More power and new look for the Stang, here later this year
What it is: The most steroidal colt in Ford’s stable, with a higher number in its name and more power under the hood than any other production Mustang.
WITH MORE AND more people shifting from hatchback; to SUVs, it’s a good time for Ford to give its four-year-old Kuga a facelift. The only major mechanical change is the addition of a new 1.5-litre diesel engine to replace the old entry-level 138bhp 2.0-litre unit Available with front-wheel drive only, the new diesel should be the most frugal in the updated range. Continue reading “Ford Kuga Gets Updated Styling, New Tech And Improved Suspension”
Performance Fords and aftermarket tuning are such natural companions that it’s hard to be sure where one ends and the other begins. In the case of Mountune, a kind of semi-official tuning arm to Ford in the UK, the line is even blurrier. What’s clear, though, is that the new Focus RS is ripe for modification.
I had a reason to drive the old stager all that way. Ford is unveiling the new Fiesta in a glitzy show inside the Cologne factory where soon it’ll start going down the production line.
Shivering in a windswept car park next to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in near sub-zero temperatures, we watch as a pair of the USAir Force’s finest fighting machinery, F-22 Raptors, slingshot into the crystal blue winter sky out of Nellis Air Force base. Engines on full reheat, every metallic sinew stretched to near breaking point in their quest to gain altitude and speed as quickly as possible.
The Fiesta’s gone all upmarket, so Ford’s given us this to fill the entry-level void. It’s called the Ka+, but it shares little with its namesake. That was a teapot-like, three-door hatch that was as much fun to drive as it was quirky and inventive.
The Ford Mustang has been awarded just two stars out of five by Euro NCAP in its crash safety tests. The result marks the first time a model from a prominent manufacturer has received such a low rating since 2008.
The iconic car performed poorly in a frontal offset test, which is designed to emulate an impact with an oncoming vehicle. Euro NCAP, which assessed the Mustang 5.0 GT coupe, described the driver and passenger airbags as “inflating insufficiently to properly restrain occupants”.
In a full-width frontal test, a crash test dummy in the back seat of the Ford slid under its seatbelt after belt pre-tensioners and load limiters failed to work effectively. In a side impact test, a child-sized dummy hit its head on interior trim because the curtain airbag failed to provide sufficient cushioning.
The Mustang was awarded 72% for adult occupant safety, 32% for child occupant safety, 64% for pedestrian safety and just 16% for its safety assist features.
The results in Europe contrast with those achieved by the Mustang in the US, where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the car a maximum five-star rating.
“Ford did not expect Euro NCAP to test the Mustang and chose not to fit safety technology in Europe that is available to American consumers” said Euro NCAP boss Michiel van Ratingen.
In response, Ford said any Mustang ordered after May will come with extra safety kit, including pre-collision assist and autonomous emergency braking.
Ford has confirmed its gt supercar produces 647bhp and 550lb ft, enabling it to reach a top speed of 216mph.
That makes this the fastest Ford yet. Its turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 generates 90% of its peak torque from 3500rpm.
INTERIOR – The familiar Focus cabin feels pretty dour compared to its Euro rivals. That said, there are plenty of soft-touch surfaces and it feels like it’s built properly – there aren’t any errant squeaks or rattles like Fords of old. Slim racing seats and a lot of RS badging remind you that you’re in the most potent Focus but, at the speeds it can carry, you’re best off looking out the windscreen.
Don’t write this test off as unrepresentative of a UK car, because despite wearing German registration plates, this flagship S-MAX Vignale is actually right hand drive, with the same specification as the cars arriving now at Ford stores. This new top-of-the-range S-MAX is the second model in the new Vignale line-up to go sale, designed to elevate ambiance to a new level. In addition to extra chrome embellishments and an octagonal meshed front grille to the outside, there’s a similar shape for the leather upholstery and a hide-covered dashboard. Work has been carried out on enhancing refinement, including the inclusion of noise cancelling technology.
