Ford Kuga 1.5T Trend Automatic: First Drive

Kuga Ica Tiger Eye 1800x1800

Considering the competitive nature of the compact SUV segment, achieving such immediate sales success as the current Ford Kuga speaks volumes of its appeal. But the competition is not letting up, with new or improved rivals being launched on an almost monthly basis. So, the Kuga, which was launched back in early 2013, was in need of some updates. Ford has answered by launching a subtly revised line-up that focuses on powertrain improvements, as well as a new automatic front-wheel drive model, which we drove here.

No change on the design front

The Ford Kuga remains one of the most attractive vehicles in its segment, so there was little need to change anything drastically. In fact, there is nothing to really distinguish the updated model from its predecessors, except for a range of new colours. In Trend specification the Kuga nevertheless looks suitably upmarket, with attractive 17-inch wheels (18-inch wheels are optional), roof rails, rear privacy glass and front and rear foglamps adding to the sophisticated appearance.

Unfortunately the Kuga has perhaps not dated quite so well inside. The control panel for the infotainment system is cluttered with too many buttons, and the display screen is small by modern standards. The game has simply moved on. The instrumentation panel, however, still looks sporty and the trip computer screen is especially smart and loaded with information.

Overall, the predominantly black cabin is quite sombre, with only some gunmetal grey plastic trim to lighten things up a bit. And while the quality of the upper part of the facia is impressive, it is less so elsewhere. Some recent arrivals – most notably the recently refreshed Honda CR-V – boasts superior fit and finish and a greater quality consistency.

Otherwise, there is precious little to fault. The driving position is superb, with generous rake/reach adjustability on offer from the steering wheel, and an electrically adjustable driver’s chair. The seats themselves also offer excellent support and comfort. There is even height-adjustment for the front passenger seat. The rest of the cabin also shows good attention to detail. Those seated in the rear have airline-style flip-up trays with drinks holders, a two-point 230V/150W power outlet and ventilation outlets.

Generous specification

The Kuga’s boot measures a decent but not class-leading 456 Litres, and can be expanded to a huge 1 653 L by folding 60/40 split rear seats down. When this is done the loading area is commendably large and flat. Note, however, that the Kuga only has a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor, which is always disappointing for a crossover-type vehicle.

The specification is, however, very comprehensive when taken as a whole. Missing from the list are auto lights and wipers, but that’s where the shortcomings stop. You get Ford’s excellent SYNC info-tainment system that offers Bluetooth, Voice Control and Aux/USB support. There are also heated front seats, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rear park sensors, leather upholstery and heated/folding side mirrors, among many other items.

On the safety front the Kuga offers seven airbags, Isofix child seat anchors, ABS/EBA, ESP (electronic stability control), Hill Launch Assist and even a trailer stability function.

New engine/transmission combination

Under the bonnet is the big news of this mid-life Kuga refresh, a 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine that is mated, in this instance, to a six-speed automatic transmission. There is significant demand for automatic SUVs/crossovers at the lower end of the market, but the previous 1,6-litre model, which was only sold in AWD (All-Wheel Drive) form had lost sales momentum against the likes of the CR-V, Tiguan and the Koreans.

In response, this new derivative offers the option front-wheel drive, as tested here. The engine delivers a strong 132 kW and 240 Nm of torque, from a low 1 600 rpm to 4 000 rpm, promising great tractability. And so it is on the road – the gearbox seems well matched to the engine and is quick to respond to throttle adjustments. With that much power the Kuga makes mincemeat of long-distance family holidays. You can also execute manual gearshifts if you want, but the button for that is rather awkwardly placed on the right-hand side of the gearshift knob.

But there is potentially a bigger problem… Much has been made of the efficiency of the new engine, and the package includes auto start/stop. But even so we could not easily maintain a consumption figure of below 10 L/100 km.

With those few negatives out of the way and dealt with, the rest of the news is very good indeed. The Kuga still offers arguably class-best ride refinement, yet it also boasts excellent body control. The steering is finely balanced, too, so those family men (and women) out there who actually enjoy driving, will find the Kuga a pleasure to pilot.

Conclusion and Summary

The revised Ford Kuga comes close to ticking all the boxes. Spacious, refined, superbly comfortable and excellent to drive, it should do very well indeed. But the competition is very stiff and we’re not quite sure whether Ford has done enough to put clear space between the Kuga and its rivals. At the same price as the Ford, you can get the more spacious, better finished Honda CR-V and even something left-field like the very capable Subaru Forester that offers all-wheel drive. Neither of these vehicles can match the Ford’s specification, though, so we expect this Kuga to sell well.

Ford Kuga 1.5 Trend Automatic Price in South Africa

The revised Kuga line-up kicks off with a 1.5T Ambiente at R321 900 rising to R357 900 for the Trendmodel. The Ford Kuga 1.5T Trend Automatic tested here costs R371 900 and comes with a four-year/120 000 km warranty, four-year/80 000 km service plan and three years of roadside assistance. Also available are a Trend Automatic AWD (R398 900), 2.0 Titanium Auto AWD (R439 900), 2.0 TDCI Trend Powershift AWD (R424 900) and the 2.0 TDCI Titanium Powershift AWD (R459 900).

Second Opinion

I found the latest Kuga to be one of the most comfortable cars available in any segment of the market. It is built to an extremely high standard and when compared to similarly priced SUVs, the space and level of standard spec is impressive. I found the new auto 'box to be a significant improvement, but the whole package is let down by a rather thirsty engine; I couldn't bring the consumption down below 10L/100km in the week I drove it. - Ciro de Siena

We Like: Ride quality, features, performance

We don’t Like: Real-world economy, Ergonomics

Also consider: Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI Trend&Fun, Honda CR-V 2.0 Comfort Auto, Subaru Forester 2.5X CVT

Compare the Ford Kuga with the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester here

Engine:                 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol

Boot space:        456 litres

Fuel tank:            60 litres

Fuel consumption: 7.0 L/100 km (Claimed)

Transmission:    Six-speed automatic

Power:                 132 kW @ 5 700 rpm

Torque:                  240 Nm @ 1 600 – 4 000 rpm

0-100 km/h:        9.9 sec

Top speed:         200 kph