With its 177kW engine the Kuga ST-Line delivers almost hot-hatch performance. Picture: SUPPLIED
With its 177kW engine the Kuga ST-Line delivers almost hot-hatch performance. Picture: SUPPLIED

Ford pitches its Kuga as one of the sportier SUVs in the segment, particularly the 177kW petrol model that outguns all its rivals in the power stakes.

So the blue oval recently decided to ditch the Titanium badge in its two top Kuga petrol and diesel models, and replace them with the more athletic ST-Line trim grade.

It’s mostly a cosmetic treatment that gives Ford’s midsize SUV more styling zing, but the chassis and steering have also been tweaked for a more petrolhead-pleasing driving experience.

The black alloy wheels (standard in 18-inch size and optionally in 19 inch) make a bold styling statement, and the rest of the ST package also pushes the black-is-beautiful theme with its grille, rear diffuser, and roof rails all served up in Darth Vader’s favourite colour. The darkness continues with tinted front and rear lights and a black beltline beneath the windows.

A similar theme runs inside the cabin with its dark headliner and pillars, but it’s contrasted with some brighter bits in the form of alloy pedals and scuff plates, and metallic paint on the centre console. Further ST-Line touches include sports seats trimmed in suede and leather and contrasting stitching.

Owners can spice up the looks some more with an optional Styling Pack that includes a panoramic sunroof and a larger rear spoiler, in addition to the abovementioned 19 inch alloys. Extra money will also buy you High Intensity Discharge (HID) Bi-Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights.

Black alloys are part of a darkened-up style package. Picture: SUPPLIED
Black alloys are part of a darkened-up style package. Picture: SUPPLIED

Things are unchanged under the snout but the 2l petrol turbo hardly needed any extra urge with its 177kW and 340Nm, which gives unmatched bang for buck in this price range. The VW Tiguan 2.0 TSI 4Motion Highline comes closest in power outputs with its 162kW/350Nm, but at R577,500 it’s notably pricier than the R548,500 Ford.

The petrol 2l Kuga is a lively thing, unencumbered by significant turbo lag as it sets off from a standing start with a satisfying swiftness that will surprise some boy racers at the traffic lights. The six-speed auto plays its part with its slick and responsive nature, even more so when sport mode is selected.

This is no top-heavy SUV and the Kuga has curve-hugging handling to go with the spring in its step. As part of the ST-Line package the suspension gets thicker antiroll bars and a 10mm reduction in ride height for reduced body roll, while the steering is recalibrated for a more responsive feel.

The Kuga’s Intelligent AWD system monitors each wheel and increases or decreases the amount of torque to optimise grip and handling in all conditions.

It all comes together in a dynamically appealing package that eschews the traditional soggy feeling SUV driving experience. The tweaked suspension is firm but not jarring, and this sporty Kuga rides smooth enough to take on pothole- and speedhump-infested suburbia.

It’s a polished performer all round, with a refined engine and minimal noise and vibrations.

It all comes together in a dynamically appealing package that eschews the traditional soggy feeling SUV driving experience. The tweaked suspension is firm but not jarring, and this sporty Kuga rides smooth enough to take on pothole- and speedhump-infested suburbia.

It’s a polished performer all round, with a refined engine and minimal noise and vibrations.

Bucket seats with red stitching help to jazz up the interior. Picture: SUPPLIED
Bucket seats with red stitching help to jazz up the interior. Picture: SUPPLIED

The family-sized cabin has loads of rear legroom and backseat passengers are well catered for; they get their own air vents and a two-pronged 230V power socket for charging devices, and they can adjust the angle of the rear backrests for comfort.

The boot is sizeable (with the help of a spacesaver spare wheel) and the back seats flip down to expand the cargo bay to cavernous proportions.

Navigation is only available as an option, but otherwise this range-topping petrol Kuga comes standard with a lot of high-end kit including features like electronically adjusted driver’s seat, an electrically powered tailgate, seven airbags, and a rear parking camera (see full list in Tech Specs).

A thoughtful design feature is the cowl, which shades the infotainment touchscreen from the sun so you can see it better. A surprising number of car manufacturers haven’t cottoned on to this seemingly obvious idea yet.

Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional Driver Assistance Pack which includes a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Adaptive Cruise Control, Advanced Park Assist, and a Lane-keeping Aid with Lane-departure Warning.

While the other tech worked fine, the lane-keeping function performed intermittently and sometimes forgot to vibrate the steering wheel or apply steering torque, even when the car drifted over well-marked lanes.

Verdict

We could argue the logic of buying a vehicle with a raised ground clearance, then dropping the suspension to make it handle more like a hatchback —why not just get a hatchback in the first place?

But the market’s in love with SUVs and they’re here to stay. Within that realm the Ford Kuga ST-Line delivers SUV practicality with a sporting vibe and the best power in the segment, at quite a keen price too.


Ford Kuga 2.0 ST-Line EcoBoost AWD auto

We like: Performance, handling, price

We dislike: Dodgy lane-keeping system

Verdict: Great performance for the price


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: Four-cylinder petrol turbo

Capacity: 1,999cc

Power: 177kW

Torque: 340Nm

Transmission

Type: Six-speed automatic

Drivetrain

Type: Intelligent all-wheel drive

Performance

Top speed: N/A

0-100km/h: 7.8 seconds (claimed)

Fuel consumption: 8.6l/100 km/100km (claimed); 11.5l/100km  (as tested)

Emissions: 197g/km

Standard features

Sport suspension, electrically adjustable and folding mirrors, electric windows, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, Sony audio system with nine speakers, SYNC3 infotainment system with Bluetooth and voice control, 20cm colour touch screen and 2xUSB ports, partial leather seats, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, height- and reach-adjustable steering column, seven airbags, ABS brakes, Electronic Stability Programme, trailer stability function, tyre pressure monitoring, hill launch assist, front parking aid, rear parking camera, smart keyless entry, electrically powered tailgate, daytime running lights, automatic headlamps, rain sensor, 235/50 R18 alloy wheels

Warranty:  Four years/120,000km

Service plan:  Six years/90,000km

Price: R548,500

Lease*: R11,748 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit


Motor News star rating

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Performance * * * *

Economy * * *

Safety * * * *

Value for money * * * *

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Competition

VW Tiguan 2.0 TSI 4Motion Highline, 162kW/350Nm - R577,500

Mazda CX-5 2.5 AWD Individual, 143kW/257Nm - R557,900

Toyota Rav4 2.5 AWD VX, 132kW/233Nm - R545,100

Hyundai Tucson 1.6T Elite, 130kW/265Nm - R579,900