Additional equipment includes those electrically adjusted leather seats, a reversing camera, adaptive LED headlights and mood lighting for the £2,700 price difference over a Titanium Sport specification car. Add those features to the lower specification car and there’s just a £450 price difference between it and the Vignale, which seems reasonable for the many enhancements.
The seven-seat S-MAX was already a good basis for the Vignale treatment, and we reckon it’ll be more popular than the Mondeo Vignale. The 177bhp 2.0-litre TDCi engine provides decent acceleration off the line, with good overtaking ability, and was mated to the silky smooth six-speed manual gearbox in our test car. While the engine is chattery from the outside when cold, occupants won’t hear a peep out of it. And the inevitable sound from the wind for a vehicle this size and shape is nicely muted, with very little noise from the tyres. Ride comfort is pretty good, too, even with the optional 19-inch alloy wheels. At slow to medium speeds the bumps are soaked up nicely, with only deep craters resulting in a jolt. The S-MAX has always been one of the most entertaining multi-purpose vehicles on the road, designed to give hot hatch buyers something to aspire to once they have children. Accurate, well-weighted steering delivers plenty of feedback, while exceptional body control and minimal body lean means it doesn’t wallow around corners like so many other seven-seaters. It’s the ultimate large family choice for the enthusiastic driver.
The leather covering to the dashboard and doors lifts the ambiance enormously, though it’s a shame that the glovebox door and the plastics lower down are still hard. An elevated driving position gives the driver and passengers a good view out, and thanks to deep windows and parking sensors fitted as standard, manoeuvring in tight spaces is fuss-free. Leg and headroom is plentiful for front and middle row passengers, and thanks to a wide cabin and three individual seats that recline, slide and fold, it’s possible for a trio of occupants to spread out in comfort. For the sixth and seventh chairs, they are best suited to children, or short journeys. Even with all seats in place, there’s 285 litres of luggage room, which is a larger space than you’ll find in some superminis. But fold the third row down and it opens up to an enormous space that is deep and wide, with a low loading sill.
One million. That’s how many configurations Vauxhall boasted you could choose between with its peak-personalisation fest, the Adam. Ford’s latest city car – according to our maths – offers 22.
Despite the first Ka going big on style, the latest model, the Ka+, is a rehashed version of a function-over-form South American budget car, a la EcoSport. Unlike the hideous faux-by-four that preceded it, however, Ford promises that it’s actually finished this one before shipping it over.
As a result, the new model boasts a sprinkling of Fiesta parts all thoroughly recalibrated for their new home, with two 1.2-litre petrol engines – offering 69bhp and 84bhp – and a mere two trim levels to deliberate over.
Top-spec Zetec models pack useful kit including air conditioning, cruise control, a digital radio and 15-inch alloys for a smidgen over £10k in 84bhp form. More importantly, this version is cheaper to finance than the entry-level 69bhp Studio car at a very affordable £151 per month over three years (with a £1000 deposit).
And it’s certainly plenty of car for the money. The Fiesta parts do the trick, with meaty, direct steering, tidy body control allied to smooth but tightly damped ride and just enough poke – in its more powerful incarnation – to make it fun to drive.
Comfortable seats, strong refinement levels and surprising amounts of space – four six-footers should fit – meanwhile, make the Ka+ a sound only car for those on a budget.
The Ka may be nothing like it used to be, but it’s still just as good as it ever was.
Ford Ka +
Engine: 1196cc 16v 4-cyl
Power: 84bhp @ 6300rpm
Torque: 83lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 105mph
On sale: Now
The surprise is how likeable it is
Time to trade in the family wagon?
Ford Focus RS: Greeted with more enthusiasm than the much-delayed Second Coming, the Focus RS goes four- wheel drive for better traction with rally fantasists. First RS with Ecoboost power, but don’t tell anyone.
