By Philip Hedderman
First up, best dressed.
That was the philosophy in our house and when you’re the youngest of nine kids – you lived or died by that rule.
The same applies in the automotive industry especially with new niche models.
A prime example of that was the super mini.
Ford were first out of the blocks with the Ka – a quirky little city car that took the market by storm and sold by the shipload.
Soon after, the competition all followed suit and are still playing catch-up.
Bizarre then that the same always-on-the-ball car giant almost had their eye wiped by the Crossover.
Yes, Ford almost missed the party with the Kuga.
You see, the SUV/soft-roader shin dig was already in full swing when the Blue Oval badge hit the dance floor in Spring 2008.
Nissan was the star of the show with the Qashqai – which curiously was launched to replace the Almera just 14 months previous.
It caught everyone’s attention with its party piece – none more so than young women and mums.
In its first year alone the Japanese car giant had shifted 100,000 models and Ford wanted a piece of the action.
To Qash in, they needed to go one step further – or two in fact.
Firstly their Crossover would be offered in both front and four wheel drive and secondly, that drive would be more car-like than any other model on offer.
Now, we’d seen first hand the spectacular concept Iosis X concept at Genevathe previous year and while it looked outlandishly futuristic, no one ever really thought it would make it to the factory floor.
You see, Ford was holding all the aces.
They were old hands at the 4X4 game so that didn’t pose a real problem.
The drive bit of the conundrum would be the winning move and the solution was staring them in the face.
All they had to do was translate the dynamic of the hugely successful Focus … and hey presto!
The result? - SUV Nirvana
In fact, the new offering got monster reviews from the media around Europe – even in Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbiawhere the direct translation of Kuga means the plague.
But the only thing this SUV would be plaguing was its rivals.
Handling is second to none in its class with precision, well weighted steering connecting the driver to every bend and bump on the road while the suspension is firm but not too choppy.
It’s extremely agile for a bus this big and the absence of body roll is extraordinary given the high centre of gravity.
It gives the same supple ride as its little brother which has earned the Focus the title of Ireland’s biggest selling car.
The elevated driving position with its panoramic views coupled with the added reassurance of a bulky shell cocooning you proved a huge hit with young families.
The face-lifted version we’re testing today is merely cosmetic.
Head-on, she gets a new grille, a bumper tweak front and rear and an alloys upgrade.
Under the hood the 2.0L TDCi diesel unit gets a little tune too giving a little more grunt.
It now whacking out 138bhp (2bhp more) while still returning an eye-watering 47mpg.
Emissions are kept down to 159g/km meaning road tax of €481 per year.
There is plenty of acceleration for overtaking with a 0-100kmh sprint of around 10 seconds while it cruises effortlessly on longer motorway jaunts.
It’s clever too with a host of brilliant gadgets including a very versatile split rear tailgate.
It really takes the work out of loading and unloading and with 60/40 split rear seats gives adequate luggage space.
I say adequate because the size of the boot doesn’t reflect the size of the car and the limited stowage is disappointing to say the least.
You’d be hard pressed getting a pram, baby bag and a weekly shop into the 410 litres of space.
Seats folded down though is another story and it almost trebles to a very decent 1,405 litres.
The only other little gripe is the leg room in the rear which is a bit tight.
That said, I doubt if many six footers will be making the school run every day.
It is a little bit more expensive than its rivals but you can see where the money is spent.
The build quality in the cabin is superb with soft touch plastics, sunken instrument panels and chunky buttons and stalks, coupled with splashes of chrome and brushed aluminium at your fingertips.
They’ve even borrowed out an arm length, cushion-filled resting place on the upper door panel to rest your elbow while driving.
Production has already started on the all-new Kuga which promises to be even more spectacular than this with a kick-motion boot lid which is activated with the mere wiggle of a foot under the rear bumper.
Prices for the Kuga start at €30,631