► Facelifted Ford Kuga tested
► 1.5T Ecoboost lacks punch
► Rewarding handling, though
The Ford Kuga’s been on the receiving end of a mild facelift, the changes of which yank it into line with the American styling language used on the smaller sub-par Ecosport and leviathan Edge crossovers. The addition of a garish grille is the biggest difference, but there are also tweaks to the headlights and tail lamps – to keep things looking fresh – and a revised cabin to house the firm’s latest multimedia suite.
More importantly, there’s now an athletic ST-Line version on offer to sate your desires for a sportier SUV experience. At a glance, it could look like the one to have – thanks to its sporty bodykit, 18-inch wheels and bespoke sports suspension. Let’s find out if it has the go to match up with the show.
Tell me more about the ST-Line’s mechanicals
The firm’s handling team at Lommel have been at work here, lowering the Kuga ST-Line by 10mm using shorter springs and retuned dampers. The drop in ride height also results in a racier look, particularly in conjunction with those 18-inch alloys and lower-profile rubber.
The anti-roll bars at both ends of the car have been stiffened up significantly – by 25% at the front and 38% at the rear – so there’s noticeably less lean in corners. But it’s still a crossover, so don’t expect nil bodyroll: there’s still a fair degree of roll, but it’s well controlled and not unsettling. The drive is also choppier than the already turbulent Titanium version, however, sending shocks through the Kuga as you bump over expansion joints or potholes.
That isn’t to say it’s uncomfortable, mind, because in what we’ve come to appreciate as a typical Ford trait, the Kuga benefits from admirable composure and an ability to deal with more undulating roads in a controlled fashion. We’d rather deal with a few bumps than a ride that never really settles down.
The already-impressive steering hasn’t escaped the attention of the handling gurus either, with a recalibrated software map that is easily distinguishable from the other versions of Kuga on offer. It’s far keener to respond to inputs, and while there’s an almost inevitable lull around the straightahead, this has all the response of a far higher-performance car. A job well done.
Which engine’s best?
We tried a couple of options that are both available on ST-Line. The first was a 1.5-litre diesel to replace the old 2.0 of the same output, complete with a variable-nozzle turbocharger. That might not sound very exciting in this era of air-injection assisted twin-turbo diesels – and its 118bhp certainly isn’t going to help the Kuga win any land speed records.
It doesn’t sound at all nice, either, but actually Ford’s managed a bit of a clever trick here. The six-ratio ’box has relatively short gearing (like the Fiesta ST200, in fact) so it feels more eager than the figures suggest, leading to it being a more involving car at lower speeds.
It means you have to change gear more, too, but with a characteristically Ford-like shift action and beautifully placed pedals, it’s a decent thing to drive. We wouldn’t go as far as calling it exciting, but you’re not going to come away disappointed.
It’s a far more compelling proposition than our other test sample: the 1.5 Ecoboost automatic with all-wheel drive. On paper this has 180bhp, which sounds great. The torque-converter automatic saps the engine’s enthusiasm so severely, however, that this otherwise capable engine felt like it had socks in the intake manifold. Oh, for the Powershift twin-clutch unit available with the 2.0 diesel.
We’re also not entirely convinced you need AWD here, though there’s no denying it adds to an already capable chassis if you are seriously considering venturing off-road.
While we haven’t tested it, then, it stands to reason the driver’s choice here would be the 1.5 Ecoboost with front-wheel drive and a manual ’box.
Sync (3) or swim?
Fitted to this facelifted Kuga (and standard on the ST-Line) is the multimedia system available on all new large Fords – Sync3. While on paper it impresses, we didn’t find it up to scratch. The touchscreen still isn’t responsive enough to fingertip inputs (though Ford reckons everyone should be using voice commands anyway), the pinch-and-swipe function sends the unit into cardiac arrest after a few seconds, and the sat-nav outright failed to find our destination, despite us trying several sorts of address entry for the same place.
We even tried using GPS coordinates but none would locate the abandoned Croatian asylum we’d been so keen to visit. Don’t ask.
In the end we did something we’d been warned not to for fear of huge mobile bills: we hooked my phone up via USB, engaged Android Auto and within 30 seconds had found the location and were on our way. It’s just a good job I was paying a flat rate for unlimited roaming data, because I dread to think how much that would have cost on a rolling tariff.
What else is new?
The redesigned cabin features far fewer buttons, so it’s a dramatic improvement on that front. The addition of the Focus’s steering wheel also adds grace and functionality, allowing you to control the optional (yet impressively intuitive) adaptive cruise and lane-departure driver-assist features easily and quickly.
We liked the ST-Line-specific sports seats too, with extra bolstering for when you simply have to drive too quickly.
An electric handbrake frees up extra storage space in the central console, while the practical among you will appreciate a couple of new optional extras: a retractable towbar and a powered tailgate.
The ST-Line Kuga is among the best in its class to drive – and the recently added tech, combined with a sporty appeal that isn’t just skin deep, means it’s a compelling choice in a world crammed full of hyper-value Korean cars and MQB-spawned German/Spanish/Czech metal. It’s more interesting than a RAV4 or CR-V, too.
So, it might not be the ultimate mid-sized SUV, but it’s certainly one for the shortlist.
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