Honda Civic Type R GT: Soon to die a glorious death but going out fighting. First Type R turbocharged VTEC wrapped in a Boeing factory’s annual output, with underlying sensible Civic core intact. Sort of.
Cheap as chips or sell the kids?
Ford Focus RS: Expensive for a Ford but cheap for a 165mph hot hatch. £31k will get your bum on the standard seats but £1145 delivers Recaro chairs that acquaint your head with the ceiling.
Honda Civic Type R GT: Strong on bang for buck in GT form with only mildly-tarting options available. You can’t buy four-wheel drive or an auto ‘box at any price, but yoof respect comes free of charge.
Everything in its place or waste of space?
Ford Focus RS: You can fit a family in here without recourse to a shoehorn. Adults won’t enjoy sitting behind the mighty shelled buckets unless they’re big into Ninja Turtle fantasies.
Honda Civic Type R GT: Big front seats suck up space but Type R will still swallow hard. Weirdly, rear seat only has two belts so place least-favourite child in the middle.
Luxury palace or Crystal Palace?
Ford Focus RS: Mid-table for the RS. A decent haul of kit but it smacks of S-Max in here, with sturdy rather than lovely materials. Handy if you’re planning on Loebing it around.
Honda Civic Type R GT: Plastics now feeling a bit London rather than Rio although no shortage of tech. Sat-nav one to hide from your mates. Red seats very much a matter of taste, or lack thereof.
Nuclear powerstation or lacking motivation?
Ford Focus RS: Mustang-derived 2.3 Ecoboost gets Cosworth intervention to give a strong and vocal 345bhp, forum bragging rights and 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. Expect to have your sexuality challenged at every red light.
Honda Civic Type R GT: Turbo and VTEC like a match made on Blind Date; you wouldn’t naturally put them together but somehow it works out a week later. Grunty, spikey, likely to live on.
Handles on rails or railing on the handles?
Ford Focus RS: No Ed Balls mode but the Focus RS can tango as well as rhumba. Hates understeer, grips like a rejected adoptee in Track mode and will even engage Drift. Serious.
Honda Civic Type R GT: Front wheels rarely short of something to do while rears always keen to get involved. R+ mode needs the right conditions. Never dull, not for the soft of behind.
Ford Focus RS
Engine: 2261cc turbo 4-cyl
Power: 345bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 347lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic with manual, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 165mph
On sale: Now
Honda Civic Type R GT
Engine: 1996cc turbo 4-cyl
Power: 306bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque: 295lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 168mph
On sale: Now
Ford Focus RS:
Carries doughnuts, does doughnuts. Expect nodding respect from baseball caps everywhere. 5/5
Honda Civic Type R GT:
Hard and fast, if you like that sort of thing. Still vaguely sensible and good value, soon to be reborn. 4/5
Tracing the glorious line between Capri and Mustang
You’ll have heard this factoid before, but we’ll say it again – back in the mid-Sixties it took Ford less than two years to sell million Mustangs. It wasn’t especially advanced, but it was good-looking, fast, cheap and practical enough to capture middle America’s imagination. Ford quite rightly deduced that such a car would do well in across the pond too, so just a few months after the Mustang’s April 1964 launch it greenlit Project Colt – kick-starting the development of a proper two-door coupe tailored to the most peculiar tastes of us Europeans.
The finished article emerged in 1969, five years later. Capri was its name, and it was ‘’The car you always promised yourself”, or so the ads claimed. On purpose it was (and remained until production of the MkIII ceased in the late Eighties) the closest thing to a Mustang that was readily and officially available in the UK. Powertrain and trim options were many and varied, just like its Yankee cousin. And prices were low. The MkI began at $1000 in 1969, with the 52bhp 4cyl pinched from the Escort (0-62mph in 23.0secs. Really). In today’s money, that’s around $16,000. The Capri was even sold in the US and Canada (and Australia and New Zealand) for a few years through Lincoln/Mercury dealers. In all, Ford sold something like 1.9 million.
