Tuesday 22 August 2017

Kuga takes another route as Ford gears up for more models to meet the crossover demand

First drive in Warsaw, Vilnius: Ford Kuga

The Ford Kuga has been upspecced over the years
The Ford Kuga has been upspecced over the years
The 8 inch touchscreen operates like a smartphone
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Like every journey, the Ford Kuga crossover has had its ups and downs, twists and turns.

Initially it was too expensive; sales disappointed; then they dropped the price; sales increased. Then they upped the price and sales tapered off. Now they've got a special offer and . . .

There have been a few side roads taken, too, with the design and upspeccing of the car over the years.

The latest incarnation, which I've just been driving, has benefited from yet another bit of a facelift as well as, importantly, a 1.5-litre diesel and 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol making their debut in the crossover.

Apart from tweaks and tucks here and there (a new trapezoidal grille, headlights (LED daytime running) and a larger central interface screen, one of the other major advances is the inclusion of their latest interactive SYNC 3 system.

I've been prone to fits of frustration at the shortcomings of previous incarnations but this one had far more 'cop-on' and could even detail a list of places to eat along the route from Warsaw to the Lithuanian border after I bellowed "I'm hungry" (I wasn't) into its digital ear.

Ford say they have drawn on research and 22,000+ comments from clinics and surveys to make the new version far better.

So far so good, I'd say.

Specific prices and spec levels for each model/trim are yet to be announced for Ireland - it goes on sale quite soon - but they have given what they call 'starting' prices for some.

For the Titanium (1.5 TDCi 120PS) it is a €33,345 kick-off. However, on a 171 promotional deal, the Titanium + comes in at €29,955. And ST Line (1.5 TDCi 120PS) - new on the Kuga - begins at €36,145.

The rise and rise of crossovers is well documented. The Kuga, for example, is one of five new or revised Ford SUV/crossovers coming over the next three years. But this compact SUV segment is also hyper-price-sensitive. Volkswagen learned that to their cost with a pricey-to-start-with Tiguan (they have a lower-cost entry price now).

The cars we drove on test in eastern Europe were All-Wheel-Drive. That meant we got the 180bhp 2-litre diesel (6spd manual) in ST trim and the 1.5-litre EcoBoost (6spd automatic which was too slow on kickdown) with 182PS (7.5 l/100km/37.7 mpg, 173g/km) in the ridiculously pretentious Vignale trim.

Of more importance for Irish buyers will be the inclusion of the 120PS 1.5-litre diesel (claimed 4.4l/100km/64.2 mpg, 115g/km) in the ranks.

There are also front-wheel-drive versions of the 1.5 EcoBoost (120PS and 150PS) 6spd - 6.3 l/100 km (44.8 mpg) and 145g/km.

Regardless of interior trim or engine power, the car always had a decent chassis and came across a bit sharper than most rivals in that area.

However, we got relatively few chances to push it hard, such was the volume of truck-dominated traffic on long, wet, cold and mostly single-lane roads between the Polish and Lithuanian capitals.

We had need of the sat nav to get us to our final destination but other than that we'll await trial on home soil of technology that would let us voice activate apps from our smartphones etc.

Our drive was Leg 8 of 15 from Athens to Nordkapp, Norway of the Kuga road drive/launch. It was certainly a different way to unveil a 'new' car and gave the whole thing a sense of adventure and occasion.

A November drive across the face of two great old countries brought and evoked images and memories of tougher times.

Anyway, back to Ireland. The options/equipment will include the brand's Perpendicular Parking system, Active City Stop collision avoidance, and Adaptive Front Lighting.

A final word on SYNC 3. Basically you operate the 8in touchscreen as you would your smartphone. There are larger buttons and you can now 'pinch and swipe'.

You can operate Android Auto or if you have an iPhone use Apple CarPlay to let you make phone calls, send/receive messages etc.

It will be interesting to see what message buyers send the new arrival when sales start in earnest in January.

Indo Motoring

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