Smart and snazzy
This is where the real action is, folks. Never mind the every-day and routine exchange of cash for your run-of-the-mill motor. The 'crossover' is where it's at. And to prove my point, Ford have knocked the stuffing out of their price to get into the ring with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai.
You'd think at this miserable economic juncture, people would settle for the rotund little hatchback or matchbox-lookalike saloons.
However, into the edgy battlefield of the crossovers comes the burgeoning band of those who are prepared to spend a few euro on something that sets them apart a bit.
But they want to wring every little bit of metal curve, dashboard gadget and stylistic kudos they possibly can for their hard-earned euro.
You could argue that the crossover has become the SUV of the recession. Where the latter was the antagonistic, amorphous, amoral representation of all that was (is?) wrong with our accursed period of paper profit, the crossover is a wonderfully trite mixture of toned-down excess and practicality.
And Ford, with their €5,000 slash off the Kuga price, don't want to be left out in the cold. That's because they simply can't afford to be.
Understanding our current, albeit mild, affection for the genre, is simple in many ways. We want a really good looking, unusual but family-size motor.
So many tried and tried and then Nissan, almost out of the blue, came up with the Qashqai and everyone snapped their fingers and said: "I want one." Well, not everyone, perhaps, but certainly a sizeable number.
And of course, as soon as Nissan broke the mould, everyone else climbed aboard. Only it isn't that easy to catch up. One way of doing so is to take the top off your prices and yell like hell, so that people know about it.
The Kuga is smart, snazzy and bang up to date. It has a Focus-based suspension, although it sits 80mm higher from the ground.
Now, I mention the Focus because it is the best handling small-family hatchback in the market. The Kuga therefore benefits enormously from such technical advantage. And over the many, many kilometres I drove it, I noticed that aspect above all else.
Even above the all-wheel-drive that came with my top-of-the-range Titanium version, that provided me with as sure a foot in the snow as any big, showy SUV.
The lower-priced Kugas have just two-wheel (front) drive. So, there is an edge over the Nissan, which is a tad softer in the handling and ride, although I would have preferred much more feel on the steering.
It was comfortable and I liked the driving position a lot. As soon as I got my preferred combination of seat height/incline and steering-wheel angle sorted, I never changed. That is unusual for me because I am always shifting things this way and that.
There are downsides, however. The rear-window aperture is too shallow and visibility when you are trying to reverse is too restricted by the rear-corner pillars.
In my version, I had a rear-parking camera as part of the package and I certainly needed it a couple of times.The two-litre diesel is well tried at this stage, although I'm disappointed to see that it still attracts €447 road tax.
There was plenty of pep in it but just as important in the slippery conditions, a low-rev pull ability (torque) meant I could drive in a decent gear without spinning the wheels.
The boot is not bad at all; the tailgate splits horizontally, so you can fling smaller things in over the bottom half. Very convenient.
There's reasonable room at the back, enough for two large adults and/or three school-age children.
As it is essentially a vehicle for yummy mummies, that sort of room and luggage flexibility is important.
That's where the balance between practicality and the look of the motor and the sort of equipment that comes with it is so important.
The Kuga does pack a fair bit of kit. My Titanium version was one of the best-equipped motors I've come across in a long time but I would guess that most people are likely to go for the entry-level, two-wheel drive.
All in all, it has the ingredients that make it desirable: looks, engine, space and reduced price. Don't forget all this crossover sentiment is about much more than a motor. It is a bridge -- hopefully -- to the good times and people need to be able to come back in a few years' time with something that can successfully cross over from doom and gloom to brighter times.
Even in a recession, people have their pride. And owning a crossover is part of keeping that stiff upper lip while everyone else's is trembling.