FORD KUGA REBOOT
We drive the facelifted problem child
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.