Ryan Bubear has a brief encounter with a Kuga... the Ford Kuga 2.5 AWD Titanium.
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Cougar / koo-ger / noun: an often attractive older woman who seeks flings with men far younger than herself. Prefers to hunt rather than be hunted.
Kuga / koo-ger / noun: a slightly older, yet athletic, crossover SUV that devours the open road. Performs a remarkable impression of a Focus ST.
With apologies to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are a number of similarities between the informal meaning of "cougar" and Ford's better-late-than-never compact SUV, other than their names. You see, when the Kuga was recently launched in South Africa, everyone was wondering why, seeing that the German-built five-door had made its global debut back in the first half of 2008.
Why did Ford SA wait nearly four years to fill a seemingly obvious gap in their line-up?
Whatever the reason, it seems it was well worth the wait...
Focus ST grown up?
Only two variants are currently offered in SA (nope, no diesel quite yet): one bearing Trend trim and the other boasting higher-spec Titanium frills. The good news is that both make use of a 2.5-litre Duratec turbocharged petrol engine, mated to a decent five-speed automatic gearbox (which happens to feature a "Sport" mode). Yes, that'd be the very same five-cylinder lump doing duty under the bonnet of that bright orange Focus ST around the corner (there's one in almost every neighbourhood).
Sure, clever Ford engineer-types have tweaked it to better match the requirements of a crossover vehicle, but it's still got plenty of ST-style punch — as my first light prod of the right pedal revealed. In fact, there's not much in this segment that can touch the Kuga when it comes to all-out power and 0-100km/h sprints. Yip, 147kW at 6000rpm and a grin-inducing 320Nm from 1600rpm to 4000rpm allow the Kuga to hit three-figures in just 8.8 seconds, before topping out at 205km/h. For an SUV, that really is rather brisk.
The transfer of this substantial chunk of power to the black stuff is facilitated by an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that decides for you exactly how much torque should be sent to the rear wheels, depending on a number of factors. The system is quite intricate, and I could launch into a long-winded and frankly tedious technical explanation, but you'd probably just skip ahead anyway... So all you really need to know is that it delivers the best traction possible in any given situation.
This — together with the fact that the Kuga shares a platform with the sure-footed Focus — translates into an SUV with rather unSUV-like handling. Grip is impressive through the corners, body-roll minimal, and it almost has the agility of, well, a cougar (the big cat, not the older woman... necessarily), despite the fact that it stands tall at over 1.7 metres. All this with a respectable degree of ride comfort.
We had the range-topping Titanium on test, which meant we enjoyed luxuries such as auto wipers and headlights, auto dimming rear-view mirror, dual air temperature control, rear parking sensors, heated front windscreen, and a massive panoramic roof. All of that is in addition to what the already well-specced Trend boasts: features such as keyless start, cruise control, Bluetooth with voice control functionality, auxiliary/USB ports, full leather, six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats (with no less than five levels), and heated and powered door mirrors.
From the outside, the Kuga is boldly styled and doesn't look at all outdated, despite its advancing years. It is typical Ford, and drops a few hints — think dual-exit exhaust, faux rear-diffuser, and sporty rear spoiler — about its penchant for going places briskly. Splashes of chrome, a chiselled front end, and roof-rails add to the menacing look, while 18-inch alloys not dissimilar to those found on the Focus ST complete the package. Our test vehicle came splendid in Ice White paintwork, which saw it take on a blue tinge under certain lighting conditions — very fetching indeed. So fetching, in fact, that I was stopped in traffic by cops, who wanted to know what such a colour was called...
Round the back, the party piece is a practical one: a split tailgate facilitates access to the 360-litre luggage area even in tight spaces. Drop the back seats and the storage space shoots up to 1355 litres. With the rear seats in place though, there is just enough legroom for a couple of reasonably tall adults, and plenty of space if your back seats are to be occupied by two or three kids. A fold-out tray is attached to the back of each front seat, with each in turn featuring a cup-holder. In fact, if cup-holders are your thing, the Kuga won't disappoint, with contraptions designed to hold your drinks as far as the eye can see.
Practicality is a strength of the Kuga, with small details making all the difference — the fact that there is a pen-holder built into the cubby-hole door, in addition to myriad storage compartments, tells that tale rather well. The build-quality of the cabin appears to be fairly high, and the simple layout of the audio and air-con controls makes life on move pretty much hassle-free. The steering-mounted buttons and the satellite controls are reassuringly bulky and easy to use, while the glass panoramic roof mentioned earlier — measuring 1050mm by 785mm — adds to the feeling of spaciousness. Manual blinds provide the option of blacking out sunlight deemed too harsh.
Safety is taken care of by the obligatory team of airbags, and as many safety acronyms (EBD, EBA, ESP, ABS, etc.) as you can shake a stick at help to keep the Kuga on the road.
As always, there is a down-side to all that power: yes, fuel consumption. Ford claims a combined figure of 10.3 litres per 100km (and an average CO2 output of 244g/km), but with all that oomph under your right foot, you'd have to be a saint not to open the taps when the road opens up ahead of you. And a saint I most certainly am not: I managed a final figure of about 11.4 litres per 100km, with a fair amount of thumb-twiddling-traffic helping to bloat that number.
The good news is that the Kuga comes standard with a four-year or 120 000km warranty, and a four-year or 80 000km service plan.
So, it may not be brand new to the rest of the world — and there are admittedly already murmurings of a new Kuga making its grand entrance in the not-too-distant future — but this compact SUV blends sportiness and practicality with good effect, making it a strong if slightly aged competitor in this segment.
Just like a cougar, it's easy on the eye, slightly older, and pretty darn ruthless... Who says younger is always better, eh?
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