Ford Kuga Styling - WITH MORE AND more people shifting from hatchback; to SUVs, it's a good time for Ford to give its four-year-old Kuga a facelift. The only major mechanical change is the addition of a new 1.5-litre diesel engine to replace the old entry-level 138bhp 2.0-litre unit Available with front-wheel drive only, the new diesel should be the most frugal in the updated range.
The easiest changes to spot on the exterior are new headlights and tail-lights and a new trapezoidal front grille similar in style to that of the new Ford Edge seven-seater SUV. The Kuga's interior has been updated and there's a new infotainment system. Two additional trims-Vignale and ST-Line -are available. We're testing the latter here, allied to the most powerful 2.0-litre diesel engine.
The Kuga has always been one of the nimbler SUVs, but the ST-Line version takes this attribute a step further. It's not any faster, but it sits lower to the ground, with tweaked suspension to resist body lean in bends and sharpen handling. Get to a corner and the precise, well-weighted steering enables you to place the front wheels of the Kuga easily.
Grip levels are good and it stays surprisingly up right for such a tall vehicle. It certainly holds its own against the likes of the Seat Ateca, although that car is a little bit more agile. The Kuga ST-Line's ride is firmer than its rivals, but it isn't too uncomfortable. It jostles passengers a bit over rough roads, but it quickly regains composure.
Strong diesel engine
The engine has plenty of low-rev pulling power to get the Kuga up to motorway speeds without fuss. Acceleration isn't quite as smooth as some rivals, but it does settle down at a cruise. The six-speed manual gearbox we tried has quite a long throw, but a six-speed automatic is an option. ST-Line trim also adds a sporty flavour to the interior, including ST-Line seats, steering wheel and gear knob and a dark roof lining. More importantly, the Kuga comes with the latest version of Ford's infotainment system, Sync 3.
It provides an 8.0in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, sat-nav, and an improved voice recognition system. This set-up is easy enough to use, although it doesn't look quite as slick as those from Volkswagen or Seat. All Kugas now get an electronic handbrake, additional oddment storage in the centre console and fewer buttons on the dash. Other than that, it's much the same as before ' which is no bad thing given the reclining rear seats, reasonable rear seat space and large, easily accessible boot.
All in all, the Kuga remains a decent if expensive choice in the SUV class. The problem is that the class has moved on and the more rounded Seat Ateca is a better bet. If you prefer the Kuga, though, we'd recommend sticking with lower-spec Titanium trim because it's cheaper and has a comfier ride yet similarly long standard kit list. We'd also be tempted to save a few thousand pounds and opt for the two-wheel-drive 148bhp version of the 2.0-litre diesel. Not only does it cost less, it also has lower CO2 emissions and isn't much slower.