Ford Kuga Malaysia-spec Test Drive Review

Ford Kuga Malaysia-spec Test Drive Review

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Previously, Ford’s presence in the mid-size crossover SUV segment was sustained by two distinct models, namely the Escape and the Kuga. The Kuga was a Ford Europe product based on the Focus’ platform. Most of countries in other parts of the world, Malaysia included, received the Escape, and in North America, the Escape nameplate is used by a third unrelated model, also an SUV.

Such redundant variety is incompatible with Ford’s current corporate philosophy, which is to streamline its model line-up as much as possible, and this led to the creation of the all-new global Ford Kuga, which merges the Kuga and Escape model line into one. Like the previous Kuga, the new one continues to operate Focus underpinnings, but Ford has stretched its dimensions to ensure that in markets where size matters (read: North America), it will prove to be a suitable replacement to the Escape.

The Kuga retains the Escape name in markets that profess a strong affiliation to the nameplate and Malaysia is clearly not such a market. The Escape hardly created a dent in our market and Ford is now hoping to make a new start in our market with a new name.

Price & Specs

At just a ringgit short of RM160k, the Kuga’s pricing undercuts the RM170k Honda CR-V 2.4 and nothing else as far as five-seater SUVs are concerned. Closest to it would be the Mazda CX-5 4WD at RM154k and the Hyundai Tucson 2.4 Premium at RM159k, all prices quoted being on-the-road inclusive of insurance. The Kuga clearly aims to position itself at the upper end of its segment, and the good news is that Ford armed it with sufficient firepower to make a considerable statement.

Equipment-wise, Malaysia-spec versions of the Kuga do not come with the full array of goodies that Ford offers in other markets, but rest assured there is enough left to impress. Keyless entry, push-start button, and Bluetooth integration are still not offered in as many vehicles as we would have liked, and no other vehicle in the same price range offers Voice Command or opens its tailgate for you.

Keyless entry.

Having said that, Ford inexplicably left out the reverse camera, which is now standard in the segment’s three Japanese heavyweights, namely the Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, and Mazda CX-5. In overseas models, the reverse camera is bundled together in what Ford calls the Technology Package, and this is something we urge local Ford distributors Sime Darby Auto Connexion (SDAC) to make available at least as a cost option.

Mechanically, the Kuga is built on the same Ford Global-C platform underpinning the current Focus. Suspension is independent all-round with Ford’s trademarked Control Blade multi links locating the rear wheels. Powered by Ford’s 1.6-litre turbocharged EcoBoost T4 engine, the Kuga thankfully features all-wheel drive as standard (overseas markets have the FWD option), but interestingly, rather than the Powershift dual clutch gearbox, the Kuga gets a conventional automatic. Diesel models overseas get the wet clutch version of the Powershift ‘box.

Centre console has only two cupholders and a lidded box. Limited storage space overall.


Internationally, Ford offers the Kuga in three trim levels, starting with the entry-level Ambiente and on to the mid-spec Trend and high-end Titanium models. Malaysia gets the Kuga with a Titanium badge, but its array of kit falls in a middle ground between the Trend and Titanium variants. External appointments correspond to the Titanium model, with illumination provided by LED tail lamps and HID headlights.

Alloy rims measure 17 inches as opposed to 19 in the Titanium test cars which we tried during the Kuga’s international media drive in Australia. We applaud the SDAC product team’s call to specify a downsized rims on both costing and dynamic grounds. To start with, bigger tyres are more expensive to replace and consume more fuel; also, in the Kuga’s case, the harsh ride quality felt in units tested with 19-inch rims is not a worthwhile tradeoff for the sake of vanity.

Much has been said about the Kuga’s handsfree opening tailgate that it does not bear repeating the description on how it works. A lot of people we spoke to were nevertheless concerned about the system’s security, worrying that unsavoury characters will gain access to the vehicle at a traffic light. The simple answer to this is that without the key fob within the tailgate’s proximity (not even inside the vehicle), you can kick the bumper till kingdom come and the rear hatch will still not open.


In our earlier review, we noted the overall similarity of the Kuga’s dash with the Focus, praising its design and but not being very complimentary about its ergonomics. Our opinion on this matter remains unchanged, but we will add in a couple of observations with regards to Ford’s choice of materials – the dashboard’s top piece feels pleasingly soft to the touch, but the dark plastics surrounding the gear lever area do not contribute to a flattering ambiance. No complaints on overall fit and finish though.

Moving to the back, there is a pleasing amount of legroom to report, and as you would expect, the rear seats fold down to facilitate an extension of the cargo bay. Ford’s one-touch folding mechanism also operates with convincing slickness, although by neglecting to offer a rear-mounted release latch, it remains second-best to the Honda CR-V in overall execution. With the seats folded down, there is the further option of raising the rear deck to create a flat floor.

Legroom is comparable to the Honda CR-V, and the one-touch folding seats are almost as good.

Driving Experience

Anybody with the unique requirements of wanting a sports car but needing an SUV will find the Kuga to be a very appealing compromise. Its 1.6-litre EcoBoost T4 engine packs considerable firepower at its disposal and emits a wonderfully sporty engine note whilst flexing its muscles. Outputs, for the record, are 177hp and 240Nm, and our local test car seemed more responsive and muscular than the units we tested in Australia; those felt merely adequate.

With most of Ford’s passenger cars now fitted with dual clutch transmissions, the Kuga stands as the odd one out for using a conventional torque converter automatic gearbox. The 6-speed transmission combines well with the EcoBoost powertrain, delivering smooth and seamless but not exactly the quickest of gearshifts. The transmission’s control unit was also sufficiently intelligent that services of the ill-conceived rocker switch-operated manual override was not called upon. Diverging a little, there is a very compelling case for this transmission to be used in the Focus as well.

Road dynamics of the Kuga is very reminiscent of the Focus, which is no bad thing. Its poise at corners is impressive whether you take it in the context of a passenger car or SUV, and its resultant compromise in comfort are entirely acceptable. There is the typical European firmness to its ride, but bumps and potholes are soaked up exceptionally well. The Kuga’s dynamic prowess is simply unrivaled in the segment, although refinement remains second best behind both the X-Trail and CX-5. The Kuga is also surprisingly competent off the beaten track. We didn’t do any hard off-roading, but a brief run on gravel was taken well within its stride – its suspension comfortably handled the rough terrain underneath.

17-inch rims are a sensible choice. We tested the Kuga with 19-inch rims in Aussie with poor ride.


If utility is the be-all and end-all of your purchasing decision, then the CR-V and X-Trail remain more sensible purchases, although the Kuga is certainly not too far behind in this respect – there isn’t a generous distribution of small item storage compartments up front, but its one-touch folding rear seats and hands free tailgate release help it claw back some points. Availability of keyless entry as standard is another plus point, but the absence of a reverse camera must be rectified in due time.

Reverse camera aside, however, the Kuga is pretty generously equipped, and despite not being the cheapest in the segment, it is exceptional value for money when you consider what it has to offer – an advanced turbocharged direct injection engine and sophisticated electronic driving aids such as torque vectoring control, Intelligent AWD, Curve Control, and more. Like all of Ford’s current models, the Kuga’s driving dynamics remain its biggest selling point. It consequently appeals to buyers who enjoy their driving but with practical needs to attend to.



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