We drive the facelifted prob­lem child

Car (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE -

Were the com­pact-suv mar­ket in South Africa scripted like a pop­u­lar daily soap opera, the Ford Kuga would be the good-look­ing lead ac­tor who could at one stage do no wrong but, to the ab­so­lute shock of the au­di­ence, turned vil­lain­ous dur­ing sea­son four. For the new sea­son, how­ever, and in the hope of re­demp­tion, one of the most talked-about char­ac­ters in this seg­ment re­turns of­fer­ing its most con­vinc­ing “good guy” per­sona to date.

Fully aware of the re­pair ef­forts re­quired in or­der to be­gin to re­build both con­fi­dence in the brand and the Kuga name, Ford Mo­tor Com­pany South Africa, un­der the new lead­er­ship of ex-toy­ota man, Dr Casper Kruger, has been work­ing tire­lessly on re­con­nect­ing and har­ness­ing its re­la­tion­ship with its cus­tomer base.

To date, 93% of all the 1,6 Ecoboost Kuga mod­els af­fected by the re­call to mit­i­gate po­ten­tial engine-bay fires have been lo­cated and sub­jected to phase one main­te­nance up­dates. Al­though sat­is­fied with this progress, Kruger in­sists that the re­main­ing 7% will be ac­counted for. Of the mod­els that un­der­went phase one work, some 60% have now re­turned for their sec­ond phase up­dates.

It was at the start of this fi­nal phase that Ford in­tro­duced its “white glove” ex­pe­ri­ence aimed at re­build­ing trust both in the brand and prod­uct. As part of this cus­tomer-fo­cused pro­gramme, own­ers de­liv­er­ing their ve­hi­cles for re­call work were of­fered the facelifted Kuga as a cour­tesy ve­hi­cle well ahead of any me­dia launch.

Greet­ing these cus­tomers, and now us, over the course of the ve­hi­cle’s even­tual of­fi­cial launch, was an al­to­gether sharper-look­ing Kuga, com­plete with a fresh fam­ily grille and new, more com­pact head- and tail­lamp ar­range­ments.

In­side, up­dated Trend and top-of-the-range Ti­ta­nium mod­els fea­ture Ford’s im­pres­sive new Sync3 in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. Here, even with­out the op­tional up­grade to in­clude satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion, this user­friendly, touch­screen-based setup in­cludes the lat­est in smart­phone mir­ror-link tech­nolo­gies that play a role in making this one of the best sys­tems of its kind.

Also in­cluded from Trend spec­i­fi­ca­tion up­wards (Am­bi­ente re­mains the en­try-level model), is an elec­tric hand­brake that not

only adds con­ve­nience, but also frees up valu­able stor­age space. An­other wel­come in­clu­sion is a re­verse cam­era with sen­sors. While these in­te­rior up­dates may seem min­i­mal, they add to a solid, im­pres­sively com­fort­able cabin that in­cludes leather up­hol­stery as stan­dard.

Within a new range that con­sists of seven de­riv­a­tives (four front-wheel driven and three all-wheel driven), a stand­out model has to be the 1,5 Ecoboost Trend Auto. Mated with a well-sorted six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, this proven petrol-fed engine of­fers 132 kw and 240 N.m of torque and never feels over­whelmed by the size of its car­riage. More than ca­pa­ble of coping with an ap­pro­pri­ately re­laxed driv­ing style, it is an engine happy to an­swer the call for a more spir­ited ap­proach should the first bell at the start of the school day al­ready have rung.

Ford claims a re­spectable 6,9 L/100 km com­bined fuel con­sump­tion for this de­riv­a­tive.

With 82% of this seg­ment’s buy­ers opt­ing for front-wheel drive over an all-wheel-drive setup, the 1,5 Ecoboost still has enough built-in com­pli­ance in its sus­pen­sion ar­range­ment to con­fi­dently tackle the odd gravel road sec­tion. Stan­dard 17-inch wheels wrapped in plump rub­ber also aid ex­cel­lent lev­els of on-road com­fort and han­dling; in fact, the dy­nam­ics re­main at class-lead­ing heights.

De­spite the un­for­tu­nate events that led to the re­call of those 1,6 Ecoboost mod­els and the pub­lic back­lash against the way Ford Mo­tor Com­pany South Africa was per­ceived to have han­dled it, the Kuga re­mains a great prod­uct. Yes, re­sale val­ues for the out­go­ing range have been harmed and cus­tomer con­fi­dence has been neg­a­tively af­fected, but it’s also as a di­rect re­sult of this saga that the cur­rent team at Ford SA, led by a leader who knows a thing or two about ev­ery­thing keep­ing go­ing right, has dis­cov­ered a new­found hunger and de­ter­mi­na­tion to­wards re­demp­tion.

The up­dated Kuga range has been launched with a pric­ing ad­just­ment down­wards by about R50 000 de­pend­ing on the model, and this should be seen as a gesture of good faith from Ford SA, rather than any in­dict­ment. The Kuga re­mains a fun­da­men­tally good prod­uct that should be high on your list if you’re think­ing of buy­ing a new ve­hi­cle in this fiercely com­pet­i­tive seg­ment.

from top Facelift in­cludes re­vised head- and tail­lamps; Kuga’s cabin is cosy and log­i­cally laid out; rear pas­sen­gers gain par­cel shelves from Trend spec up­wards; fussy man­u­alover­ride gearshift switch has been re­placed by steer­ing wheel pad­dles; Sync3 in­fo­tain­ment is one of the best in class.

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