The more recent history of the Ford Kuga in South Africa at least has been concentrated on rather hot peripheral issues that have done much to tarnish the image of Henry’s mid-size SUV which is a shame as this latest iteration is a very fine example of the genre.
Before I delve into the specifics as to exactly what goes into this SUV to make it such a worthy prospect, allow me to get my fetish for detail out of the way. I’ve always maintained that if a manufacturer pays attention to detail, the chances are good that the same level of attention has been paid in hidden places elsewhere. So, hats off to Ford for spending a little extra money and lining the inner door window frames to hide all signs of paintwork. Take my word for it; there are very few cars in this class with this feature.
This latest Kuga underwent a notable makeover late in 2018. The test unit sported metallic white paint that had been applied with due care and attention and fussy owners would be very pleased with the gloss levels. They’d be even more pleased with the very narrow panel gaps that for the most part match the best in the industry.
Details, some of them unique to the ST badge (Titanium is no more) which in Kuga-speak telegraphs sporting overtones at least in terms of aesthetic values as opposed to mechanical tweaks, include anthracite cross bars in the main grille which stands proud of a horizontal, black-trimmed lower grille. The black theme extends to roof rails and a rear “diffuser” as well as to optional, flash, multi-spoke alloys that are home to substantial 235/45R19 rubber. A ride height that’s lowered by 10mm adds to the sporty overtones but barely affects the ride comfort as we shall establish in a jiffy. Bumpers are body colour and feature park sensors front and rear while a camera also sees service to assist with backing-up. On a related subject, the fact that “clap hands” wipers are employed up front greatly improves forward vision in rain or when dew has left its footprint. I wish that more manufacturers used this wiper config which not only sweeps more glass, it also ensures that no changes are needed for left or right hand drive.
Now to the interior. The seats, fully-powered in the driver’s case, are covered in a mix of alcantara and leather and provide decent support and posture. A mix of soft-touch and hard plastics is used inside along with high grade carpeting and a smart roof lining to create a pleasant ambience. Other niceties include keyless entry/start, full air con, electric windows, airbags in every nook and cranny, auto open-close tailgate, electric hand brake, dipping mirror, power points and USB ports, lots of oddments receptacles and more.
Where this Kuga truly scores is in its driving dynamics. The underpinnings are hardly new but it’s rare for Ford’s chassis gurus not to get things right first time, so the enduring quality of the Kuga in dynamic terms comes as no surprise. Despite those relatively large, low-profile tyres, the ride quality is out of the top drawer, offering a marvellously-judged blend of pliancy and control which means the driver can enjoy throwing the Kuga into a roundabout while passengers’ butts will be cossetted when the road surface gets rougher.
Where I suspect the engineers have been at work is in improving overall refinement. Other than on coarse chippings, the isolation of tyre roar is most effective and the suspension goes about its business with uncanny stealth. Further, wind noise, other than around the folding wing mirrors which can generate some rustle, is rebuffed with aplomb, and on the cruise the 2.0 turbo petrol mill keeps its presence pleasingly distant.
Only when under load does the 177kW/340Nm four sound a trifle strained and, dare I say it, just a little coarse, but in return, it offers lively and effortless thrust, doubtless a function of the torque peak arriving at just 2 000 rpm and holding all the way to 4 500 rpm. For the record, the motor spins at a mere 2 050 rpm at 120 km/h which explains just why the Kuga’s cruise disposition is so good, and if you must know, the 0-100 sprint is despatched in 7.8 s. More importantly, fuel consumption in an urban environment can be a tad heavy, with a figure of around 12.2l/100km being most common, but a fair bit of motorway driving which cut the thirst to around 8.5l/100km, resulted in a week-long average of 10.9l/100km which is perfectly reasonable.
The brakes proved to be seamless in all respects, offering powerful retardation and a perfectly-judged level of assistance at lower speeds which made feathered stops a cinch. The 6-speed auto box, complete with useful paddle shifters, also proved to be a most pleasing companion.
The Kuga has to push many obstacles aside if it’s to regain all the ground lost in recent times, but on the strength of this showing, it deserves to attract lots of showroom traffic because it combines truly excellent driving dynamics with a well-judged blend of style, space and practicality at a competitive price. It’s time to believe again!
Priced from R552 400. Warranty: 4yr/120 000km. Service plan: 6yr/90 000km
This article by Richard Wiley first appeared in Ultimate Drive Ed.57