Road test: Ford Kuga - midlife crisis leads to facelift

This is a solid, well-equipped family crossover well up to par with its Asian rivals

Ford Kuga ST-Line: It deserves to be in the running against the best-sellers on the market

Make: Ford

Model: Kuga

Year: 2017

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: August 10, 2017

Wed, Aug 16, 2017, 18:29

   

Given Irish motorists’ fixation with crossovers, you would think a family brand like Ford would be topping the sales list. After all, its blue-collar roots are entwined in the history of the SUVs and pick-ups that drove much of this transatlantic craze.

Yet the Asians have ridden roughshod over more established western brands. So why is the Hyundai Tucson Ireland’s favourite new car, while the Ford Kuga languishes down in 26th place?

Part of it is certainly down to price: when it arrived on forecourts several years ago the Kuga was uncompetitive compared to rivals. It was as if Ford had belatedly accepted it needed to play the crossover game, but never really put its heart into it.

That was driven, perhaps, by the fear there was little net sum gain for Ford as the new Kuga buyers for these cars were coming out of the lucrative family hatchback segment. It’s an approach that Volkswagen could also be accused of with its Tiguan crossover, which threatened to move customers away from the Golf.

Whatever the reason, the Kuga’s pricing strategy meant it fell off the shortlist for thousands of crossover buyers in Ireland over the years. Ford has come back to give it another go, and this time prices are starting at a far more competitive €33,345. With that you get a significantly revamped crossover.

For a start there’s the latest tech upgrade, built upon Ford’s Sync connectivity system. The key feature of version three of this system is a noticeably faster processing speed. It’s a sign of the times that car reviews have to discuss such features but for many consumers a clunky infotainment system that doesn’t connect to your phone is as infuriating as any suspension foible.

Sporting credibility

Our test car was fitted with the Kuga’s most powerful diesel offering, the 2-litre 180bhp, but others may be tempted to opt for the better priced 1.5-litre 120bhp variant given the cost-saving.

As part of the revamp Ford is revamping its line-up with a new ST-Line. The concept is simple enough: add a little sporting credibility to the range and cash in on a history of sporting and racing success.

Cynics will rightly say this is just marketing trickery, but it’s perfectly valid and based on truly heroic credentials. If in doubt consider the likes of the incredible Focus RS and the litany of racing predecessors that went before, all the way back to the likes of the Mark I Escort RS1600.

Do these dressed-up sports variants tarnish the credibility of the true racers? Not once you hit the start button on a full-blooded RS.

The ST-Line merely allows buyers to wear the look without having to live the life. If this marketing trick didn’t work it wouldn’t only be the car firms that would suffer: Nike and Under Armour would be in serious trouble.

The ST look is now available on models across the range, with varying degrees of success. The Focus always looked relatively sleek so the ST pack adds a touch more sporting flair, though the cabin still suffers from the same cheap plastics as before.

Renewed flair

With this Kuga, however, the car is transformed. After a mid-life facelift it was hoped that the crossover would start to make serious inroads into the opposition, but this has simply not come to pass. The ST-Line may well prove to be something of a missing link. The chance to add black alloys gives the car renewed flair. In truth, it’s a better all-round package than its rivals.

It comes at a price: an extra €3,000 on the 1.5-litre entry-level diesel and ultimately a hefty €45,030 for the 2-litre all-wheel-drive version we tested.

That’s well into the premium price bracket for most Irish buyers, and, like the ill-fated Vignale range, Ford simply doesn’t have the brand image to start luring buyers with this sort of budgets away from the high-end German brands.

Overall the Kuga is a solid, well-equipped family crossover, well up to par with rivals from the Asian brands. It deserves to be in the running against the best-sellers on the market.

The pricing is no longer out of line with those rivals either. The VW Tiguan is €35,485 for the 2-litre 150bhp Comfortline, while the Hyundai Tucson 1.7-litre diesel Premium is priced at €32,995. A new key rival will be the Skoda Kodiaq, with prices starting at €35,494 for the 2-litre diesel, but with petrol versions starting at €28,795.

Hard fight

Even with the new pricing structure and a sporty ST-Line, the Kuga is going to have to fight hard to earn its share of what is increasingly an overcrowded crossover market.

Ford Ireland – or Henry Ford & Sons Ltd to be precise – is marking its centenary in Ireland this year. One would expect a push to finish the 2017 as the best-selling brand. That doesn’t seem to have come to pass so far, and with the 172 surge tapering off and the brand in fourth place it’s now probably unlikely.

Given the changing consumer tastes, if Ford wants to get back on top for its next century in Ireland it needs the Kuga to deliver. So far it has not been at the races. The fear is that even now this revamp will be too little too late.

Lowdown: Ford Kuga ST-Line 2.0 TDCI AWD

Engine: 2-litre 180bhp diesel with six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive

CO2 Emissions: 135g/km

L/100km: 5.2 (54.3)

0-100km/h: 9.2 secs

Prices: €45,030 as tested (Kuga starts at €33,345 with ST-Line from €36,145)

Our rating: 3 stars

Verdict: ST-Line offers a new hook to a crossover that deserves to be on shoppers’ shortlists