A LOT has changed in the motoring world over the last 50 years – most of today’s drivers are old enough to have travelled in ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s cars as kids or driven them as their first bargain-basement motor so know the hardships involved.
They could be quite difficult to use, if only because the lack of technology – or even a heater! – made easy progress a constant chore.
It was also a common argument among ‘real men’ behind the wheel that there was no way an automatic car could ever master the right time to make gear changes to match the abilities of someone with an ear mechanically in tune and a deft left foot for the clutch pedal.
Happily the argument no longer rings true, if it ever did. Modern automatics have made great progress, first through the ability to get direct drive from engine to road wheels in top gear despite the use of a torque converter designed to introduce strain-reducing slippage and more latterly through clutch-based systems that make electronic changes, such as Ford’s Powershift.
For drivers enduring heavy traffic, reduced fatigue and therefore a safer driving environment come through deleting constant gear changes. It’s easier to concentrate where vehicle and pedestrian traffic are heaviest when there’s one less operation to think about.
In poor grip conditions, such as ice, snow, or heavy rain, the use of an automatic transmission also helps prevent the loss of traction that’s an inevitable consequence of dipping the clutch on a manual transmission. This gets even better, of course, if it’s used in conjunction with Ford’s Intelligent All Wheel Drive system, first seen on the Kuga SUV but now also offered on Galaxy and S-MAX MPVs plus Mondeo hatchbacks and estate cars.
Another convincing argument against old-style autos, commonly referred to as slush boxes because they dulled the driving experience so much (if only in the imagination), was that economy was also reduced and there was no arguing with that logic. The difference in cost and the increased frequency of filling the tank were proof this was the case.
But modern automatic transmissions are programmed to bring the best combination of engine speed and gear ratio, helping optimise fuel economy. For those who still need the Formula 1 experience, paddle shifts combined with the Sport setting on the gearbox selector, allow the Lewis Hamilton in you to bloom.
Even with the need to be the next world champion, there’s nothing to detract from the Powershift-type transmission. Looked at neutrally, it can only be argued that shift quality is better than any combination of driver brain/left foot dexterity/gear lever movement achieves. It’s smooth and happens in milliseconds; frequently only the drop in the rev counter needle gives the game away.
The economy argument is also a false one. Take the Ford Kuga 180bhp, for instance.
Last summer we drove this car with the manual gearbox and now we’ve been out and about in the Powershift variant supplied by Edwards Ford in Salisbury, covering roughly the same distance in each. And both returned exactly the same real-world driving consumption of 39mpg. So with no penalty at the pumps and less strain on your left leg, what’s not to like?
True there’s a marginal drop in performance – 2 mph off the top speed and less than a second longer from 0-62 mph but in this country that’s irrelevant. You still get the same pleasure from the car. Running costs can be reduced still further by opting for the 1.5 litre Duratorq diesel, which also brings a very healthy reduction in CO2 emissions, too, while employing a conventional front wheel drive layout.
What you get all across the Kuga range is the advantage of the raised SUV driving position (and vastly reduced pricing with Ford’s scrappage programme combined with consumer offers).
Looking over other cars rather than through them provides a more expansive field of vision and is a real safety aid. Instead of guessing what’s ahead you can see it, enabling evasive action far faster when necessary.
The kids (and adult passengers) love the enhanced view, too, and it really helps reduce boredom on longer journeys while raised seat height makes entry and exit a simple slide into the car rather than climbing down.
With its 1,600 litre load space and 2.1 tonne towing ability it’s great for outdoor types, too. Perhaps it’s this all-round appeal that made the Kuga the UK’s best-selling SUV in February, giving Ford three cars in the top five.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Ford Kuga Titanium X 180 PS Powershift
Does it fit your ego…
0-62 mph: 10.0 secs
Top speed: 124 mph
PS: 180 @ 3500 rpm
Torque: 400 Nm @ 2000 rpm
…and your wallet…
Combined: 54.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 134 g/km
Best bits: the real easy rider