A moon buggy thats great in the country

THE off-road market has come in for a lot of flak over the last few years and I&rsquo;ve been a fully paid up member of the anti-league. However, my venom was more about those cars being driven in cities instead of actually doing the job they&rsquo;re designed to do. I live in the country and they have a purpose down here, on farms, with neurotic sheepdogs doing 360s in the back.<br /><br />But this is a market segment we aren&rsquo;t being allowed to ignore. Demand for the SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) still exists and although Land Rover &ndash; Ford&rsquo;s ex-stable mate &ndash; is the master, Ford is keeping its hands in with the compact soft-road Kuga. I say compact but inside it&rsquo;s a different story. Space abounds in every department: legroom, headroom and boot. Five adults will fit comfortably here and there is the option to fold the rear seats completely flat, creating loads of useful extra storage space.<br /><br />Built on the Focus platform, the Kuga wouldn&rsquo;t look out of place on the moon. It has that kind of lunar-buggy look about it: chunky and rugged and pert at both ends. It&rsquo;s a good-looking car &ndash; European Ford design chief Martin Smith says that his design team&rsquo;s inspiration came from sport shoes and equipment. The theme translates well into metal.<br /><br />So often with these SUVs, as the driver you feel that you are sitting on the car rather than in it, so there is a lack of direct connection. That&rsquo;s not the case with this car. I found a comfortable driving position and never needed to alter it during the week with it. Sitting high obviously has its advantages and having been driving something virtually kerb-height the week before, I really enjoyed the commanding view.<br /><br /><strong>SURPRISINGLY SHARP<br /></strong>The engine is a 2.5 litre five-cylinder turbo petrol effort, the same engine as used in the ST and RS. It offers 197bhp, which is delivered with much refinement, so cruising up steep hills and overtaking becomes an unreserved joy.<br /><br />Steering is surprisingly sharp and the six-speed manual gearbox is super-smooth and complements the power really well. Although it feels quite firm, it doesn&rsquo;t bounce around over rough surfaces; instead it carries you with a good degree of comfort. I can also gladly add that body-roll is almost non-existent.<br /><br />Built in Germany, the Kuga feels well bolted together and it has provided the most fun I&rsquo;ve had in an SUV. But come on, I hear you say, there must be a downside?&nbsp;No car is perfect, right?<br /><br />Two words: fuel consumption. Manufacturer-claimed figures rarely hold out and a mixture of motorway and B-road driving returned around 24mpg, so that old fuel light might just make too many appearances for your liking. At this point, the 2.0 diesel makes much more sense, which is no surprise &ndash; it&rsquo;s the big volume seller in the range.<br /><br />If your emissions levels are important to you then there is the two-wheel-drive Kuga with the 2.0 diesel engine offering 159g/km, just shying away from the business user limit of 160g/km.<br /><br />Even in its most basic trim, the Kuga is well equipped. But if you fancy more bells and whistles, you can upgrade to the Titanium spec, which gives you part-leather upholstery and a better sound-system among other things. I rate the Kuga highly as an enjoyable, fun tool but I would opt for the diesel. In this climate it makes much more sense.<br />