Knowing the Kugaâ€™s already four years old, youâ€™d think it would look and feel outdated. It simply doesnâ€™t, which is testament to how good a product it was in the first place. Ford of SA execs admit they debated the pros and cons of launching the current Kuga just as its global replacement was being revealed at the 2012 Detroit show. However, with that car more than a year away, the current Kugaâ€™s a good fit as a kind of halo model, filling a glaring void in Fordâ€™s local line-up â€“ having a 2.0-litre Focus as your range-topper just isnâ€™t on. Which explains why the Kuga goes on sale here in top drivetrain configuration and in suitably high spec. The engineâ€™s a detuned version of the stonking five-cylinder found in the old Focus ST. It pulls very strongly and cleanly from around 1500rpm, matched to a handy five-speed auto with a sport mode or manual tip-type shift. All four wheels are driven, with torque electronically shifted between axles when required. Ford claims a 10.3l/100km combined fuel consumption figure, but we suspect thatâ€™ll be tough to achieve.
Riding on 18-inch rims (Titanium model) reminiscent of Focus ST items, the Kugaâ€™s still a very attractive well-proportioned proposition. Itâ€™s only when parked alongside the latest Focus that you notice how Fordâ€™s kinetic design lingo has subtly evolved. However, compared to the opposition, the Kuga looks fresh and desirable. Itâ€™s a similar story inside, where the dash design looks a generation behind new Focus, but feels a quality item and is loaded with kit. Weâ€™d definitely opt for the Titanium, which includes electrically-adjusted, heated leather seats, 8-speaker Sony audio, Bluetooth and voice activated controls. Auto headlamps and rain-sensing wipers, traction control, six airbags. (Though much of that equipment is standard on the Trend as well.) Both models offer a 4-year/80000km service plan and a 4-year/120000km warranty.
Kuga scores high on practicality too, with a split tailgate, split rear seats that fold properly flat, tray tables and plenty of storage hidey holes. But itâ€™s the way it drives that impresses most. Like the previous Focus itâ€™s based on, the Kuga steers, handles and rides with great fluency and comfort. Itâ€™s just a pity the range is so limited. A cheaper front-wheel drive diesel would surely worry the opposition just a little more.
Look out for a full road test of the Kuga in topcar magazine soon.
FOR: Great visual package, strong on practicality and equipment, torquey motor and top dynamics versus ride comfort compromise
AGAINST: Range limited to high-end models. Late entry means short life cycle
PICK OF THE RANGE: Titanium spec offers slightly better value
ALTERNATIVE CHOICES: Honda CR-V 2.4 Exec A/T, Chevrolet Captiva 3.0 LTZ AWD, VW Tiguan 2.0TSI DSG, Renault Koleos 2.5 Dynamique 4×4, Kia Sorento 3.5
TOPCAR RATING: 8/10