Ford didn’t offer a proper rear-drive, two-door blue-collar coupe in Europe for decades post-Capri (no, the GT doesn’t count). The Probe and Cougar that succeeded it were front-wheel-drive and, if we’re honest, a bit tragic, and the (admittedly brilliant) Puma was just a Fiesta in a fancy frock. But with the announcement of the 2015 Mustang came the news that, for the first time ever, Ford would sell a right-hand-drive pony car in the UK – one specifically tailored for the UK’s uniquely terrible roads. The news was met, predictably, with much fanfare, and the selling of many thousands of cars. Mostly V8s.
For the first time since the demise of the Capri, Brits can walk into a Ford dealer wallet in hand, and drive out in a meaty, rear-drive coupe. And the Capri is indeed meaty. This one’s a 280 Brooklands, the last of 1,038 built to tie up just shy of two decades’ worth of Capri production. With only 160bhp from 2.8 litres, it’s not the quickest thing by modern standards. But the delivery is lusty, lazy, and the sound sonorous and reassuring. There’s an inherent Eighties-ness to it that’s hard to look past, however. The brakes don’t really work, the gearlever’s throw feels like a full foot and a half, and the interior – while improved by them well-set Recaros of the 280 – isn’t all that. To drive it feels… old-fashioned, in the best possible way. Slow, heavy-set steering discourages quick corner entry, but the whole experience is a satisfyingly compelling one.
Today’s Mustang is a sharper thing. By no means a dynamic tour de force, but for an ostensible muscle car, really quite good. Neutral, with decent steering and enough provocation from the 5.0-litre V8 to hurtle it along at whatever speed takes your fancy. It’s good, and most importantly, relatively affordable.
But above all it’s a survivor. The Capri may have lasted for 18 years, but the Mustang, well that’s still going strong after 52. Iconic barely covers it.
Ford has revealed it will introduce more rugged-looking ‘Active’ versions of its cars. Joseph Bakaj, vice president for product development at Ford of Europe, confirmed the news after the unveiling of the Fiesta Active, due to arrive in 2017.
The Active edition appeared as one of four ‘styles’ of the new Fiesta at the car’s debut in Cologne, alongside ST-Line, Titanium and Vignale. Active brings raised ride height and extra body cladding, giving the car the look of an SUV without any real prospect of additional off-road ability.
Ford’s European boss Jim Farley said he does not expect the Fiesta Active to impact sales of the firm’s Nissan Juke rival, the EcoSport, explaining. “I don’t envisage there being any real crossover between Fiesta Active customers and EcoSport buyers.”
The appeal of a ready-to-race GT4 racecar directly from the manufacturer isn’t hard to see – just look at Porsche’s deliciously agile and balanced Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
Ford chose SEMA to debut its significantly hairier Mustang GT4 racer, complete with 5.2-litre V8 and, like the Cayman, an idiot-proof six-speed paddleshift transmission. The GT4 Mustang should prove less wayward than the road car thanks to chassis tweaks by Ford GT masterminds Multimatic, lift-banishing aero and race-developed ABS.
Ssang Yong Tivoli 1.6 EXG
Power: 126 hp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 160 Nm @ 4,600rpm
SsangYong has made a comeback to the Philippine market after being handled by less-than-able companies in the past. Under the stewardship of Berjaya Auto Philippines, the Korean carmaker faces far brighter prospects in the local auto industry. I found the Tivoli, an unknown vehicle, very interesting and it definitely impresses with its specs and price!
- Mini Countryman look-alike
- Great customer service
- Decent trunk space
- Untested longevity
- Unknown performance
- Limited service centers
Nissan Juke 1.6 Upper
Power: 114 hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 154 Nm @ 4,000rpm
After our brief visit to SsangYong on Quezon Avenue, we walk over to the Autohub Group-owned Nissan High Performance Center. This establishment is the only authorized service center for the recently launched R35GT-R. While we don’t check out the GT-R, we do take a closer look at the Juke, which is becoming a huge hit for the young and young at heart searching for a fun-looking crossover.
