New Kuga is a must-have model

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BRILLIANTLY styled, smartly finished and powered by one of the better diesel engines in its class, the Ford Kuga is one of the must-have models of the moment.

With car-like driving dynamics allied to the all-weather security of four-wheel drive, or the economy benefits of front-wheel-drive, it’s tightly priced and creating quite a buzz.

4x4s tend to polarise opinion. Either they’re so ridiculously macho that you feel the need to start chewing tobacco and killing your own food in order to drive them or they’re so self-consciously suburban that you’ll look like a harassed school run mum – neither is a good look and a significant number of people despise them.

The Kuga is different. For a start it’s manageably sized which means that the urban driving experience is a pleasant one.

Most of the versions that people actually buy are powered by a Ford 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engine. This unit has either 138bhp or a rounder-looking 161bhp.

The difference between the performance of the two versions of this engine isn’t great. Torque of 320Nm or 340Nm respectively and 0-60mph times of 10.4 and 9.6s will make a lot of people favour the more affordable 138bhp option.

The alternative is Ford’s 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol with 198bhp which moves the Kuga driving experience in a sporty direction but costs quite a bit more to run.

The 4x4 Kuga uses a full-time Haldex intelligent AWD system which sends 95 per cent of torque to the front wheels until slippage is detected and more drive is redirected aft.

Show the Kuga a straight, well-surfaced road and it serves up a good standard of ride comfort and refinement.

The ride is reasonably firm and that helps the Kuga resist body roll when cornered vigorously, plus it’s also less liable to become unsettled over bumps in the road.

Outside, the detailing is exquisite, Ford hitting just the right tone between sporting aggression and nuggety cuteness.

The interior isn’t quite as successful as the exterior. For a start it’s surprisingly small, the Kuga being one of those increasingly rare cars that doesn’t pull all manner of packaging tricks out of its hat.

Space in the back is tight for anything other than kids and drivers who are long in the body will find headroom an issue when getting in and out.

Of course, this high seating position will be a huge bonus for ladies and shorter guys, but those with short legs will find that they’ll need to shift their seat forward to such an extent that the heavily raked windscreen starts getting very close.

In giving up trying to sell us a conventional 4x4 and instead concentrating on a niche crossover vehicle, and at £20,495 to £24,495 on the road, Ford might just have hit on something.

The Kuga looks great, it’ll hopefully persuade a few 4x4 drivers to downsize into something more suited to their requirements.