From London to Wales on the prowl for music in the United Kingdom
By Steve Turner
Photos by Steve Turner and courtesy of Ford Motor Company
Those that are familiar with this author’s predilections know that when I am not obsessing about cars, I am most likely obsessing about music. So, when the opportunity to see a handful of European bands that I love at one small festival in Northern Wales presented itself, I decided to make my first trip to the UK.
If recent life events have taught me anything, it’s to live in the moment because you never know what’s around the next corner. I am also encouraging myself to take on some new challenges. Since I had never been to the United Kingdom and never driven on the other side of the road, I was anxious to give it a try. As such, I called on my friends at Ford of Europe to see if they had anything available for me to drive during my visit.
Unfortunately the Mustang hadn’t arrived in the UK yet and there wasn’t a Focus ST available. However, they did have a fresh addition to the press fleet in the form of a new Kuga Titanium X Sport powered by the recently upgraded Duratorq 2.0-liter diesel engine. It cranks out 180 ps and 400 newton-meters of torque, or about 177 horsepower and 297 lb-ft. Better yet, it is rated to get over 47 mpg around town and over 60 mpg on the highway.
Now, driving a right-hand-drive vehicle on the left side of the road is a challenge that I was totally up for. Driving one with a manual transmission took the difficulty level up a few notches, especially when my debut took place in the thick of London city traffic. Fortunately, the well-appointed Kuga carried satellite navigation, which was godsend. It deftly navigated me out of town and on the highway toward North Wales.
En route it was time to leave the highway and hit the back roads. These delightful paths were full of curves and elevation changes. Were I more familiar with driving on the left side of the road, they would have been paths I relished. For brief moments I felt like I was on Top Gear tearing up the twisties, but I was really just trying to keep pace with the swift locals.
Around town or into the roundabouts, it felt like I was learning to drive stick all over again. I’m right handed, so rowing the gears with my left while dodging cars as I entered roundabouts or navigated stoplights was quite challenging at first. I will admit to stalling more times than I would have liked because I was in third instead of first. Eventually, I got the hang of it but still reverted to rookie-mode on occasion.
Fortunately, modern Fords like the Kuga are forgiving of driver sins, and the Kuga’s Duratorq diesel had more than enough scoot to get me up to speed in a hurry. Its tech support was nice as well. Blind spot warning lights and the backup camera and sensors helped me keep it unscathed in unfamiliar areas.
What was familiar was Ford’s SYNC system. When I was finally comfortable enough to give up a little focus to listen to music, selecting and playing it hands-free was so helpful. I needed all my limbs free to drive.
Another new experience was driving a diesel-powered vehicle that was not a pickup. Over 83 percent of Kugas are purchased with diesels, so this is obviously a popular option in the UK. In most cases, you wouldn’t know it was a diesel unless you were sitting in traffic and the Auto Stop/Start turned off the engine to save fuel. Press in the clutch and it would clatter to life and remind you of its fuel of choice. However, it was general quiet and the powerband was more elastic than I had anticipated. It really left me wondering what that diesel Focus ST might be like.
In all the Kuga was a fun ride for hauling people and a lot of gear. It had enough power and sharp enough handling—thanks in part to its all-wheel-drive system—to tackle those twisty roads, but it was economical enough not to cut too far into our travel budget. We made the whole trek on one tank of diesel, and re-filled the tank with just above $70 in fuel. Yes, fuel is pricey in Europe.
If you live across the pond and are looking for family ride, the Kuga Titanium X Sport is a nice option. Its base price is £34,045. Our heavily optioned version rang the register at £34,015.