- Within budget
- Exciting but economical
- Fresh brand presence
- Very small trunk
- Low rear headroom
- Questionable resale value
Ford EcoSport 1.5 Titanium
Power: 108 hp @ 6,300rpm
Torque: 142 Nm @ 4,500rpm
Ford EDSA is slowly becoming a regular stopover due to its convenient location and proximity to other dealerships. The American carmaker’s cute and popular EcoSport is winning the hearts and garage space, particularly of the fairer sex. And owning a Ford nowadays has never been easier thanks to aggressive pricing, special deals and discounts, and freebies. There’s a readily available supply of EcoSports, too.
- Cool features like sunroof
- Initially feels underpowered
- Parts availability issue
- The smallest in the group
Isuzu MU-X LS-A 4×2 2.0 VGS AT
Power: 161 hp @ 3,200rpm
Torque: 380 Nm @ 1,800-2,200rpm
Technically speaking, the MU-X shouldn’t be on this list because it’s much bigger and well over the budget. But the MU-X seems to offer the best value for money, for a 4×2 automatic variant. The biggest selling point of the MU-X is that Isuzu diesels last forever, and are also super-efficient.
- Diesel powertrain
- Biggest cargo space
- Very good ground clearance
- Well over the budget
- Difficult to get in and out of
- The biggest in the group
It’s the sunrise at Bondi Beach that blows me away, and not the prospect of seeing topless young ladies sprawled on that pristine strip of sand. First, Sydney in August is way too chilly, and the only people on the beach at the break of dawn are doing aerobic exercises. Second, I probably wouldn’t notice if there was any nudity, anyway. As the sun rises from behind the horizon, the sky explodes in a burst of color. And lined up under the crimson mist is a Ford Focus fleet, ready to be taken on a two-day road trip in and around the coast of New South Wales.
„Eat, Play, Drive Australia” is the name of this event, and unlike the usual ride-and-drive programs that we attend, we can go at our own pace and take in the sights at leisure. No fast convoys and no rushing to get to a destination at a certain time. It’s a format that is right up my alley, especially since I don’t want to be in the same group with rowdy drivers consumed by a need for speed. I’ve been pulled over by police for being mistaken as a speeder in the past, and this scenario is likely when all of you are driving the same model car.
Paranoid about being hauled into jail in a foreign country, I am also glad that we can choose our own routes. All my driving partner and I have to do is select the preset waypoints on the Ford SyncNavigation system and follow the directions. It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, we would have had to rely on a map or pace notes with kilometer readings to get around. Discovering Sydney is sure to be a breeze.
You’re probably expecting a strange twist to happen here, but no, there are no untoward incidents at all.
In fact, the entire drive is sublime. We start in the suburbs and end up by the coast, and after enjoying the view at La Perouse, it’s time to head into the mountains where the road is even more to my liking.
Royal National Park is a forest paradise with smooth asphalt that snakes on forever. This is perfect for the nimble Focus, which has always been a joy to drive when the going gets twisty. It must be the rally-bred genes that are still so evident in the current iteration of the car. I pop it into Manual mode, of course, and hold the gears at high revs through every corner. If you love driving, you will never tire of this.
After some tea by the side of a picturesque lake, followed by a barbecue lunch on Coledale Beach, there’s more great driving to Peppers Manor House, an opulent country home where we are to spend the night. We don’t hit the sack without first testing the hands-free parking feature of the Focus with all the windows blacked out, though. It’s handy, if you choose to use it.
The next day is a drive back to Bondi Beach, with stop overs at the Bendooley Estate,which has an excellent secondhand bookstore; the Burragorang Lookout, which overlooks a massive valley; Cafe 2773, which serves arguably the best burgers in Sydney; andthe Regatta Centerto experience the Focus in a racing environment. An adrenaline-filled wet slalom is the perfect way to cap the two-day driving adventure.
