2012 Ford Kuga compact SUV here in March

The Ford Kuga compact SUV will go on sale in Australia in March after a surprise move by Ford Australia.
- shares

The local car maker has snubbed the European market rival for the likes of the Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 for a number of years despite slow sales of its ageing equivalent, the Escape.

Ford Australia has decided to import the outgoing, German-built Kuga model to compensate for a delay in the arrival of the blue oval's next-general global compact SUV that will be sold in all markets. The new 2013 Escape, which was unveiled at the recent 2011 Los Angeles motor show, was expected locally in the second half of next year but has now been pushed back to early 2013.

Australia will follow Europe and retain the Kuga name for the new model, a clear sign it wants a fresh start in the competitive compact SUV segment as it buries the Escape badge that has been around for more than a decade in Australia - and used on a model twinned with the now-discontinued Mazda Tribute.

Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano says next year’s introduction of the Kuga is “directly aimed at achieving a bigger share of the compact SUV segment” and building awareness of the nameplate ahead of the all-new model’s 2013 launch.

Although it will practically be a run-out model as soon as it goes on sale here, the Kuga is far from dated. Production of the Kuga began in early 2008, making it considerably more modern than the Escape (whose Mazda 626-sourced platform dates back to 1998) and fresher than a number of its competitors. “[Kuga is] still recognised as an outstanding competitor in that segment, even while it’s nearing the end of its current model cycle,” Graziano said.

Supply of run-out Kuga vehicles will be limited for Australia as demand from overseas markets remains high. As a result, it will initially be launched in just two specification levels – Trend and Titanium – and with only one drivetrain package.

The 2012 Ford Kuga will be powered by a 2.5-litre turbocharged Duratec petrol engine with 147kW of power and 320Nm of torque (from 1600rpm). It will be teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, leading to an official fuel consumption rating of 10.3 litres per 100km. High demand for diesel-powered Kugas in Europe means we won’t see them here until 2013 with the arrival of the new model – at which time front-wheel drive and six-speed dual-clutch options should also become available.

The Kuga Trend will come standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, silver roof rails, keyless entry and push-button start, manual air conditioning, cruise control, and an eight-speaker Sony audio system with voice control, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port.

The top-spec Titanium adds 18-inch alloys, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear privacy glass, dual-zone climate control, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, six-way electric driver’s seat, velour floor mats and stainless steel scuff plates.

Both models have been awarded the maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP and come standard with six airbags, electronic stability control and a number of other active and passive features.

Graziano confirmed the decision to launch the run-out Kuga in our market was not solely Ford Australia’s, but one reached by the Ford Asia-Pacific team under the One Ford strategy. Kuga went on sale in New Zealand in the middle of last month with identical specifications to the upcoming Australian vehicles (although only in Titanium trim). At NZ$53,990, the Kuga is NZ$4000 more expensive than the entry-level Territory. If the same percentages carry over to our market, the Kuga Titanium should be priced around $43,000, putting it in the same league as the high-end variants of the Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-7 and Subaru Forester. The run-out Kuga will be considerably more expensive than the outgoing Escape, which is available in only one trim level from $28,990.

The Escape currently gives Ford Australia just a 2.2 per cent share of the compact SUV market (2195 sales over 10 months). It will be outsold by the Great Wall X200/X240 and the Suzuki Grand Vitara this year, and is now consistently beaten by the cut-price Chery J11 on a monthly basis.

Although supply will be limited in 2012, Ford will be hoping next year’s Kuga will lay the foundations for the all-new model to take the blue oval beyond its best ever performance in the segment – a 4.9 per cent share back in 2002.