What’s in a name? Ford Australia had a tidy looking coupe called the Cougar, with Mazda MX-6 underpinnings, in the 1990s. A couple of years ago a different car with a similar name, the Kuga, was presented to market. This Kuga (Titanium) is a smallish SUV, with an AWD system linked to a peaky and torquey 2.5L five cylinder engine. Based on the Focus, the Kuga is almost ready for a update, due later in 2013. But for now, it’s a pretty decent, surefooted little cat, with a couple of unusual flaws in its claws…
Technology is a fast changing world; in TV land there’s Ultra High Definition screens on their way, sound bars to improve what we hear and Dyson has released a combined tap and hand dryer…seriously. Cars though; well, fuel injection is fuel injection, rubber is rubber and hybrids or battery cars can only improve. On the inside we get radio, airbags, rear parking sensors that beep when the rear of a car (and sometimes the front) is getting close to a solid object. Interior design can suffer from age earlier than expected however, as is the case, to a point, with the Kuga. It’s comfy enough, sure, however a pod on the lower left side of the steering column is where we’ll find the audio controls for volume/station seek and bluetooth, rather than on the steering wheel, as we’ve become accustomed to. Odd, yet not entirely un-user friendly…..with the centre dash looking dated there’s no wonder a rear reverse camera isn’t a feature….but could be if the rear vision mirror style screen was employed. Again, odd. A keyless start system is on deck….the button? Right in the centre of the dash above the aircon vents, just where you’d NOT expect to find it. The centre dash is a simply designed unit, with clean lines and good ergonomics plus clearly marked switchgear. The colour though…a dull, matte silver with a piano black gloss style, which shows up dust all too easily…the dash itself is clean with a look reminiscent of the sixties. Indicator and wiper switches have semi rotating flick switches, for wiper speed (there’s speed sensitive wipers here also) and a display in red dot matrix font on the display. Nowadays a small LCD screen does the job. There’s a full length glass sunroof with….sliding curtains. Yes, a slightly tricky to operate manual curtain split fifty/fifty for front and rear that rolls in to either end.
Exterior is an odd, almost squashed look, but not unattractive. Clearly, Kuga is a vehicle of diagonal extremes. The rear tailgate is a dual mode setup, with a separate handle for the full door or the glass window; opening the glass door doesn’t allow you to open the main door separately.
The rear doors have a dark tint; called privacy glass it helps with keeping the sun out and prying eyes confused. There’s angular headlight and taillight clusters, in keeping with Ford’s “Kinetic” design philosophy from a few years ago, controlled by a switch that has far too many settings for what’s required. When a simple thing becomes over engineered it becomes pointless, just like NOT having lights that switch off after a certain amount of time, automatically. It’s a smooth design, sitting at a reasonable height above the road but not so high that children need a boost to get in.
It’s got a wonderful amount of grip but what impressed A Wheel Thing was the speedbump test. No sideways skip, a straight track and no pogo-ing. There was some float on the freeway through the long dips but roadholding was great. Minimal understeer, some communication back through the wheel and a feeling of all wheels working, unsurprising with Ford’s well proven Control blade rear and MacPherson strut front setup. It’s ideally matched to the five speed auto (another sign of age where most are CVT or six speed), dealing with a plateau like 320Nm from 1600 to 4000 rpm, generating some good acceleration and emitting a good, growly bark but not helping a plus 10L per 100k drinking habit. Peak power is at a high 6000rpm, with 147 keydoubleyews available. In another sign that design age is catching up, child seat mounts were buried under the cargo bay carpet for the left and right seats.
The Kuga is a mixed bag; stuck in the middle of other and similar vehicles that have updated interiors yet has a deliverable, usable engine (apart from the relative lack of economy), a well sorted chassis and the promise of better looks. It’s good now at $41390 driveaway, with a couple of non fatal flaws….hope there is an addressing of these for the new model.