New Ford Kuga growls

in Arctic snow

Ford Kuga, 2017, front, action
Ford Kuga, 2017, static
Ford Kuga, 2017, front, static
Ford Kuga, 2017, interior
Ford Kuga, 2017, rear
Ford Kuga, 2017, rear, action
Ford Kuga, 2017, side, action
Ford Kuga, 2017, boot

FOR 2017 Ford's Kuga has grown up. And, to introduce its more mature, technologically advanced and refined new model, Ford came up with a new launch idea which suitably matched its adventurous outlook.

Instead of testing it in and around a specially selected European city, a cosmopolitan army of motoring pundits were invited to drive the new Kuga on various legs of a 3,100-mile journey from Athens in Greece, to Nordkapp in Norway, commonly referred to as most northernmost point of mainland Europe.

Which is how I came to be in a Ford Kuga nearly 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle.

Thankfully, the two models used to cover more than 300 miles of snowy wilderness both had Ford's impressive Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system fitted. It measures how the car's wheels are gripping the road surface and makes adjustments to the amount of torque sent to each wheel in less than 20 milliseconds. Handling and traction, especially in slippery conditions, are vastly improved.

It works, and works well. Only once in driving on roads liberally coated in snow and ice did the Kuga step slightly out of line and that was on a very tight right-hand curve.

For us unaccustomed to driving in such conditions, it bred confidence. Maybe not the heights of Tommi Makinen-like driving ability, but enough to feel relaxed and comfortable hitting the 100kph (62.5mph) speed limit on totally white surfaces.

Also helping this relaxed mood was Ford's Adaptive Lighting System, available for the first time on the Kuga. This reads the road ahead and adapts the lighting style to the speed, steering angle and distance to the car in front.

Crucially too, the Kuga is an extremely comfortable car. It's certainly one of those vehicles which seems to be much larger inside than on the outside, with plenty of room for five adults.

The new interior is refined - barely a whisper of engine or wind noise - comfortable, and much more user-friendly. There's less buttons and switches but what controls there are feel decent quality and easy to recognise and use.

A heated steering wheel is also offered, which is handy inside the Arctic Circle.

An electric parking brake frees up room in the centre console which now also features a storage area capable of holding a variety of bottles and cups, and a new USB connection point.

Sitting sentinel-like in the centre of the dashboard is the latest incarnation of Ford's sophisticated SYNC infotainment system.

You can use its eight-inch touchscreen like a ‘pinch and swipe' smartphone for the first time or there's larger, easier to use buttons. Alternatively, you can just talk to it. Voice control is now much more conversational. Simply say ‘I need a coffee' or ‘I need fuel' for example and the sat-nav will find the nearest available place.

It's more stylish and imposing on the outside too, featuring Ford's bold new design language familiar from its EcoSport and Edge SUVs - a large and imposing upper trapezoidal grille and smaller lower grille flanked by sleek new headlamps incorporating LED daytime running lights and stylish fog lamps. Its taillights have also been redesigned.

Under the new sporty, sculpted bonnet, there's a host of efficient 1.5-litre petrol and 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre diesel engines ranging in power from 120ps to 182ps, most with a choice of six-speed manual or auto boxes.

The 150ps 2.0-litre TDCi manual is a powerful beast with a hefty 370Nm of torque and a top speed of 119mph. It officially returns, in all-wheel drive mode, 54.3mpg and 135g/km and we managed just under 48mpg on the first stretch of our cross-country stint.

For the second leg, mostly carried out under cover of darkness and in driving snow, the impressive 182ps 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost petrol ST-Line returned more than 30mpg, not bad for a performance-inspired speedster with a top speed of 124mph, a 0-62mph sprint of a smidgeon over 10 seconds and official figures of 37.7mpg.

CO2 emissions are a hefty 173g/km though and the 2.0-diesel's sprint time is marginally quicker due to all that torque.

Despite the testing conditions, both were incredibly easy and enjoyable to drive thanks to the aforementioned level of refinement, comfortable ride and responsive handling.

And, for an SUV, body roll was imperceptible. Perhaps there just wasn't any.

Priced from £20,845, the Kuga is well-priced and well-specced at Zetec level.

The higher spec Titanium model starts at £24,245 and then there's the motorsport inspired ST-Line, which sits slightly lower and will appeal to those who want something slightly more dynamic, starting at £25,845.

For the more extravagant, there's even a bespoke flagship Vignale model.

Ford has been carefully positioning itself to take advantage of the ever-increasing SUV market - expected to be 27 per cent of all vehicles sold in Europe by 2020.

Lead by the impressive new Kuga and aided by the compact EcoSport and larger Edge, it could claw its way to the front.

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