Ford has just debuted its new Kuga range in South Africa and we drove a couple of the derivatives at the launch in the Eastern Cape.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty of the new vehicle, we’ll address the elephant in room: the fire-related recalls of the previous 1.6-litre Ecoboost Kuga.
It can be argued that Ford SA acted in a too-little-too-late manner, however, with the past being what it is, we’re more interested in what the manufacturer is doing and plans on doing to rebuild trust from this point on.
When we asked Ford SA’s director of marketing, sales and service, Neale Hill, if the brand had considered changing the name of the new Kuga to the Escape (as it is known in the US) or something entirely new, the answer was a firm “No.” The Ford SA group is aware that this would be considered a weak attempt to pull the wool over the South African consumers eyes and he rightly acknowledged “we would be called out by the media and by the South African public.”
Under the leadership of the new managing director Dr Casper Kruger – who shared candidly about the progress with regards to the recall and it’s new phase two ‘white glove policy’ at the launch – Ford is making a focused effort to regain customer confidence in the brand. He admitted that this will take time.
At this point phase one maintenance updates have been applied to 93% of the recalled Kuga models and Dr Kruger insists that the remaining 7% will be tracked down. Phase one included new cooling system components, engine software updates and a cylinder head oil leak check. Phase two includes the addition of new hardware and 63% of the vehicles that have gone through phase one have received phase two amendments.
Treating the affected vehicle owners like VIPs forms an integral part of phase two’s ‘white glove treatment’. One of the benefits that Ford provides to these customers is the use of the updated Ford Kuga as a courtesy car, making 250 available country wide. This means that for a change journalists were not the first to test these vehicles.
2018 Ford Kuga Exterior
Exterior changes are quite noticeable from the front and the design of the new grille – with its large upper trapezoidal section and smaller lower grille – forms part of the ‘face of Ford’ distinctly setting it apart from the outgoing model. Ford has established a continuity in design that it hopes will make various Ford models easily identifiable as hailing from the American automaker’s stable.
In addition to the grille, the front headlamps have been updated incorporating new fog lamps and LED daytime running lights on the range-topping Titanium model.
The rear of the vehicle is wider and has had a bit of a lift in the redesign of the tailgate that also features new rear light clusters.
All but the entry-level Ambiente models get an electronic parking brake, which has freed up extra space in the centre console area providing better storage options.
The driver’s seat is also electronically adjustable in the new models and the stop/start function is great. Although you don’t need to turn a key to start the engine, we do prefer a specific spot to slot the key fob into while driving, rather than placing it loosely in the centre or in your pocket. The steering wheel had a comfortable, almost spongy, cushioned feel about it.
The new Kuga also boasts Ford’s (really) user-friendly Sync 3 infotainment system, which has an uncanny knack for understanding and correctly interpreting voice commands. Impressive. Sat Nav is an optional extra, which the two vehicles that we drove, the 1.5-litre petrol Trend and the 2.0-litre diesel Titanium spec models, had.
Buyers have the choice of two petrol engines in the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre EcoBoost units, as well as the 2.0-litre TDCi turbodiesel engine. Depending on model, there is a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive and manual or automatic transmissions.
2.0-litre TDCi Titanium
First up we hopped into the range-topping diesel powered 2.0-litre TDCi Titanium model with 18-inch alloy wheels that delivers 132kW of power at 3500rpm and maximum torque of 400Nm between 2000–3000rpm. Our first impression was a good one, with the comfort appeal high, as Ford has made a successful effort to increase the tactile quality of the material used in the cabin.
The diesel engine emits the familiar rumble and on the highways the Kuga gallops along smoothly, with enough kick to overtake on steep inclines in the regular drive mode. This is enhanced in sport mode. The automatic gearbox flips through the gear range as expected and for those who like paddle shifters, you’ll be pleased to discover that Ford has incorporated these in the Kuga and no longer offers the manual selection via a button located on the side of the gear shifter.
The C-segment SUV hugged the tar admirably as we cruised down winding sections of N2 highway and when we reached the gravel the all-wheel-drive gave all four paws traction and distributed torque electronically away from and to the required wheels as needed. We didn’t get a chance to test the gravel traction out at (relative) speed because of the numerous ruts and potholes in the section of road in Hogsback.
The front suspension is made up of independent MacPherson struts with offset coil springs over gas filled damper units. At the rear you’ll find an independent multi-link rear axle with large dampers and rebound springs. This soft roader provided a comfortable ride over this mildly treacherous path and the 192mm of ground clearance was more than ample for this terrain.
After a lunch stop, we drove from Hogsback in the 1.5-litre Ecoboost petrol model in the Trend specification.
1.5-litre Ecoboost Trend 6AT
Heading away from Hogsback the Trend model managed the gravel with no problems, even without all-wheel drive. Then it was a slow descent of the Hogsback Pass (R345) as we got stuck behind a truck on a section with blind corners and no overtaking opportunities.
This didn’t bother us too much as the scenery is beautiful and the petrol engine far quieter than the diesel. Once we reached the bottom of the pass and overtook the obstruction, we upped the pace and were pleasantly surprised by the insulated cabin, where the only noise we heard was that of the tyres on the old, sandpaper-like tar that has been bleached by the sun. This changed perceptibly when we got onto the newly paved smooth-as-silk sections of road where sound from the tyres all but disappeared.
The 1.5-litre engine is fairly spritely delivering 132kW at 6000rpm, although after driving the 2.0-litre TDCi we could feel the difference in torque. It wasn’t bad with two of us in the vehicle but its 240Nm is just over half that of the 2.0-litre diesel model’s 400Nm.
Again we enjoyed the drive and despite being a specification level down, the Trend with, in this case, its leather clad interior and the same Sync 3 infotainment system fitted, felt identical inside to the Titanium top-of-the range model. We might have been missing a thing or two but the only noticeable difference was that the former had a sun roof.
All models have a luggage capacity of 456-litres which increases to 1 653 litres with the rear seats folded down.
All-in-all this solid SUV was enjoyable to drive and presents itself as a good product.
Standard safety features include seven airbags, ABS brakes with electronic stability programme (ESP), trailer stability function, hill launch assist and rollover mitigation.
The Driver Assistance Pack is available as an option on the Trend and Titanium models and includes adaptive cruise control, blind spot information system (BLIS), lane departure warning and lane keeping aid, as well as park assist.
Other notable feature
The 2.0-litre diesel models can tow up to 1800kg, while the petrol models can pull 1 600kgs. The Kuga comes with two USB charging ports and a 12V charging socket at the back of the centre console, where you can plug in an ordinary two-prong plug and run a camping fridge or a hair dryer, if you so desire.
In a bid to make the new Ford Kuga even more attractive, the new range has been launched with a pricing adjustment downwards of up to about R50 000, depending on the model.
1.5-litre Ecoboost Ambiente 6MT R368 800
1.5-litre Ecoboost Ambiente 6AT R381 900
1.5-litre Ecoboost Trend 6MT R406 600
1.5-litre Ecoboost Trend 6AT R427 900
2.0-litre TDCI Trend 6AT AWD R483 900
2.0-litre Ecoboost Titanium 6AT AWD R497 900
2.0-litre TDCI Titanium 6AT AWD R506 900
All models come standard with Ford Protect, including a four-year/120 000km comprehensive warranty, three-year/unlimited distance roadside assistance and five-year/unlimited kilometre corrosion warranty.
A five-year/90 000km service plan is included on the TDCi models, with 15 000km service intervals.
The petrol Kuga models have 20 000km service intervals, and are sold with a four-year/80 000km service plan.