On paper the latest Ford Kuga seems like an impressive compact SUV. But what is it like on the road? Does it live up to this promise? Our recent trip to Lesotho gave us more than enough time to find out.
I must admit that I had my reservations about the new Kuga. I absolutely loved the previous model. Yes, it arrived in SA way too late in its life, but still, it offered a truly fantastic drive.
With a 2,5-litre five-cylinder engine taken from the Focus ST lurking under its bonnet, the previous Kuga was one very eager little compact SUV. The new model, by comparison, seemed a tad ordinary and dull. Not a bad-looking vehicle by any means, but not as sporty and aggressive as the old one. The engine options also seemed more mundane: a 1,6-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost petrol mill, and a two-litre four-cylinder oilburner.
The model we were heading to in Lesotho was the diesel version, and as we set off from Johannesburg, it definitely still needed to win me over.
Pleasingly, it started doing so almost the moment I pressed the start button and pushed down on the accelerator pedal. The diesel mill felt lively and eager, accelerating quicker than I had anticipated it would. There was hardly a hint of lag. The six-speed automatic gearbox also swopped cogs smoothly and predictably.
The vehicle’s engine develops 120 kW of power and 340 Nm of torque, which is a healthy amount for such a diminutive SUV. Is it as much as the old ST petrol engine offered? No, but it unarguably promised a better balance between sporty performance and good fuel economy. That old five-cylinder was fun, but it wasn’t frugal.
Where the new Kuga can’t quite match the old model is in the handling department. The previous model handled incredibly well. The new one handles impressively, no doubt about it, but it is geared more towards comfort than spirited driving. And, if we’re honest, this evolution makes sense. The Kuga still feels sporty compared to other vehicles in its class, and that extra dollop of comfort stands it in good stead. As with its balance between power and fuel economy, its balance between handling and comfort is perfect for this segment.
We had a chance to test both its comfort and handling on Lesotho’s twisty roads, and it performed excellently. It was willing to tackle all those twists at speed, yet it also remained surefooted and reasonably comfortable on bad gravel roads. The only thing that hobbled its performance on ugly roads were its low profile of its tyres. Not only did they reduce the comfort levels quite a bit on dirt, but we were also quite worried that they would pick up some damage along the way. That said, we tackled some pretty nasty trails close to Semonkong – not proper 4×4 trails, but very rough gravel tracks – and the Kuga did extremely well. With its AWD system, it handled the muddy and rocky trails with surprising ease. The Kuga might be a “soft-roader” but it is a very capable one, thanks to an AWD torque coupling that enables 100% of available torque to be transferred to the front or rear axles, as conditions demand.
Another minor issue, I found, was the automatic transmission’s manual mode. Ford calls its system SelectShift, and it allows you to swop cogs manually by pushing a button located on the side o the shifter. I couldn’t quite warm to this system, since it just didn’t feel natural to me. I would have preferred steering-wheel paddles, or a system like that of the new Range Rover Sport, which allows you to push the shifter backwards and forwards.
Still, this was a minor quibble, and the mere fact that I was looking for paddle shifters says something about the Kuga’s handling and performance. In most compact SUVs, I would have been perfectly content with keeping the vehicle in automatic mode and just coasting along. The Kuga was so fun to drive, that I found myself looking for that extra bit of involvement offered by paddle shifters.
The new Kuga isn’t quite as focussed and driver-oriented as the previous model, but a lot of emphasis was clearly still placed on driving enjoyment when this vehicle was penned.
The primary goal of the Kuga’s AWD system at low speeds is traction. Above 30 km/h, though, the AWD system is tuned to improve driving feel, handling and responses. A unique cluster display shows drivers the torque demand of each wheel at any moment.
There is also something called Torque Vectoring Control, which applies a small amount of braking to the inside wheels to assist drivers through sharp bends.
And should things start to go wrong, Ford’s Curve Control steps in. The system mitigates against severe understeer by braking in a controlled manner and can, if the driver is still pushing their foot down on the accelerator, even reduce engine torque.
As these impressive systems suggest, the Kuga also boasts all the other safety paraphernalia one would expect, including seven airbags, ISOFIX child seat attachments, ABS with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), emergency brake assist (EBA) and electronic stability control (ESP).
And entertainment/comfort features? The top-spec Titanium model we tested sported just about every nice-to-have one could wish for, though it is worth adding that some of those features – such as the blind-spot detection system and active park assist – were optional extras.
I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the previous Kuga. It was a lovely little SUV. But, if I’m honest, the new model is a more complete package, and will suit the lifestyles of more buyers than the old one. It is easier to live with on a daily basis, and will be far more frugal. And, if you’re looking for a bit of fun on a twisty road, the vehicle can provide it.
FURD KUGA 2.0 TDCi AWD POWERSHIFT TITANIUM
ENGINE: In-line, four-cylinder, two-litre, turbodiesel
POWER: 120 kW @ 3750 r/min
TORQUE: 340 Nm @ 2000 r/min
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed PowerShift with SelectShift
4×4 SYSTEM: AWD with Torque Vectoring
FUEL TANK: 60 litres
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 6,2 litres (claimed)
MAXIMUM TOWING MASS: 1500kg
LUGGAGE VOLUME: 456/1653 litres
GROUND CLEARANCE: 192.9 mm
WARRANTY: Four-year/ 120 000km
SERVICE PLAN: Five-year/ 90 000km
PRICE: R425 200