Following on from the larger Ford Edge SUV, it is now the turn of the Kuga crossover to get some beefed up exterior styling. In addition to bringing the looks up to date, Ford has introduced new engines, along with refreshed specifications including a range-topping Kuga Vignale model and the ST Line version tested here.
In the Metal:
The updates to the 2017 Ford Kuga are more noticeable than the majority of mid-cycle facelifts. Most obvious are the changes to the front, which now sports a broader grille. The similarities to the Ford Edge are clear, but it does bring a more uniform look to Ford's SUV line-up, which includes the smaller EcoSport, lest we forget. Along with the grille there are new LED headlights that give the car a more distinctive daytime running light signature. We had a good opportunity to test out the automatic high beam function during our drive and found it to work quite well - a must-have item for those living in rural areas. The Kuga's rear lights have also been given a makeover with a black border surrounding the light unit.
The Kuga ST Line is a sportier looking version, but one that also gets mechanical differences, which we'll cover below. The Kuga ST Line gains a sportier looking body kit consisting of body-coloured front and rear bumpers featuring a more defined diffuser, lower door cladding, a rear roof spoiler and roof rails. In addition to these, it sits 10mm lower than the regular Kuga and ST Line badging appears on the front wings.
Cosmetic changes to the interior aren't all that noticeable, the biggest being the introduction of Ford's new eight-inch SYNC 3 infotainment system. This new unit makes greater use of voice controls, so if you need to find a nearby coffee stop on the road you can do so by asking it with the press of a button on the new steering wheel. It reacts much faster to inputs whereas previous versions exhibited lag and were less intuitive to use. SYNC 3 also brings both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to the Kuga. Other new features include a heated steering wheel option. Regarding the rest of the cabin quality, it is about the middle of the road for the segment, but Ford still lags behind the class best when it comes to the quality of its interior materials. The plastics aren't the most tactile and the dot matrix display for the climate controls look dated at this stage. Most of it does feel durable and hard-wearing, but it lacks the aesthetic quality seen in the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
If you're looking for soft-riding SUV, you may want to look elsewhere in the Kuga range. In this Kuga ST Line, Ford has emphasised its sportier traits with stiffer suspension and a more weighted feel through the electronic power steering. The car still copes well with the usual lumps and bumps on the road, but the suspension does feel busier than in other models in the segment. If you usually find yourself driving on roads with poor surfaces, this is one version to skip. But when you do want to push on with increased pace the Kuga ST Line feels more than up to the job. Through faster and more free-flowing roads there isn't as much body roll as in other similarly-sized SUV models thanks to its uprated dampers and stiffer anti-roll bars. While the steering doesn't deliver massive levels of feedback it does feel reassuring as Ford has tweaked the setup to feel more weighted.
To match the sportier image of the Kuga ST Line, Ford has given the engine some added power. The 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine gets a boost to 180hp, which, mated with the six-speed manual gearbox and all-wheel drive transmission, makes for a brisk SUV in all conditions. The gear changes are positive though the throw across the gate is a touch on the long side for my liking. That new 180hp diesel does have greater elasticity, so rolling on the power in higher gears doesn't always require dropping a gear. Ford says it is capable of a combined consumption of 5.2 litres/100km, which, given its power output and all-wheel drive capability, isn't too bad. Ford's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system primarily sends power to just the front wheels, decoupling the rear axle until it is required. This setup means that for the vast majority of day-to-day driving the Kuga is a front-wheel drive SUV, but should you hit a patch of ice of mud, or indeed torrential rain or snowy conditions, drive is instantly sent to the wheels with the highest grip levels. Most drivers will never notice the system operating as it does so seamlessly, and it is always active, so there is no need for the driver to select a particular mode.
What you get for your Money:
Ford is still in the final stages of confirming Irish pricing for the new Kuga range, but prices are expected to increase by approximately €1,100 over the current model. We believe that Ford may make the larger SYNC 3 system a standard feature in the Kuga. There is expected to be four specifications available: Titanium, Titanium+, ST Line and Vignale.
The new Ford Kuga ST Line manages to tick a lot of boxes. The sportier styling will appeal to many, as will the more advanced technology on offer. A further boon to potential customers is the Intelligent All-Wheel Drive transmission, which doesn't seem to penalise fuel economy as much as other permanent all-wheel drive systems can do.