Despite a minor update to the range late in 2018, the Kuga is getting on in years and still has an awkward legacy, but there’s no denying the value proposition of this mid-range 1.5 TDCi Trend derivative... It's also quite fun to drive!
We like: Wieldy to drive and well equipped
We don't like: Starting to feel its age now
- Price: R459 400
- Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 6-speed manual
- Fuel economy: 4.4 L/100 km (claimed)
- Power/torque: 88 kW/270 Nm
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Despite a bad period in its history, the Kuga remains a well-equipped family SUV
Where does it fit in?
The 2nd iteration of Ford’s long-serving family car has a storied track record in our market dating back to its 2012 launch; from the notorious fires affecting certain (now-discontinued) derivatives to a facelift in 2016 and the recent addition of sporty-looking ST Line derivatives and the 1.5-litre turbodiesel reviewed here. The 1.5 TDCi Trend is a bit of an anomaly in the segment – a small-capacity turbodiesel with a manual 'box – but it's well-specced compared with its direct rivals, plus its keen pricing might even leave enough budget to specify the Driver Assistance Pack, which includes Active City Stop with low-speed collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, active park assist, lane-keeping aid and blind-spot monitoring and auto high-beam (R16 060*). Those features are usually reserved for upper-end derivatives and could sweeten the deal on the 1.5 TDCi Trend.
How it fares in terms of...
The Kuga's cabin is well appointed and you get plenty of features. A particular highlight is the SYNC system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While the Kuga may have undergone a substantial facelift in 2016, the mechanical bones of the vehicle can be traced all the way back to 2012. That’s not to say it’s that dated in its appearance, it remains a sporty looking SUV, but by virtue of Ford plastering a revised face on a 7-year-old canvas, the 1.5 TDCi Trend lacks the visual coherence of newer rivals. In Trend specification, the brightwork to the grille, window surrounds and roof rails has been tastefully applied, with the whole shooting match rolling on a set of fetching 17-inch alloys (18-inch items are optional).
The cabin’s centerpiece is the Ford SYNC3 infotainment system. This 8-inch touchscreen unit includes a pair of USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity with voice control and smartphone integration, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. An optional upgrade to the system includes a proprietary sat-nav system, but seeing that mapping apps are all-too-willing to stream from your smartphone such a feature is just a nice-to-have.
Trend specification is generous and includes leather-trim, including for the multifunction steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, automatic headlamps and -wipers, electrically-operated windows and -adjustable mirrors, as well as 8-way manual adjustment for the driver’s seat.
User experience and build quality
Much like the exterior treatment, the cabin sees modern touches applied to an older architecture, with mixed results. A user-friendly interface, with a large-tiled menu on a generously-sized screen means the SYNC3 system is intuitive to operate on the move, but the slick-looking TFT instrument binnacle and infotainment screens sit at odds with a scattergun arrangement of small, closely-spaced switchgear for many of the ancillary controls.
Still, the cabin has a pleasing air of sportiness to it thanks to such elements as the sloping dashboard and cowled dials. Everything generally feels well screwed together but cheap-feeling plastics reside among the slush-molded sections. Thankfully, touchpoints such as the chunky steering wheel rim and leather-bound gearknob impart a certain sense of tactile quality and the driver’s seat is comfy, with just a hint of lateral bolstering.
With the second row of seats folded down, the Kuga's load bay offers up plenty of space to carry larger items, such as a mountain bike.
The Kuga’s 2.6-metre wheelbase was outstanding back when it was first launched, but now it's about par for the course. In terms of overall spaciousness, the Ford still offers competitive levels of rear legroom and a reasonably sized luggage bay (the Blue Oval claims a luggage capacity of 456 litres) and the load-bay lip sits at a reasonable height. If you fold the 60:40-split seatbacks flat, however, an impressively flat and large load area becomes available (1 603 litres), which compares well with its competitors.
Performance and efficiency
It's a testament to the Kuga's design that the Ford still looks reasonably contemporary 7 years since it was launched in South Africa.
