The extra character
Last Friday the phone rang and someone announced that they were bringing around a cougar. As I wasn’t sure which sort of man-eater to expect, I locked all doors, put on aftershave and armed myself with a bottle of gin. Imagine my surprise when the unwanted guest turned out to be Ford’s new-ish SUV, the Kuga.
Not to be confused with Ford’s cheeky little Cougar coupe or the muscle car equivalent of Ford’s now-defunct Mercury brand, the Kuga is a soft-roader whose name surely causes mayhem and triple-takes at most overseas Ford dealerships, club meets and management meetings.
Built in Germany, where Ford has a strong foothold, the Kuga was launched internationally in 2008 to compete with the likes of CR-V, Freelander and X-Trail in the entry-level SUV market. Ford S.A. introduced it locally at last year’s Johannesburg Motor Show; despite its replacement already peeking around the corner.
Our blue oval crew decided to only bring in the range-topping 2.5 AWD derivative with two specification levels to momentarily plug a gap in their line-up. Apparently there are 22 models available overseas so here’s hoping that some of them will appear when the new model gets here in 2013.
The internet is already buzzing with images of the next generation Kuga and it looks amazing. That doesn’t mean this here current version was hit with an ugly stick – quite the opposite – I had a few good looks at the Kuga and concluded that it’s the best-looking small SUV in our midst.
Ford calls it kinetic design and while none of their products are hideous, this 5-seater SUV has exceptional balance and proportion in its stout, modern shape. The only Ford that looks better is its replacement. Unfortunately, I can’t wax lyrical about the Kuga’s current interior.
Layout and build quality are good but the team is let down by a lot of cheap-looking silver plastic. The dials and most of the center console are coated in a flimsy material that made me think of an imitation boom-box. Also, the brilliant Sony audio system is ready for its well-deserved retirement.
It’s all downhill from there as the interior provides everything a modern softroader needs: comfy furniture and lots of leather trim, front seat heaters, raised driving position, rear tray tables, split tailgate, lots of cup holders and stowage spaces, 60/40 folding rear bench which extends the 360L of boot space to 1,355L.
They pair up with 188mm of ground clearance, 700kg towing ability, three 12V sockets, roof rails, intelligent all-wheel-drive and a smooth five-speed automatic (with manual override “tip” function) to provide decent countryside exploration capabilities.
Kuga also offers power steering (with adjustable, leather-covered, multi-function wheel), power windows and mirrors, air-con, CD/USB/aux/mp3 and Bluetooth input for the 8-speaker Sony RDS radio, cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, ISOFIX anchors, ABS brakes with EBD and EBA, as well as ESP stability control with anti-rollover mitigation.
Yup, the current Kuga means business, even in its last year of production. Prices start at N$385,580 with this posh “Titanium” model (N$406,850) adding further luxuries like rear parking sensors, optional 18-inch alloys, electric driver’s seat adjustment, climate control, auto wipers, privacy glass and a panoramic glass roof.
Both models use a detuned version of the Focus ST 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine which churns out 147kW (200hp) or 320Nm in this trim. Claimed average consumption is 10.3L/100km, average CO2 output around 244g/km, 0-100km/h takes 8.8 seconds and top speed is an impressive 205km/h.
A happy coincidence was our simultaneous test of a Volvo C30 T5 R-Design with the full-fat version of the same motor. Ironically, the Kuga had a beefier exhaust note which adds even more excitement to the mix and gives it extra character.
Ride and handling is superb for modern SUV standards and even the 18-inch wheels can’t ruin a compliant and confidence-inspiring setup. The steering feels a bit over-assisted but is more than acceptable for a high-riding semi-4×4 while the brakes are just as impressive.
Unfortunately our busy schedule didn’t subject the Kuga to more than daily commuting and a bit of rough gravel roads; both of which it took in its stride. There are no levers, knobs or buttons to control the 4WD system so you rely on a computer to call the shots when (light to medium) off-roading is called for.
Each Kuga comes with a comprehensive 4-year/120,000km warranty and a 4-year/80,000km service plan with 20,000km intervals. It doesn’t offer great value or cutting-edge tech but I found the aging Kuga to possess a great combination of specs, power and looks.