When it comes to cars, the Land Down Under is known for being big on displacement. That series called Formula 1?Just a bunch of silly dinky toys, say the Aussies. The V8 Supercars Championship is the premier racing series here, and where the real action is. It’s an endless battle between the Ford Falcon and the Holden Commodore, and the entertainment value is unmatched. And then there are the guys who are into hardcore 4×4 rigs, ready to drive off into the Australian bush on a self-sustaining yet perilous adventure. Yup, Australians are big on cars.
“The Focus punches above its weight and can hold its own with ease”
But the Focus punches above its weight and can hold its own with ease. I have tokeep reminding myself that under the hood is al.S-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine. The power delivery could havefooledme into thinking that there’sbigger displacement at my disposal. Imagine, all 178hp and240Nm from a relatively small mill. Talk about shocking. It really is an enthusiast’s machine.
„We wanted to show how good the car really is, and that’s pretty much why we made this event,’’ shares Eddie Sleiman of Ford Motor Company Australia. He’s a man of few words, obviously, but his product speaks for itself. Pretty excellent that we have the same car available in the Philippines. I guess no matter where you are in the world, and no matter what the backdrop is, the Focus will always be right at home.
New five-door supermini mounts an assault on the budget, sub-Fiesta arena
The Ford Ka+ is the full stop at the end of an experiment in city car making that began – quite promisingly – 20 years ago with the original Ka. But having sold almost half a million examples of the Fiesta-based trend-setter over its 12-year lifespan, Ford turned to a joint venture with Fiat for the Ka’s 2008 replacement – a follow-up that had much less of the quirky appeal of its forebear and proved only a fraction as popular.
Now, with its attention on more lucrative growth areas of the global market than Europe, Ford has decided that it’s not worth investing in the technology needed to stay in the niche where the likes of the Volkswagen Up, Renault Twingo, Fiat Panda and Hyundai i10 compete. Instead, it’s offering us a car that shares about as much with the first Ka as Jeremy Clarkson does with Jeremy Corbyn.
The Ka+ is a slavishly conventional full-sized five-door supermini built in India, designed with practicality, simplicity and unadorned value for money squarely in mind and offered with a choice of 69bhp and 84bhp 1.2-litre petrol engines. Developed on Ford’s global supermini platform and sharing much with the current Fiesta, it’s a meat-and-potatoes small car that will take Ford into the territory that Skoda, Kia and Hyundai are abandoning as they move upmarket. And yet, as bargain small cars go, the Ka+ is pretty good.
The Ka+ is an unadventurous but credible small car turned out with an encouraging dash of dynamic polish – as well as with the appealing price needed to go up against the likes of the Dacia Sandero and MG 3.
Available from £8995, the Ka+ doesn’t have the jaw-dropping entry-level window sticker of the Dacia, but it’s a close match for the MG. Moreover, it’s much better to drive than the previous Indian-built small car brought to us by the One Ford philosophy, the Ecosport.
Shorter but taller than the Fiesta, the Ka+ offers generous cabin space. Ford has traded a bit of boot space for cabin length relative to a typical supermini and opted for a slightly raised seating position. So boot space is a bit scant at 270 litres, but occupant space is good in both rows.
The interior fittings arc plain but no disgrace. Fascia mouldings are uniformly hard yet not too shiny or easily marked and they’re broadly well finished. And although some of the switchgear appears dated, most of it looks and feels robust.
Only one or two omissions betray the Ka+’s bargain-basement status. The front passenger seat has no cushion height adjustment and is stuck in an annoyingly perched-up position, and there are no interior grab handles, coat hooks or rear door pockets. But that aside, standard equipment isn’t bad. Entry-level Studio models get electric front windows, central locking, stability control, a speed limiter, an AM/FM radio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a handy integrated smartphone dock. Alloy wheels, air conditioning,a DAB radio and cruise control are the preserve of Zetec trim.
