The Numbers

1596cc, 4cyl turbo, 134kW, 240Nm, 8.0L/100km, 186g/km CO2, 0-100km/h N/A, max speed N/A, 1657kg

The Topgear Verdict

Frankly speaking, medium SUVs give us The Fizz like a video of Clive Palmer belly dancing. But the Kuga? It’s up against some vicious competition but it looks good. And goes good. It’s Ford’s best medium SUV yet.

2013 Ford Kuga

Once upon a lonely late night, SBS could always be depended on for a little "entertainment". The yellow subtitles signalled a titillating reward for those with enough patience. Then arrived the internet and, well, suspiciously-brimmed portable hard drives. (Don't grimace disagreeably, ladies. You're just as guilty.) And so the unshakeable rule of evolution decrees that better things come along and kill off the old ones.

Just as cavemen once downed stone axes for newly-smelted bronze ones, cars usurped horses as the world's transport du jour. Recently, station wagons were still popular. But today, medium SUVs are the choice of baby-burdened new parents. And, given babies are as popular a past-time as ever (despite their high cost and poor bowel control) medium SUVs are cashing in. And Ford wants to war with the existing sales winners like the Mazda CX-5 and Holden Captiva.

The problem is, Ford has been traditionally quite crap at medium SUVs. On its corporate buttock there fades the blemish of a once grotesquely swollen pimple called the Escape. It was made from Meccano and old ice cream container lids. Last year it was shot and replaced with the Kuga, but it didn't come in a poor person option, and you could only have a 2.5-litre five cylinder turbo. It wasn't bad, but the engine drank like a merman Mel Gibson. It was also expensive.

Now, though, a refreshed Kuga has landed in three flavours - including one for people less financially endowed, the $27,990 front-wheel-drive, manual Ambiente. The $36,240 all-wheel-drive, auto Trend sits in the middle, and there's the $44,740 Titanium for people who like extra buttons and features. Like the oddly-named "Active Nibble Control" which refers to something in the Kuga's steering, but is actually made for the US market, to stop owners driving under the influence. Of Doritos and Coca-Cola, mainly.

All petrol models come with a 1.6-litre turbo four cylinder with 134kW and 240Nm, except the manual base model, which has 110kW. Standard across the range, there's an innovative and reassuring feature where, if you crash the car, it will use your paired phone to call emergency services. (Or Burger King, if you live in America.) Other features include the ability to open the boot with a kick of your foot and a reversing camera. They're only available on the top model but there's also a showbag of tech goodies available if you have the mid-level model. And cash.

Seated in the Kuga, you will notice Ford's skill of making a cheap interior feel expensive. It is luxuriously quiet, though, and jiggles over pot-holes pleasingly. Yet in corners, it divulges surprisingly peppy steering. Jump into other models, though, and you notice the larger jean size. Fed an all-wheel-drive system, automatic gearbox and more features, the Kuga can swell from 1550kg to as much as 1662kg. At which point the 134kW engine can feel breathless - a feeling not helped at all by an ill-tuned auto that grabs higher gears greedily, smothering any debaucherous driving.

For the speed demons, you can opt for a 2.0-litre turbodiesel. It has less power, 120kW, but an extra 100Nm of torque, 340Nm. The rubbery torque converter auto is ditched for an agile six-speed twin-clutch gearbox. Weight rises to an alarmingly rotund 1731kg, but it still roars along satisfyingly. But for $3000 extra? Really?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we felt most at home in the poor person model. The Ambiente has fewer kilowatts but being lighter, and manual, you can nipple-cripple it into submission. Across the Adelaide hills where we tested the car, there were even a few moments of trembling titillation not felt in the plusher models. It was like watching SBS at 1.30am. And not for the English Premier League. 

Reviewed by: Dylan Campbell

Driven: November 28, 2013