Compact SUVs have become a particularly hot area to be involved in, if the waiting lists for many of the more popular models are anything to go by. It’s an area where Ford has, until now, lacked a contender. Well, the all-wheel-drive Kuga – described by Ford as a medium SUV or crossover, by the way – ticks many of the boxes. It certainly looks the part.
It’s admittedly a high-end version, brought in with a powerful 2,5 (read: not exactly thrifty) turbocharged 5-cylinder engine and all the trimmings. The impressive list of tech includes stability control, hill descent control, rollover mitigation and Bluetooth with voice control. And it’s priced to match, starting at R375 000. “We see it as a halo product,” is the word from Ford. That halo slipped ever so slightly when it was pointed out that this is, after all, a model due for replacement next year (though Ford officials were quick to respond: “The next Kuga is still a while off”).
The 2012 Kuga is, nevertheless, part of a product revival that will see high-tech advances in the shape of the SYNC infotainment system and EcoBoost engines.
Driving the Kuga is much like driving a big, slightly higher version of the company’s Focus compact. That is to say, it feels solid, poised and crisp; the refined, punchy 147 kW five provides ample overtaking urge, though the steering is on the light side.
On a brief off-road jaunt the Kuga showed that its intelligent all-wheel drive with rear-drive on demand was up to handling rutted, hilly farm tracks, not bottoming out even once. It was only when we tried to climb a tricky gravelly upslope that wheelspin forced us to consider an alternative route. Maximum approach angle of 21 degrees and a maximum departure angle of 25 degrees are reasonable given the Kuga’s likely applications.
The Kuga is practical, too, with a split tailgate and underseat storage boosting the stowage options.
Tech inside the Kuga:
Intelligent all-wheel drive. The Kuga’s Haldex AWD system uses several inputs (including torque and speed of the engine, the throttle position, the steering wheel angle, yaw rate, braking system and the speeds of all four wheels) to activate a mechanical pump to transfer as much as 50 per cent of total torque output to the rear axle. The system is able to pre-charge from a standing start, sending up to 10 per cent to the rear, and responds to higher cornering forces and aggressive driving by adapting rear torque delivery, optimising handling and dynamics. In sharp low-speed corners, reducing torque to the rear wheels aids manoeuvring. When slowing down using engine braking in slippery conditions, there’s a further party trick: in combination with Engine Drag torque Control (EDC) the system senses wheel slip at high engine speed in low gears and boosts engine torque output in response.
Base price: R375 000
Engine: 2,5 turbo five; 147 kW
Transmission: Auto five-speed
Economy: 10,3 litres/100 km overall
0-100: 8,8 seconds