Ford left little to chance when updating the Ka+’s running gear to suit European expectations on ride and handling, fitting not just shorter suspension springs and uprated dampers to Indian-spec cars but also firmer bushings, new steering gear, stiffer boron steel structural cross-members, a stiffer front subframe, Europcan-spcc tyres, fatter anti-roll bars up front, better cabin sealing and more sound deadening. What results is commendable: a more rounded and refined drive than you’ll find in most cut-price hatchbacks, with just a little bit of sporting keenness and poise.
The Ka+ clearly deserves a better engine, though. Ford’s new 1.2-litre Duratec petrol lump is quiet and smooth, but it doesn’t rev nearly as sweetly as the old Yamaha-designed 1.25-litre unit to which it’s related, and even in the more powerful of the two available state of tune it feels short on mid-range when driven through the relatively long intermediate gear ratios of the five-speed manual gearbox.
The controls are consistently weighted and pleasant to use, from weighty steering through a similarly weighted clutch pedal to a positive and precise gearlever.
On wet German roads, the grip of the 15in wheels and Continental tyres was very respectable. Body control was surprisingly good, its steering slick and direct and its ride quiet and supple, with an edge of rubbery tautness that smacks of careful tuning and close attention to dynamic detail.
Although it’s by no means unappealing to look at, the Ka+ has a noticeable shortage of the style and charm that existing Ka owners may expect of it. Really, this car deserved a clean-slate start in life and a new identity. But there’s certainly a lot to praise here; it’s an appealing bargain package for those who’d simply prefer their family’s second-car budget to go a bit further. To put it simply, this is a better £10,000 car than you’ll find elsewhere.
Ford Ka+ 1.2TI-VCT 85 ZETEC
Rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini, but don’t expect the character of the cheeky Ka
Engine: 4cyls, 1198cc, petrol
Power: 84bhp at 6300rpm
Torque: 83lb ft at 4000rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1055kg
Top speed: 104mph
Economy: 56.5mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 114g/km, 19%
Rivals: MG3 3Form Sport, Dacia Sandero Laureate Tce 90
Swish range-topping trim level is an attempt to take Ford’s facelifted SUV upmarket
The new Ford Kuga Vignale is a retaliative swipe at the likes of Audi, BMW and Land Rover (all of whom have been making lots of money out of Europe’s growing love affair with the SUV, thank you very much) by one of Europe’s biggest car makers (still hoping to do equally well out of it, fingers crossed). It’s the best reason that Ford can come up with not to buy an Audi Q3, a BMW X1, a new Volkswagen Tiguan or a lower-end Range Rover Evoque. And yet it’s not quite a good reason.
Having just given the Kuga a thorough mid-life facelift, Ford is banking on a healthy dose of extra standard equipment here, as well as some new quilted leather seats, shiny alloy wheels and relatively appealing personal finance deals, to transform its five-seat SUV into a credible alternative to premium brands.
There are precisely no meaningful mechanical differences between a Kuga Titanium X and a Vignale. Instead, the Vignale gives you almost everything worth having from the options list (park assist, a powered tailgate, adaptive headlights and an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system, for starters), as well as lots of Windsor leather, for a price that should still look like value next to a similarly equipped Audi or BMW.
The Kuga’s lesser engines aren’t part of the Vignale range, but you can choose between I80bhp 1.5-litre turbo petrol, 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel and 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel powerplants, as well as automatic and manual gearboxes.
Ford would be quick to add that, like its other Vignale models, the Kuga goes through 100 extra quality checks during assembly compared with a regular model. It’s
dusted with ostrich feathers prior to painting, for heaven’s sake. So what more, exactly, could the company have done to be worthy of that splash of cash?
