This 1.5-litre Ecoboost-engined version is the most powerful petrol-engined Kuga. The motor produces 180bhp and drives exclusively through all four wheels via a six-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox (diesels get a dual-clutcher). Considering it's an ST-Line, it promises much for the enthusiast.
Take a peek at the performance figures, however, and you might be surprised. It may be the most powerful variant of the range but the added weight of the 4WD system and auto ’box mean it’s beaten by a number of lesser models. Part of this problem is torque: the little 1.5-litre lump simply can’t produce enough of the stuff low down.
As a result you end up flogging the engine far harder than you might expect. At this point the performance is fine, but you can’t help thinking the extra muscle of the diesels is far more suitable for such a car. Being a traditional auto, it can be a little slow to shift when compared to the latest dual-clutch units.
The good news is that the transmission is at least smooth, slurring between ratios almost seamlessly; the bad is that it can take a couple of moments to kick down, then it holds the revs very high. To make matters worse, the engine sounds thrashy past 4000rpm, although at least it’s largely vibration-free.
It’s not all bad, though. The steering is reassuringly meaty, allowing you to accurately drive at speed without having to keep making the minor corrections imposed on you by some rivals. It also makes placing the nose of the Kuga easy, even if you’re pressing on.
You’ll also appreciate the additional resistance to roll that the ST-Line chassis brings. Turn-in is good and it feels agile changing direction. The downside is that on pockmarked asphalt the ride will jostle you around, which is something your passengers may not appreciate.
Inside, the dashboard is certainly less cluttered than before, while families will like the additional cubbyholes that the electric handbrake allows. The move to Sync 3 is a welcome upgrade, too; the screen is a bit bigger and sharper and the voice recognition software is improved. Even so, it doesn’t look as good as the Volkswagen Group's touchscreens and doesn’t work as well as the rotary dial-controlled systems such as the one you’ll find in a Mazda CX-5.
There are plenty of soft-touch materials in places you interact with regularly and the seats proved to be comfortable on an extended drive. Rear seat space isn’t as generous as that of some rivals, but you do at least get a reclining rear bench. As for the boot, there's a flat floor, no loading lip and the option of a gesture-controlled electric tailgate.