Ford's Kuga 1.6T ticks all the boxes
ROAD TEST: Ford Kuga 1.6T Trend
As much as they get snidely referred to as 'soft roaders' or 'pavement hoppers' it's hard to argue against how much sense a 4x2 crossover makes to the modern family buyer.
Practically all of the contenders in this segment boast generous interior space, a big-enough boot, a tower-over-traffic driving position and the ability to escape to the countryside and tackle some dodgy dirt roads without batting an eyelid.
Now Ford is staking a bigger claim in this neck of the woods with its new Kuga, which offers a wider range that extends to the more affordable end of the spectrum.
Yet apart from its chiselled styling that makes it arguably the best looker in this segment, the Kuga is armed with yet another advantage.
While all its rivals (besides the VW Tiguan) soldier on with normally aspirated 2-litre engines that make most of them perform rather sluggishly at Reef altitudes, the entry-level Kuga has an advanced new direct injection 1.6-litre turbopetrol mill from Ford's EcoBoost family.
The 4x2 version's outputs of 110kW at 5700rpm and 240Nm from 1600rpm are far from class-leading on paper but it's in the real world, high-altitude environment that its star really starts to shine.
The Ecoboost engine dashes off the line with practically nothing in the way of turbo lag and it sprints briskly through the rev range to offer performance that satisfies in every scenario, whether you're sprinting through town or overtaking on the open road.
Ford claims a 9.7 second 0-100km/h dash, which it certainly feels up to, although you'll have to add a few litres to the claimed fuel consumption figure of 6.6 litres per 100km.
Also satisfying is the general feeling you'll get from the helm. The steering feels communicative, the gearshift is smooth and solid and you look upon what's one of the better-finished dashboards in the segment. In fact the only contender that challenges it for upmarket ambience is the VW Tiguan.
The Trend model featured here is anything but stingy in the standard kit stakes, although it loses a few marks in my book for lacking satnav and a touch screen.
Nonetheless, it still comes with grippy leather-covered sports seats, dual zone automatic climate control, a nine-speaker Sony audio system, folding mirrors and rear parking sensors.
You'll have to live without the aforementioned features if you opt for the cheaper Ambiente model, but it still packs cruise control, keyless start with push button, six-speaker audio with Sync, Bluetooth and voice control, seven airbags and 17-inch alloys.
Speaking of generous, the Kuga has acres of rear legroom and a reasonably-sized boot that appears bigger than the 456 litre official measurement suggests.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of top-notch contenders in this ball park, but if I were to put my money where my mouth was, my wallet's vote would almost certainly go to the Kuga.
At R334 900, it is slightly more expensive than its rivals but factor in the features it offers, the practical and classy cabin and solid turbocharged performance and its sums eventually add up. It just feels right.
Yet if we're really crunching numbers for the best overall value, the 1.6T Ambiente (at R298 900) looks like the best deal in the range.
Ford Kuga 1.6T Trend (110kW) - R334 900
Hyundai ix35 2.0 Exec (122kW) - R329 900
Kia Sportage 2.0 (122kW) - R320 995
Mazda CX-5 2.0 Dynamic (114kW) - R344 100
Nissan Qashqai 2.0 Acenta (102kW) - R322 900
VW Tiguan 1.4 TSI (118kW) - R331 800