Like its range mates, the Kuga Vignale is an agile and often encouraging kind of SUV to drive. There’s a bit of elasticity to the steering feel and an occasional clunkiness to the ride quality over harsher urban roads on optional 19in wheels. But it blends a taut yet compliant ride with direct, darty directional response, strong body control and good grip levels, constructing a keen sense of dynamism that’s rare in a car of this kind.
However, the 178bhp 2.0 diesel engine is noisy at high revs compared with the premium brand opposition, and the dual-clutch automatic gearbox can be a bit clumsy and slow to kick down. Acceleration feels fairly strong, but it’s no surprise to discover that this Kuga gives up more than two seconds to its German-branded rivals on the claimed 0-62mph sprint.
The Kuga Vignale’s leather front seats are comfortable and tactile, but the rear ones are still rather thin in the cushion, and space in both rows could be better. And for every material highlight and flourish around the cabin, there’s also a dull, hard plastic moulding or a flimsy bit of trim to burst the bubble of luxury you’d momentarily been enjoying. In a £25k car, those cheaper materials maybe okay, but they’re difficult to forgive in a £35k one.
Ford’s new Sync3 infotainment system also leaves a mixed impression. Navigation mapping is displayed at a more useful scale than before on the 8.0in screen and the addition of smartphone mirroring systems for Apple and Android phones is long overdue. But the system responds only reluctantly when you try to pinch and swipe your way around its maps and its online connectivity options are still limited.
Although that poised, precise drive is as distinguishing and likeable as ever, the Kuga is out of its depth at a near-£35,000 showroom price.
At a lower price point, avoiding the Powershift transmission, the Kuga still makes a competitive case for keener drivers. But as raw material for Ford’s already shaky-looking attempt to expand upmarket, it lacks the necessary class and polish.
Pseudo-premium Ford SUV has encouraging handling but lacks the completeness of its new-found rivals
Ford Kuga Vignale 2.0 TDCI 180 Powershift AWD
Engine: 4cyls, 1997cc, diesel
Power: 178bhp at 3500rpm
Torque: 295lb ft at 2000rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: 1716kg
Top speed: 124mph
Economy: 57.6mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 134g/km, 26%
Rivals: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0TDI 190, BMW X1 xDrive20d
THE FORD FOCUS RS500 super-hatch is on the verge of being canned because the business case for it looks weak. Although the project hasn’t yet been officially called off, sources give the RS500 only a 30% chance of making production. Ford had been planning to position the RS500 above the hugely successful 345bhp Focus RS by giving it a power hike to nearly 390bhp, track-focused handling and more aggressive styling. Sightings of a test car suggest the model’s development was already under way. However, the RS500 has run into some obstacles. One is where the RS500 will fit in with Ford’s other performance models – most notably, the 410bhp Mustang 5.0 V8GT and 526bhp Mustang Shelby GT350.
“It could be treading on other cars’ toes,” said a well-placed source. Overlap with the Mustangs is not such a problem for Ford of Europe, which believes there is a market for both the RS500 and the Mustang. However, in the US, this is understood to have put a question mark over the RS500 and whether Ford’s US dealer network wants the car. Autocar understands that without US sales, the RS500 project is struggling to hit its internal forecasts. Ford is understood to have looked at an ‘RS500 lite’, built around solely European sales, but the smaller budget would have cut back on its technical content. “Then it might dilute the RS brand,” another source told Autocar.
Time is also pressing on the decision, with the window to get the RS500 into production closing as the current Focus heads towards its run-out phase at the end of next year. Even the brilliant current RS, one of Autocar’s few five-star cars, took a huge effort to push through Ford’s strict new-model project gateways, Tyrone Johnson, the RS’s chief engineer, told Autocar in May that Ford product development chief Raj Nair made the difference and won over Ford bean counters with persuasive arguments in the project’s final meeting. Nair may need to work his magic once again and intervene to get the RS500 into production.