First Drive: 2017 Ford Kuga

First Drive: 2017 Ford Kuga

I never had the opportunity to drive the outgoing Ford Kuga, but if it was anything as good as the new updated version, it must have been a very good package. Except of course for the technical issues that led to the highly publicised fires and recall campaigns.

Ford had to pull a rabbit out of the hat to ensure it appeases its aggrieved customers and lure new ones. They recalled the cars and implemented a two-phase recall campaign to change engine components, sensors and software. I mention this because it was key that Ford addressed the issues, otherwise the launch of this facelifted Kuga would have been a waste as no one would buy it.

The jury is still out as to whether that was enough to change the perception about Kuga but when I drove this updated one, it was clear the strides it has taken are quite big and I am pretty convinced that people will forgive and buy the vehicle. Personally I would, as it is a very good SUV and offers quite a lot of features as standard and has really upped its quality.

In terms of design the Kuga has gone for a fresher and sportier look with the front having a large trapezoid grille that is being incorporated in the new design language across the Ford brand. The rear lights have been redesigned, to give an illusion that the vehicle is wider than it is. The dimensions of the vehicle haven’t increased by much so it still has the lean look of the previous model.

New alloy wheel designs enhance the sporty look, with 17 and 18-inch sizes and an optional 19-inch one as well. For the range-topping Titanium model there is a dual-tone 18-inch design that comes as standard.

The interior feels roomy and comfortable. I sat at the back and it is quite comfortable and you won’t come out with cramps and a grumpy face after a long journey. Ford has really paid more attention to the luxury feel of the Kuga from the entry-level Kuga Ambiente to the top-of-the-range Titanium. The vehicle comes with paddle-shifts for gear changing so drivers can keep their hands on the steering wheel and focus on driving. The electronic handbrake is also a nice touch as it opens up space in the centre console to put cellphones or keys.

It also comes with an impressive array of safety features such as Ford Intelligent All Wheel Drive (on selected models), which adjusts the amount of torque sent to each wheel, optimising handling and traction, especially in slippery conditions. Curve Control assists against loss of control should a driver enter a bend with too much speed.

This I liked, as you could feel its effect as we drove on the twisty roads around Hogsback and past Fort Beaufort on our way to scenic Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape. This is combined with torque vectoring control, which enhances the driving experience by applying a small amount of braking to the inside wheels to assist traction and stability when cornering. My co-pilot pushed this car quite a lot but these hidden heroes delivered in bucket loads.

The standard reverse camera enhances parking convenience and safety in the Trend and Titanium and rear parking sensors are also included. The Driver Assist Pack is optional on Trend and Titanium derivatives, a package that includes among other things adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, lane keeping alert and lane keeping aid as well as a blind spot information system. These are some of the features I got to see firsthand and was quite impressed with.

The 1.6l Ecoboost engine that was the source of all the fires has been replaced by the efficient and award-winning EcoBoost 1.5 motor. It produces 110kW and 240Nm of torque in the manual Ambiente and Trend models, but power jumps to 132kW if you go for on the automatic versions.

We got to experience the top-spec Titanium TDCi turbodiesel version though, which gets 132kW and a hefty 400Nm torque. Power is delivered to all four wheels through the Power Shift dual-clutch automatic transmission. It delivered the performance I needed, when I needed it.

Ford has really worked hard in extracting the kind of performance the Kuga delivers and yet the price hasn’t shot through the roof. In fact the price has come down. Performance was good and the technology really delivered on its promise when it came to driving enjoyment.

There is more performance available though. The even more potent 177kW and 340Nm of torque is available only in the 2.0l Ecoboost Titanium guise with all-wheel drive and a six-speed torque converter automatic. We didn’t get to drive this derivative because it wasn’t brought for the launch.

We also really enjoyed the Sync 3 infotainment system, especially with Apple CarPlay, the smarter, safer way to use my iPhone in the car allowing me to make phone calls, access my music, send and receive messages and get directions optimised for traffic conditions, all while staying firmly focused on the road. I did all of this using the eight-inch touchscreen.

It felt like I was using my iPhone, only bigger. This new interface features larger, easier to operate buttons and enables pinch and swipe gestures for the first time. I had read recently about this CarPlay but to actually experience it was really fun. Sync 3 also allows drivers control of audio functions with more con-versational commands but this is only standard on the Trend and Titanium models.

The optional navigation system has 3D with an elevated map view and full colour graphics. When the car is in motion, the navigation displays information like the current speed limit, current GPS speed, estimated time of arrival, distance to destination and additional information such as garages, rest areas and other points of interest.

Finally, if you are interested in the ST-Line package available overseas that makes the Kuga look even more sporty, you will be disappointed because Ford SA has decided not to make the packages available here.

The recommended retail price for the new Kuga starts at R368 800 for the 1.5 EcoBoost Ambiente and tops out at R506 900 for the 2.0 TDCi Titanium AWD auto.

So has Ford done enough to change perceptions with the new Kuga?

Time will tell, but I genuinely think it has. – Thembekile Vokwana