Long-term test (Introduction): Ford Kuga 1,5 EcoBoost Trend FWD AT
The F-word. South Africans do not easily forget; a fact proven to me a few times in my first week of custodianship of the facelifted Kuga after various members of the public made humorous fire re-related quips when seeing me in the car. This is precisely the problem Ford faces with the compact SUV. How does it reinstate consumer confidence in an accomplished vehicle (a former CAR Top 12 Best Buys winner, no less) whose reputation was damaged by one model derivative?
The Kuga needs to prove itself again and this 12-month test is a good start; I am looking forward to once again experiencing the goodwill we all felt at the vehicle’s original launch in 2013. The specific model on test is the top-spec front-wheel-drive version fitted with a 1,5-litre EcoBoost turbopetrol engine that delivers 132 kW and 240 N.m.
First impressions are that it is a sprightly engine, although the Powershift (dual-clutch) transmission is mapped to behave more like a torque converter in its languid responses. An early concern is high consumption (far off the 6,9 L/100 km claim), but we will keep a close eye on that during our term.
Outside, the revised Kuga gains the familiar Ford grille and new head- and taillamps, plus those stylish (optional at R5 250) 18-inch alloys. Although it is only a facelift, it is easily distinguishable from its forebear.
Inside, the cabin has an upmarket feel and, in Trend spec, it is generously equipped to include leather trim, climate control and Ford’s accomplished Sync3 touchscreen infotainment system (equipped with sat-nav for R5 044). There is plenty of space in the second row and boot, and the rear bench folds neatly into the floor for generous utility space and a flat loading area. A problem with the rising shoulder line, however, is that my kids struggle to see out the side windows.
This vehicle is fitted with the optional driver-assistance pack (R15 450) that includes lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. I was slightly disappointed to note the adaptive function does not operate at speeds below 30 km/h (where it disengages abruptly). This means it won’t function in stop/start traffic, a situation where adaptive cruise control is very useful.
Comfort during long-distance cruising is important and early indications are the cabin is well insulated, with minimum noise intrusion. The suspension feels well balanced between handling and ride, and I expect some fun will be had behind the wheel.
After 1 month
Current Mileage: 419 km
Average fuel consumption: 11,59 L/100 km
We like: ride and handling; high specification level
We don’t like: fuel consumption; adaptive control
Long-term test (Update 1): Ford Kuga 1,5 EcoBoost Trend FWD AT
A road trip of 4 000-plus km can be a daunting prospect for any driver, but the Kuga has the ability to ease the stress on such a long journey. From the outset on my recent drive from Cape Town to Tzaneen, the Kuga hit its stride, adaptive cruise control set and my favourite music playing via a USB slot through the quality Sony sound system.
The plus side of cruising in the Kuga is the excellent ride quality and good sound insulation that play their part in reducing fatigue.
The drivetrain provides smooth propulsion with enough punch for safe overtaking. Finding new destinations was easy as the satnav system, optionally part of the Sync3 infotainment setup, is one of the best I have encountered.
On the negative side, I simply could not get the average fuel consumption down to a respectable level, the 1,5-litre EcoBoost engine settling at 9,30 L/100 km during the relaxed trip.
Annoyingly, too, a few creaks in the cabin started to make themselves heard as the mileage piled on.
Joining up with my family once in Tzaneen, the loading capacity was put to the test, an exercise that the Ford easily passed as the boot swallowed most items. Tar roads were swapped for gravel during a visit to Kruger National Park and to a Karoo farm. Although this Kuga is only FWD, it has decent ground clearance and I never missed having traction on all four wheels in covering a variety of tame off-road obstacles.
In short, this top-of-the range FWD Kuga keeps impressing us – except for its boisterous drinking habits – but as the road test on page 72 proves, it might be worth adding a few hundred bucks to your monthly repayments and opting for a more rounded 2,0 TDCi AWD model.
After 4 months
Current Mileage: 419 km
Average fuel consumption: 10,14 L/100 km
We like: long-distance comfort; Sync3 infotainment system and sat-nav
We don’t like: fuel consumption; cabin creaks
Long-term test (Update 2): Ford Kuga 1,5 EcoBoost Trend FWD AT
Family holidays are what kids remember, especially when there’s camping involved. Jurgens loaned me a Fleetline caravan (info at campworld.co.za) for my annual holiday to the South Coast and it was time to put the Kuga’s new towbar to the test.
The clear image supplied by the rear-view camera made lining up the caravan a cinch and we were soon on our way.
The Fleetline is a mid-sized caravan ideal for a family of four. However, with a length of more than six metres and loaded with equipment such as a full tent, microwave and fridge, the GVM mass is rated at 1 300 kg. Therefore, it posted a challenge to the 1,5-litre turbopetrol engine in the Kuga (it delivers a nonetheless strong 132 kW and 240 N.m).
I found it best to select sport mode on the transmission to keep the revs higher, prevent frequent shifting and avoid the engine labouring. The result was a stable towing combination that easily stuck to 100 km/h on motorways.
