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ROAD TEST - Ford Kuga 2.5 AWD Titanium
Before you even consider buying a Ford Kuga, make sure you're comfortable with the fact that it's an old model brought to SA at the very end of its model cycle overseas, where the new one is already available in some places.
Still interested in the old one? Because of its short model cycle (the new one appears to have been rushed out in a kind of globalisation tactic) the current Kuga doesn't look or feel all that dated. Its exterior lines are still modern and sporty and the only thing I didn't like were its oversized 'bug eye' headlights.
Inside it evokes flashbacks to the previous-shape Ford Focus that it's based on - which is not an entirely bad thing. So while it might look a little dated inside, it's still in the deep end of the tactile quality gene pool.
The Titanium model on test here is particularly luxurious and fuss-free in its operation, coming with keyless start, cruise control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth with voice control and an electrically-adjustable driver's seat. Leather trim, of course, is also standard.
Practical in many ways, the Kuga offers generous rear legroom and while access to the boot is made easy by a split tailgate, the boot is rather small by segment standards, with a capacity of just 360 litres.
Despite the fact that it's fitted with a 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol engine that's very similar to the one that powered the previous Focus ST - but detuned to 147kW and 320Nm from 1600rpm - the driving experience is definitely more refined than sporty.
The Kuga's SUV aerodynamics and 1653kg kerb weight mean the engine's work is cut out and although it gives off a pleasing five-cylinder roar, it isn't particularly fast off the mark - even by petrol SUV standards.
It felt notably slower than the comparable Audi Q3 2.0T Quattro that I'd driven the previous week and when put against the clock at the Gerotek test facility in northern Gauteng, the Ford managed 9.3 seconds in the 0-100km/h run, versus the more eager Audi's 8-second achievement.
Still, the Kuga's performance is probably as much or more than most SUV buyers would ever require but I still feel that a diesel engine makes more sense in this application. That's something you just can't get - probably because there weren't any diesels among Ford Europe's leftover stock.
Fuel consumption, as you'd expect, is not a strong point - claimed to be 10.3 l/100km on the combined cycle but a bit heavier than that in real-world conditions.
What did impress me about the drive was how good the steering feels. Sure, it's a tad light but feels very accurate and intuitive and the Kuga's feeling of agility and stability is very good by SUV standards.
At just over R400 000, the Kuga 2.5 Titanium is not particularly affordable, but when looked at in relation to its rivals it does offer a good features count for the money and a satisfying driving experience. That said, you may be better off waiting for the new model and hoping it comes with a diesel engine.
Ford Kuga 2.5 AWD Titanium - R406 850
Audi Q3 2.0T quattro AT (125kW) - R421 500
Chev Captiva 3.0 LTZ AWD (190kW) - R454 600
Honda CR-V 2.4 Executive (122kW) - R426 200
Hyundai ix35 2.4 AWD GLS (130kW) - R339 900
Mazda CX-5 2.0 Individual (114kW) - R389 500
Nissan X-Trail 2.5 4x4 LE (125kW) - R424 925
Subaru Forester 2.5 XS Prem (126kW) - R399 000
VW Tiguan 2.0 TSI 4Motion (155kW) - R417 900