What is it?
After a few years on sale, the Ford Kuga has hit an age where it needs to go under the surgeon’s knife in order to stay fresh. Up front there are new headlights and a new grille that bring the car into line with the recently released Edge, while at the back there are new tail-lights. Inside, you’ll now find Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment system.
Mechanical changes are minor, with the biggest news being that a 1.5-litre diesel engine is replacing the lowest powered 2.0-litre in the pre-facelift car. There are also two new trim levels: luxurious Vignale at the top of the range and sporty ST-Line, as driven here, in the middle.
Like similarly badged models in the range, the Ford Kuga ST-Line isn’t a new performance figurehead for the brand’s mid-size SUV. Instead, it’s a style and handling pack designed to give the impression of enhanced performance without actually delivering any extra motive force.
Even though it’s mostly all mouth and no trousers, ST-Line trim does come with a 10mm drop in ride height, uprated dampers and bushes, a stiffer front anti-roll bar and a larger one at the rear.
What’s it like?
This 1.5-litre Ecoboost-engined version is the most powerful petrol-engined Kuga. The motor produces 180bhp and drives exclusively through all four wheels via a six-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox (diesels get a dual-clutcher). Considering it’s an ST-Line, it promises much for the enthusiast.
Take a peek at the performance figures, however, and you might be surprised. It may be the most powerful variant of the range but the added weight of the 4WD system and auto ’box mean it’s beaten by a number of lesser models. Part of this problem is torque: the little 1.5-litre lump simply can’t produce enough of the stuff low down.
As a result you end up flogging the engine far harder than you might expect. At this point the performance is fine, but you can’t help thinking the extra muscle of the diesels is far more suitable for such a car. Being a traditional auto, it can be a little slow to shift when compared to the latest dual-clutch units.
The good news is that the transmission is at least smooth, slurring between ratios almost seamlessly; the bad is that it can take a couple of moments to kick down, then it holds the revs very high. To make matters worse, the engine sounds thrashy past 4000rpm, although at least it’s largely vibration-free.
It’s not all bad, though. The steering is reassuringly meaty, allowing you to accurately drive at speed without having to keep making the minor corrections imposed on you by some rivals. It also makes placing the nose of the Kuga easy, even if you’re pressing on.
You’ll also appreciate the additional resistance to roll that the ST-Line chassis brings. Turn-in is good and it feels agile changing direction. The downside is that on pockmarked asphalt the ride will jostle you around, which is something your passengers may not appreciate.
Inside, the dashboard is certainly less cluttered than before, while families will like the additional cubbyholes that the electric handbrake allows. The move to Sync 3 is a welcome upgrade, too; the screen is a bit bigger and sharper and the voice recognition software is improved. Even so, it doesn’t look as good as the Volkswagen Group’s touchscreens and doesn’t work as well as the rotary dial-controlled systems such as the one you’ll find in a Mazda CX-5.
There are plenty of soft-touch materials in places you interact with regularly and the seats proved to be comfortable on an extended drive. Rear seat space isn’t as generous as that of some rivals, but you do at least get a reclining rear bench. As for the boot, there’s a flat floor, no loading lip and the option of a gesture-controlled electric tailgate.
Should I buy one?There was a time when the Ford Kuga was about the only option if you wanted a crossover that could still corner in an enjoyable fashion. Thankfully those days are behind us, with rivals such as the Seat Ateca now proving to be sensible for families while also managing to entertain on the right road.
Does that mean you should overlook the Kuga? Yes and no. We’d certainly recommend a test drive if you’re after an SUV with tidy handling but we’d avoid this particular engine. Like other petrol-powered warmish SUVs, such as the Kia Sportage GT-Line, you end up with a not overly quick car with high running costs. For most, a front-wheel-drive diesel will be the sensible option, saving money both on the purchase price and running costs.
2017 Ford Kuga 1.5 Ecoboost 182 ST-Line
Location Croatia; On sale Now; Price £30,180; Engine 4 cyls, 1498cc, turbo, petrol; Power 180bhp at 6000rpm Torque 177Ib ft at 1600-5000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1686kg; Top speed 124mph; 0-62mph 10.1sec; Economy 38.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 171g/km/31% Rivals Kia Sportage 1.6 T-GDI GT-Line, VW Tiguan 2.0 TSI 4Motion
What is it?