Fuel consumption, however, suffered badly, with an average reading of 18,0 L/100 km on the trip computer. A walk round the campsite confirmed my suspicions that turbodiesel is by far the more popular (and efficient) option when it comes to towing.
With the caravan parked and the tent erected, it was time to explore the surroundings. On one trip, we took a dirt-road shortcut to Mossel Bay and I can report that the Kuga is proficient in tackling broken surfaces in comfort.
The good sound insulation meant that family chats continued unabated despite dirt and loose rocks being kicked up by the tyres. The Ford played a big part in making the holiday a memorable one, confirmed by my son saying he wanted to stay for another 50 000 nights…
After 6 months
Current Mileage: 10 664 km
Average fuel consumption: 11,01 L/100 km
We like: towing stability; dirt road capability
We don’t like: fuel consumption, especially when towing
Long-term test (Update 3): Ford Kuga 1,5 EcoBoost Trend FWD AT
Sometimes, nothing can truly prepare you for a challenge. Take, for example, the Kuga arriving thousands of kilometres early for its 20 000 km service, to the surprise of Barloworld Ford N1 City. The ZA sticker on the clean rear window was another clue as to what lay ahead: a nine-day, 5 000 km family holiday trip through Namibia.
Leaving Cape Town under the cover of darkness, I found the quick-reacting auto-dimming headlamps a big bonus. The Sync 3 infotainment system was again a joy to use, with the satnav making it easy to plan arrival times in Springbok, Windhoek and then on to Rundu. The unit shows actual GPS speed, which is useful to maximise cruising speed (employing adaptive cruise control) while staying within the law.
Showing little strain, the Kuga arrived in Rundu and even had more energy to drive down to a lodge on the majestic Okavango River. Deep, sandy tracks had me worried as this Kuga is front-wheel driven but it impressed with enough grip to reach the water’s edge without incident.
The road trip included 500 km of dirt roads to reach Etosha National Park, Ai-Ais and the Fish River Canyon. The Kuga took this in its stride and a compliment should be directed at the standard, road biased, Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres which coped brilliantly with sinkplaat and rock-strewn sections.
The only black mark on the Ford’s scoring sheet for the trip was an average fuel consumption figure of 10,1 L/100 km while driving conservatively (it was a good thing petrol cost less than R13/litre there).
Overall, the Kuga punched above its weight in a region where body-on-chassis 4x4s are staple transport, allowing us an unforgettable trip.
After 8 months
Current Mileage: 18 903 km
Average fuel consumption: 10,69 L/100 km
We like: long-distance comfort; Sync3
We don’t like: heavy fuel consumption
Long-term test (Update 4): Ford Kuga 1,5 EcoBoost Trend FWD AT
We shouldn’t take for granted modern technology and creature comforts in new cars (of which the Kuga sports a comprehensive bouquet). This dawned on me when I recently shuttled someone not in touch with the evolving world of automotive tech and he was blown away as I talked him through the features fitted to this family SUV from Ford.
To my passenger, adaptive cruise control appeared to be some kind of black magic where the car kept the distance to the car in front with my feet nowhere near the pedals. He was intrigued by the orange flickering lights in the side mirrors (blind-spot recognition) but even more surprised the Kuga can spot painted lines on the road and warn the driver when they are crossed (even applying slight steering torque to keep the vehicle in lane). Fortunately, we did not experience emergency brake warning or assist to help prevent an accident, but he appreciated the cross-traffic alert when we reversed out of our parking spot.
Features like automatic headlamps (with a self-dimming function), auto wipers and a touch-screen infotainment system were foreign to him. Imagine the surprised look on his face when I showed him the music he was listening to emanated from one of the two USB slots in the armrest. There are also two 12 V sockets (one in the boot) to power auxiliary devices.
Climate control kept the cabin cosy during our cold Cape winter drive but, regrettably, there was no opportunity to show off the self-parking feature of the Kuga (although I suspect the twirling of the steering wheel without my hands close to the wheel would have been too much for him to handle).
As CAR journalists, we are sometimes too close to the technology to realise how far it has come over the years and the Kuga is an excellent example of what was once ground-breaking tech filtering into everyday family vehicles.
After 10 months
Current Mileage: 19 982 km
Average fuel consumption: 10,66 L/100 km
We like: tech and safety features
We don’t like: adaptive cruise control inactive below 40 km/h
Long-term test (Update 5): Ford Kuga 1,5 EcoBoost Trend FWD AT
This Kuga is now officially the long-term vehicle in which I have covered the most miles and, at close to 21 000 km, there is still a month left. The vehicle is an ex-media unit and arrived with nearly 5 000 km on the clock, so the odo is showing almost 26 000 km. Nothing has gone wrong during the tenure (not even a puncture) and the Ford keeps delivering excellent family transport and driver enjoyment. The facelift is now almost a year old but the vehicle still gets complimented on its looks, especially in Deep Impact Blue.
After 11 months
Current Mileage: 20 876 km
Average fuel consumption: 10,67 L/100 km
See Full Ford Kuga price and specs here