On the road: The top cat

Ford is currently producing some of the best mid-range cars on the market. Its new Kuga positively purrs alongside the 4x4 competition
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Ever wondered why journalists continue to bandy the terms "chav" and "bling" about even though they stopped being funny, current or interesting long ago? It's because most of us were bullied by chavs at school for being speccy nerds, and the reason we got into journalism in the first place was for enduring, print-based revenge. But, for once, I am going suppress my abiding bitterness at all those bog-washes and wedgies, and refrain from describing the new Ford Kuga as a "Freelander for chavs", because it is actually a great deal better than that.

Ford makes some terrific cars these days. At least the European division does. It has perhaps the most impressive range of all the middle-brow makers and is even making a profit at last. The Focus is as wonderful as ever, having redefined how well a car of its class should handle. The current Mondeo, like its predecessor, is a class leader, too. The quality of its interior is a match even for the likes of the Passat. And the S-Max is just plain brilliant. I'm also expecting great things of the very grown-up looking new Fiesta and the new Fiat 500-based Ka, which is due to be unveiled at Paris in October.

But it is the Kuga that has really surprised me. Mid-range soft roaders are about as welcome at my house as dental pain, but the Kuga looks interestingly edgy; it conceals its 4x4 jiggery-pokery modestly, emits a mere 169g/km of CO2 (less than any of its rivals), and, judging by the interior, is well put together. It has independent rear suspension, too, which ensures that it is, if not sporty, then reasonably composed when you turn the steering wheel, belying its ride height and 200kg-plus weight penalty over the Focus.

Though Ford has bravely decided to name it after one of their most risible and flatulent old models (the spelling may be different, but a "Cougar" it is), it is hard to make a case against the Kuga in a line up with its rivals. Well, would you risk a Freelander? Not unless you have decent public transport round your way. RAV4s are costly and dull, and the CR-V has a terrifying, Pat Butcher-style underbite. What's more I think there is a good chance that, once the Kugas hit the streets in earnest, they will be a Burberry-free zone.

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