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Ford's Kuga SUV has received a significant makeover.

The exterior styling and dimensions have changed slightly, while inside there is more room for passengers and luggage. Fuel savings have been made, too, plus a load of new options and gadgetry are now available - so it looks like all the makeover boxes have been ticked.

On the road, Kuga should be transformed, but during our testing both in Ireland and Europe there was not a lot of noticeable handling difference despite the significant alterations. Let's not forget the original Kuga was a very good-handling machine.

The power steering system is changed to a more fuel-efficient, electro-mechanical set-up rather than hydraulic (as Ford did with the current Focus) plus torque vectoring control is added to help keep drivers on track when cornering. The suspension has been beefed up and the rear anti-roll bar re-routed slightly to help improve the ride. Overall, the handling remains soft and comfortable and there is still some body roll when cornering.

Ford, who gave motors a tour of the Kuga's impressive production line in Valencia, pointed out a number of alterations to Kuga regarding cabin noise reduction. New, thicker acoustic windscreen glass coupled with wheel arch sound deadening and double door seals now make Kuga a much quieter car for occupants.

Inside the cabin new front seat designs are the main changes. The boot gets up to an extra 200 litres of space, depending on how the rear setback angle is set. The driving position is, as ever, excellent. New gadgets include a first-in-class automatic tailgate.

For an additional €750, the tailgate will open and close with a simple leg kick gesture under the bumper (obviously you must have the key on your person - otherwise it would be a thief's delight!). I found the optional 'leg kick' tailgate a gimmick that is too slow to be of any use in the real world. All the latest electronics like lane assist, speed sign recognition, blind spot indication etc can be specified on new Kuga.

Kuga engine power in Ireland comes from the tried-and-tested 2-litre diesel. It is available with two power outputs of 140bhp and 163bhp.

With over 300,000 sold to date, Kuga has been a good performer for Ford, where it is sold in 100 markets worldwide. In Ireland, the car has sold around 6,500 units since its launch in mid 2008. The four-wheel drive commercial Kuga has been a big success story in Ireland; Ford is making a new one and it is coming soon.

Passenger Kuga prices start at €33,450 for the two-wheel drive version with the entry four-wheel drive version weighing in at €37,950. Traditionally there is an 80% bias to the more affordable front-wheel drive machine.

Kuga is a spacious, capable machine. It sits in a niche, but highly competitive sector which features great machines like the Honda CRV, Hyundai Santa Fe and the Mazda CX-5, to name a few.

Michael Sheridan