compensation for, erm……

2013 KugaLearning the intricacies of exactly how all these systems work is both unnecessary and slightly boring. What isn’t boring however is what they all add up to on the road. Our test route, high in the hills above Valencia offered many bends with varying angles and elevations to really stretch the capabilities of a lofty SUV. Ford insist that the S in SUV stands for Smart in this instance and when it comes down to how the Kuga drives, I’m inclined to agree. Yes, the roads around Valencia offer a surface quality that we in the UK can only dream of but, either way, the Kuga was resolutely unshakeable. The AWD system on our test vehicle apparently analyses feedback from the aforementioned driver aids 40 times every 16 milliseconds and I could well believe it. The result is a sensation not dissimilar to Ford’s own Focus with its limpet like qualities; no mean feat for a tall 4×4 with running gear that’s designed to also be able to cut it off-road.

The new Kuga will be offered with a range of engines; 2.0l Diesels in either 140PS or 163PS guise and Ford’s 1.6 EcoBoost petrol with either 150PS or 180PS. Our test cars came equipped with the Duratorq Diesel engine (163PS) and I’m sad to say, this is the Kuga’s weakest link. This Diesel engine is unusually keen to rev but, even with the Kuga’s valiant attempts at sound deadening in the cabin (including thicker glass), when pushed hard, the reverberations and clatter were intrusive, antiquated and completely out of sync with the car’s funky image.

New 2013 Kuga Rear

We like twin tail-pipes

The EcoBoost engines could prove to be a real highlight for the Kuga, not only by producing a more pleasant noise but by also improving handling further due to their comparative lightness. The only stumbling block may be that Ford have decided to offer the 150PS variant in FWD only, reserving the higher output lump for 4WD. Not that I’m envisaging the vast majority of Kugas ever experiencing much more by way of off-roading than a grass verge, but any potentially adverse effect on the 4WD model’s impeccable road handling would be a real shame. If, however, the FWD EcoBoost Kuga does tow the party line and sticks to the road like glue, it’ll surely become a common sight in the UK as its economy and CO2 figures aren’t a million miles away from its Diesel counterparts, with acceleration becoming far more spirited. Couple this with the entry-level Kuga being available for £20,895, a full £1,000 less than the equivalent outgoing model and it could be a great package.

Conversely, I feel that the 180PS model will sell in very limited numbers as it offers no hike in performance due to the extra weight of its 4×4 system, whilst fuel consumption and CO2 emissions stumble to unacceptable levels in this segment (36.7mpg combined and 179g/km CO2).

With improvements in almost every area, stunning handling and a very welcome price drop, the new Kuga has little to dislike and with this segment expanding 40% since 2008, I see very little reason why the Kuga won’t continue to take a hefty bite. However, Ford predict that it’s Diesel Kugas will outsell the petrol variants 3:1. Armed with the mighty EcoBoost, I’m not so sure. I definitely plan to get my hands on one soon though, to provide my full verdict.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications as driven; Ford Kuga Duratorq 163, Price – from £25,545, Engine – 2.0l Diesel, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 163bhp, Acceleration0-60 9.9s, Maximum Speed123 mph, Economy –  47.9 mpg combined, Emissions –  154g/km CO2

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All New Ford Fiesta. How does it compare to its predecessor?

2012 Ford Fiesta

2012 Ford Fiesta

Fact; The Ford Fiesta has been Britain’s most popular car every year since 2009 when it knocked its big brother – the Focus off it’s well-worn mantle.

Near Certainty; Unless the price of oil is decimated and the car buying public decides that a 10yr old Range Rover Vogue, equipped with a 4.4 V8 petrol engine (circa £9975) makes more financial sense than Ford’s latest small hatch (from £9795 OTR), the New Ford Fiesta will march on triumphantly to the top of the 2013 charts.

How can I be so sure that the Fiesta won’t be knocked off its lofty perch? Well, Ford seemed to have taken the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and used it with consumate wisdom. There are definitely enough revisions and improvements to the 2013 model to justify the ‘All New’ tag, but the majority of the car is taken straight from the previous incarnation which was hardly looking long in the tooth itself.

All New Ford Fiesta

All New Ford Fiesta

I was in the fortunate position to arrive at the New Fiesta launch in Manchester in the previous model that I was road testing. This ‘out of the old, into the new’ situation is undoubtedly the best way to draw comparison as I had every last niggle and highlight fresh in my mind. In the blink of an eye, I was drawn to establishing whether this new car had simply improved upon the last formula, or whether the essence of such a successful model had been lost in the intricacies of launching a car with its own identity and character.

All New Nose

Visually, the new model pulls off the amazing trick of being very similar to its predecessor whilst, at the same time, looking completely different. That trapezoidal nose has actually graced the front end of many Fords, including the Fiesta, for a while now. By adding some shiny brightwork, giving the new model a facelift and swapping the smaller, secondary air inlet from above to below the main ‘mouth’, the resulting car is instantly transformed, not only into a new model but also into a part of the new Ford family image.

Inside

2012 Fiesta Interior, a very pleasant place to be

2012 Fiesta Interior, a very pleasant place to be

Inside the New Fiesta, the changes are negligible which came as no surprise as, again, the previous model’s cabin was chic, funky and fresh, with all manner of eye-catching shapes and materials being utilised in a very similar fashion to the ultra cutting-edge Focus. The quality of materials used and overall attention to detail really have no right to appear in a car in this price bracket and Ford have been quite shrewd in ensuring that possibly the most memorable part of the car is the environment which the occupants see most; the cabin. It really is futile giving a car like this the world’s most attractive engine bay when the majority of its target market have no inclination whatsoever to ever open the bonnet.

