Sunday 24 September 2017

Ford still needing top striker final score

Like the Irish soccer team, Ford needs results, but has the marque taken its eye off the ball, asks Campbell Spray?

Ford Kuga St-Line
Ford Kuga St-Line
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

There have been a lot of Fords on my test-drive schedule recently and I'm waiting for the new Fiesta later this month.

This is a big year for the company as it celebrates 100 years in Ireland. Henry Ford was particularly proud of the fact that both his father and maternal foster grandfather were Cork men. So when he opened the first factory outside the US on April 17, 1917, he did it in the Marina, Cork where it lasted until 1984.

The company has done some good things of late; bringing the iconic Mustang in was a bit of fun, the extended warranty of up to seven years helped peace of mind and the revamping across the range was needed. Many of the company's clothes have been stolen by other marques and the cars haven't the advantage in driving dynamics they once had. Yet the company lies third for new car sales this year; a little behind Toyota and a tiny bit in front of Hyundai.

The Focus and Fiesta are in fifth and sixth place respectively. Yet despite some refreshing, a few models are beginning to look a bit dated and the upmarket Vignale range just doesn't seem to have taken off here. The Mondeo has had its day. It took too long to bring the latest model in and by then the market had moved on. By this time in 2015, Ford had sold 2,245 Mondeos, this year it is 1,255 and the car's share of the overall Ford pie here has halved to 10pc with the refreshed Ford Kuga worthily taking up the slack, selling 1,576 cars so far this year as against 476 in 2015. I like the Kuga although I'm not totally hooked. However, it can be expensive - the one I was testing had all the bells and whistles but cost €48,925, €15k above the entry level.

It was the Kuga ST-Line, joining the Fiesta ST-Line and Focus ST-Line in my testing schedule. Initially, I made the mistake of thinking I was getting ST versions of the cars but they are very different matters entirely.

As Ford's PR executive explained to me: ''It is important to make the distinction between the ST and ST-Line. ST is a hallowed and much respected badge that has been on a series of cars (mainly Fiesta, Focus and at one stage, Mondeo) for many years now, high-powered engines with really sporty styling. And the latest versions of Focus and Fiesta ST models are still very popular across Europe and here in Ireland.''

ST-Line was introduced last year as a way of providing a lower-cost option for buyers who wanted a bit of extra oomph in the engine and a sportier look than the common or garden Fiesta/ Focus but who did not want to shell out the for the full cost of a full-blooded ST badge. So basically, the ST-Line engines are a bit more powerful than standard models with have sharper styling, but neither engines nor styling are as radical as the ST version.

Frankly I don't like this halfway house and the Kuga ST-Line was the only one to impress, but at a price. The Focus ST-Line test model was €29,125 and felt a bit shoddy while the Fiesta was pleasant and only €21,750 - but was a lamb in wolf's clothing.

Ford has talked a lot recently about connectivity and is very proud of its Sync system for communications on board. Perhaps that has all been too much of a distraction and it hasn't been producing the really good cars it was previously renowned for. Last Tuesday the company had invited me to the game against Serbia at the Aviva. Unfortunately, I couldn't go. Afterwards when hearing Martin O'Neill talk about his need for a striker, a new young Robbie Keane, I couldn't help but feel that Ford are in the same boat. Maybe the new Fiesta will score for them. We'll see.

Sunday Independent

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