Ford’s smoother, friendlier approach to SUVs
Ford’s more “friendly” Kuga compact SUV made its motor show debut in Shanghai on Tuesday ahead of global sales later this year.
Ford’s best-selling SUV in Europe was redesigned to give it a sleeker, less aggressive look, Ford of Europe head of design Amko Leenarts told Car Design News. “It’s much more confident, but doesn’t have that in-your-face aggressiveness. The customer is not looking for that,” he said. “The SUV is evolving to be much more honest, more friendly”.
The Kuga looks more car-like than a traditional SUV, partly because the bonnet edge extends down further than the high-mounted headlights, similar to the Focus. The chunky grille on the outgoing model extended up and out beyond the headlights, creating the idea that it had a high centre of gravity.
The new Kuga, called Escape in China and the US, is longer but also 20mm lower than the outgoing car, which was partly related to aerodynamics and weight reduction, but also key to achieving this sleeker look, Leenarts said.
The design also uses visual tricks to de-emphasise the length. “It’s actually pretty big, so we’re trying to push the weight forward a bit,” Leenarts said, giving the example of the roof rails stopping before the C-pillar to trick the eye into thinking the roofline starts falling earlier, to give it a more coupé-ish shape. The boot is large – up by 67 litres on the outgoing model.
Unlike the new Focus, the Kuga keeps the rear quarter light window. Ford has dispensed with this in the Focus to give it a more cab-rearward stance for a more premium look partly created by the illusion that it was rear-wheel drive.
The Kuga was designed in the US with Europe given the task of creating the different ‘characters’ of the high-end trim levels: the sporty ST-Line and upscale Vignale. “In the US it’s differently positioned. It’s almost a student car. Here you’re pretty well-off to own one,” Leenarts said. As with different versions of the Fiesta and Focus, the differentiation comes in the bumpers, grille and side skirts. The base Titanium model is closest to the US spec car.
Leenarts also hinted that a more off-road focused Active version will be unveiled later in the model cycle, mirroring a tactic of manufacturers such as Volkswagen, which offers an Offroad version of its Tiguan SUV, and Škoda, which sells more rugged Scout editions of its Karoq and Kodiaq SUVs.
An Active version would likely return some of the chunkiness lost in the launch models with elements such as body-side cladding and silvered underbody guards front and rear. Ford offers Active versions of its Fiesta and Focus as part of its strategy to focus on more high-margin models.
Like the Focus, the interior of the Kuga is marked out by the high-mounted eight-inch infotainment screen that rises above the dashboard, in the style currently favoured by designers to move the drivers’ sightline higher.
The new Kuga will be sold with three hybrid models, including a plug-in hybrid. That model received no specific design treatment. “It’s a badge and it’s a charger flap,” Leenarts said. Mild hybrid technology is fitted to a 2.0-litre diesel model, while a full-hybrid with a 2.5-litre petrol engine arrives in 2020. Buyers can also choose 1.5-litre petrol and diesel engines without electrification.
The third-generation Kuga is built on Ford’s new C2 modular platform which started service under the new Focus. Ford reckons the platform helps reduce weight by 90kg compared to the outgoing model with comparable drivetrains. It is also said to have increased interior space and “enabled expressive and dynamic design”.
The Kuga is a key element of a push within Ford to lift SUVs to just under 50 percent of its total passenger car sales in Europe from around a quarter now, the new Ford president, Stuart Rowley, said at the launch of the car in Amsterdam at the beginning of the month. The drive to get more buyers into its SUVs is directly related to Ford’s attempts to overturn persistent losses in the region and get its customers buying cars such as SUVs with a greater profit margin.
Related to that goal is the launch of the new Puma small SUV later this year, which joins the Ecosport small SUV to give customers a sportier, agile-looking alternative to the more rugged, upright Ecosport. Ford teased the car at the Amsterdam event, which revealed a lower, more rounded shape with high-mounted headlamps in the manner of a more youthful-looking, more compact version of the Ku