New interior, very similar to previous model.

New interior, very similar to previous model.

That said, there were a couple of niggles inside the previous model Fiesta that have now been ironed out, the most significant being the multimedia unit. The unit in my test 2012 model wasn’t disastrously bad, it was just nothing to write home about either; it played CDs, it boasted multiple radio stations, it even had an incredibly useful USB port, into which one could plug one’s Iphone and merrily select tracks in MP3 format. The problems arose when the ‘shuffle’ mode was operated and a random selection of tracks were played. It would reach the end of one track and, instead of instantly choosing the next one to play, the first few lines of the subsequent song would be heard whilst it made up it’s mind. Sounds like a minor annoyance, doesn’t it? You try it, in no time at all it’s incredibly irritating.

Thankfully, Ford have decided to outsource the current multimedia software to a little company who apparently know a thing or two in that field; Microsoft. They’ve concocted a system called Sync and, speaking from first hand experience, it does exactly what it says on the tin, eradicating any previous issues that existed.

MyKey

Another technological innovation on the new Fiesta is a system called MyKey. In a nutshell, it allows the vehicle to be programmed by its owner via the keys, altering settings such as maximum speed, audio volume and the low-fuel warning. The thinking behind this is that parents, worrying about their teenage offspring who are out driving, will be reassured in the knowledge that their pre-armed Fiesta will be working extra-hard to ensure their safe return home. Now, the memories may be getting a little hazy but I can remember enough about being a teenager to state with confidence that this is the last thing I’d have wanted in my car. I also know that, even though it’s generally not their money that’s buying their first car, with enough incessant whining, any teenager worth their salt will be able to influence which car is bought and potentially steer well clear of this ‘big brother’ technology. It’s certainly innovative and will probably attract buyers, my only reservation is that it could possibly deter buyers too.

2012 Model Fiesta Nose......

2012 Model Fiesta Nose……

Ford claim that, due to the state of the global economy, many buyers are choosing to ditch their larger hatchbacks and are opting instead for something Fiesta sized to keep costs down. The fact that their very own Focus was deposed from the top of the charts by the Fiesta corroborates this claim and Ford have decided to act upon it by adding a new range-topping Titanium X model, in order to reinforce that feeling of quality that the Focus driver had previously enjoyed. Combine leather and climate control with the fact that the Mk1 Focus was only 20cm longer than this latest Fiesta and it’s easy to see how a smooth transition can be achieved.

EcoBoost Engines

One monumental leap forwards in this new model is the introduction of Ford’s multi award-winning range of EcoBoost engines. I’d experienced this excellent little three-cylinder in the Focus recently, without disappointment, and I was itching to get my hands on the lighter Fiesta, equipped with the same powerplant. Does it work? Of course it does! I sampled both the 125ps and 100ps variants and both were huge fun with character to burn. I quite safely predict that this excellent engine/chassis/gearbox combination will only reinforce the Fiesta’s rock-solid reputation in the market as it offers a fun factor that it’s competitors can only dream of.

......and New Fiesta Nose. Some shape-shifting going on.

……and New Fiesta Nose. Some shape-shifting going on.

The official economy figures for the Ecoboost models are 65.7mpg combined, admittedly this isn’t a patch on my Duratorq Diesel test car’s 85.6mpg but there are other considerations to be taken into account here. The very nature of the free-revving Ecoboost engine when compared to a fairly reluctant Diesel is hugely important in my opinion and the throaty sound that resonates around the petrol-engined model’s cabin gives a real hot-hatch feel without the associated costs. I also found that the relatively small Fiesta struggled with the extra weight of a Diesel lump up front whereas the lightweight petrol engine made the car less nose-heavy into corners and really did justice to the extremely satisfying driving set up. As both models slip in under that magical 100g/km on emissions, there isn’t a VED issue to separate the two either.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, the Fiesta’s sales figures speak for themselves and it was going to take a series of huge errors for the updated model to ruin such a complete little car. That said, it wasn’t perfect, a fact that Ford weren’t too arrogant to acknowledge and remedy. With its niggles ironed out, it’s striking new look and, perhaps most importantly, the introduction of their EcoBoost engines, the Fiesta will undoubtedly go from strength to strength.

ST due to arrive in April - looks fantastic

ST due to arrive in April – looks fantastic

Oh, did I also mention that the ST model will be along in April, priced from £16,995? More on that to follow……..

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; 2012 Model as Tested – Ford Fiesta Zetec ECOnetic, Engine – 1.6 8V TDCi, Power – 95PS, Maximum Speed – 111mph, Acceleration – 0-62mph 12.9s, Economy – 85.6mpg combined, Emissions87g/km CO2, Price – £15,595 OTR.

2013 Model of choice – Ford Fiesta Zetec S, Engine1.0 Ecoboost Turbo PetrolPower – 125PS, Maximum Speed122mph, Acceleration0-62mph 9.4s, Economy – 65.7 mpg combined, Emissions99g/km CO2, Price –  £15,395 OTR

They always recognise their own, apparently

They always recognise their own, apparently!

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