With 88 kW and 270 Nm on tap, the 1.5-litre turbodiesel is a gutsy, if somewhat vocal, powerplant. With maximum torque chipping in at just 1 500 rpm there’s little in the way of lag, and the short-throw gearshift helps extract the best out of this solid little powertrain without having to wring its neck. This goes some way in contributing to Ford’s claimed 4.4 L/100 km fuel consumption figure, although real-world use will probably see that climb to a still-respectable mid-fives to low-sixes to the 100 km.
The decision to go with a manual gearbox at this point in the model line-up is a curious one, especially when you consider the price point the Kuga occupies and the niche status of turbodiesel models in that bracket (there aren't that many of them and they tend to sit near the top of their ranges). That said, Ford’s 6-speed auto ‘box has met with mixed enthusiasm in other models, so having a snappy manual shifter perhaps isn’t the worst idea. Being an FWD model, the 1.5 TDCi Trend doesn’t lend itself to off-roading, but with a ride height of 197 mm it will handle rutted dirt roads with ease.
The cream/beige colour of the leather upholstery looks very smart, but is perhaps less than practical in a hard-working family car.
While the Kuga is no spring chicken, it is surprisingly spry for an SUV of its vintage. That pleasing Ford "chunkiness" – a sort of substantial but flexible sense of the car – is present in steering that carries more weight and more directional responsiveness than many rivals’ and a chassis that capably handles the body control-to-ride quality balance. So, while it is much older than most of its rivals, the Kuga remains one of the most dynamically engaging drives in its class. It's not deal-clincher in this part of the market, but involving dynamics is better than mind-numbing sterility.
In addition to ABS with EBD and Brake Assist and a traction control system with trailer-sway mitigation, the Kuga has 7 airbags (front-, side-, curtain- and driver’s knee) and rear ISOfix points. Remote central locking linked to a Thatcham alarm takes care of security but for more advanced safety features (such as automated city braking, lane-keeping aid and blind-spot monitoring) you'll need to specify the Driver Assistance Pack.
The Ford Kuga, in 1.5 TDCi Trend spec, offers great packaging and an age-defying hands-on driving experience.
Value for money
With its generous specification, willing turbodiesel engine and manual gearbox, finding a like-for-like rival to this Kuga is rather tricky. The Mazda CX-5 2.2DE Active is a good place to start. The R33k premium over the Kuga is steep, but the Japanese product is polished, with a considerably more powerful engine (140 KW/450 Nm) and the benefit of an automatic transmission. Its 3-year/unlimited km service plan does lag behind the Kuga’s, and in terms of comfort features and trim it looks spartan by comparison. The Peugeot 3008 2.0 HDi Active weighs in at around R10k less than the Ford and is a stylish and fun-to-drive family car, again with a stronger (110 kW/370 Nm) engine linked to a 6-speed manual ‘box. Its standard spec isn’t far off the Kuga’s; its new 5-year/100 000 km warranty and service plan are impressive, plus it offers plenty of safety kit.
Price and after-sales support
The Ford Kuga 1.5 TDCi Trend retails for R459 400 (* as of September 2019), which includes a 4-year/120 000 km warranty and a 6-year/90 000 km service plan with intervals of 15 000 km between services.
With a manual 'box and diesel engine, the Kuga is something of an oddball in the family car market, but it's quite fun to drive.
The 1.5 TDCi Trend is a middle of the range turbodiesel derivative with a seemingly out-of-place manual transmission, nestled among strong petrol (and some diesel) opposition, most of which has automatic ‘boxes. The transmission choice is especially confusing, as the efficiency benefits of diesel motoring really come to the fore over long distances, to which an automatic would be better suited. Is it a good vehicle? Barring some "laugh lines" and so-so interior trim, yes, it is; it’s well packaged, the engine pulls willingly and it's one of the most involving cars to drive in its segment.
There’s no denying the uncertainty regarding the Kuga’s local replacement (as much a question of if, as when – the all-new model was unveiled in Amsterdam more than 6 months ago) may be of concern to potential buyers, but the unease around the Kuga nameplate has now largely abated and the Ford is a reasonable value proposition, being well-specced and possessed of a respectable service plan. Perhaps those Toyota RAV4 buyers who want a diesel version (but can't have one, given the petrol-only line-up of the new range) may look at the 1.5 TDCi Trend more closely?