Ford Kuga: Impressive plug-in hybrid SUV underlines motor giant’s renaissance

US carmaker’s new offering comes with nice styling, sharp price and lots of electric miles

Ford is enjoying something of a revival lately, and this Kuga continues the trend. A good-looking car, especially in ST-Line trim, it sits between Toyota's Rav4 and Honda's CR-V but further boasts plug-in hybrid technology. Video: Neil Briscoe

Ford Kuga: a hugely impressive plug-in hybrid that might just help cement a Ford renaissance

Make: Ford

Model: Kuga

Year: 2020

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: July 30, 2020

Wed, Aug 5, 2020, 07:15

   

We’ve become so used to Ford being in crisis in recent years. Falling sales both here in Ireland and across Europe. A new management that replaced the global “One Ford” vision of former chief exec Alan Mulally with a more traditional, regional focus. The abandoning of model lines and even entire segments in favour of nothing but SUVs. Being given a lower market value than Tesla.

The thing is, while all of that was going on, Ford was still steadily getting on with making some truly, maybe even surprisingly, excellent cars. Last year (remember last year? When we could go out and had jobs?) the two flat-out coolest cars we drove all year were Fords – the Mustang Bullitt and the Ranger Raptor. Okay, so a big, hefty diesel pick-up and a V8 petrol coupe are hardly in keeping with the modern zeitgeist, but even better was to come.

Back in January, (remember January? When we could go out and had jobs?) we drove the new Puma, which overcame early internet car-nerd anger about the recycling of a classic name to prove itself as, with its mild-hybrid engine lineup, a truly entertaining drive and the first small crossover we could recommend without caveat.

The Kuga is a great motorway cruiser
The Kuga is a great motorway cruiser

Following hard on the Puma’s heels comes this, the new Kuga. Now, the old Kuga was something of an under-rated car, but also something of an anonymous one. It was quietly styled, and suffered somewhat from a too-cheap cabin, but was engaging to drive and very practical. This new one both platform shares with the current Focus and nicks quite a bit of its styling. Indeed, from the outside, it looks very much as if someone’s taken a Focus and just stretched it up and out a bit.

That’s fine for our test car, which in its “Lucid Red” paint job, and ST-Line bodykit, looks rather good – there are even faint hints of Aston Martin’s DBX SUV around the lights and grille – but we’ve seen the Kuga in other colours and trims where it looks a touch big and bland, so choose carefully.

Far more significant than the styling, though, is that this new Kuga is Ford’s first-ever plug-in hybrid, which means that at last Ford has a proper rival to the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda’s hybrid CR-V.

As with the Toyota, the Kuga uses a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine running on the fuel-sipping Atkinson cycle (it’s complicated, but basically it breathes more efficiently than a conventional petrol engine, although it develops less power) hooked up to an electric motor fed by a 14.4kWh battery pack. Fully charge the battery (which takes about three hours from a wall-mounted home charger) and you can go for as much as 56km on pure electric power. Actually, you might even manage better than that, as the Kuga, once you click the rotary gear selector around to “L” mode, is unusually good at scavenging a little extra power from its regenerative braking system. Even on main roads, it holds on to charge well, so you should get at least 40km out of the battery before you need to ask the engine to kick in.

When it does so, the motor is reasonably refined, although it does make the “elastic moo” noise common to all hybrids when you accelerate. With 225hp, though, you shouldn’t need to keep your foot down too long to get to a comfortable cruising speed, so it’s not too bad. The Kuga is also very comfortable, with well-damped (if occasionally noisy) suspension and excellent seats.

It actually makes a great motorway cruiser, and you won’t even do too much harm to your fuel economy in that mode. Whereas once, long motorway miles were anathema to a plug-in hybrid (hauling, as you were, a dead weight of now-useless batteries) the Kuga actually scored a very decent 6.3 litres per 100km fuel consumption figure on a long run, with a depleted battery, in our hands. Even without topping up the battery, out of 300km driven, 70km or so were covered on just electric power. When you do get a chance to charge, there’s an unmistakable, enjoyable, smugness that comes with whirring, silently and cleanly, around in a big, hefty SUV.

The new Kuga is Ford’s first-ever plug-in hybrid, which means that at last Ford has a proper rival to the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda’s hybrid CR-V
The new Kuga is Ford’s first-ever plug-in hybrid, which means that at last Ford has a proper rival to the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda’s hybrid CR-V

That heft, though, does mean that where the Kuga is a little less impressive is when you take it off the motorway, away from city streets, and onto a country road. The 1,751kg kerb weight doesn’t look excessive on paper, but the Kuga does occasionally struggle to easily control the mass of batteries. You can feel the extra weight, all too clearly, in understeer and body roll when cornering briskly. A shame, that, as the Kuga does have Ford’s typically well-geared steering and a supple chassis.

Better stick to cruising, then, which is fine as the Kuga has a very pleasant cabin. In the current Ford idiom, the cabin’s surfaces don’t look as lustrous as those of a rival Toyota or even Skoda, but the quality of assembly is palpably good, there’s lots of space front and rear, and a decent boot out the back.

It’s also conspicuously well priced. A basic Toyota RAV4, which is not a plug-in hybrid, costs €36,900. The cheapest Honda CR-V Hybrid will set you back €41,650. Our Kuga test car – in ST-Line trim and including the eight-inch SYNC3 touchscreen and the rather attractive 12.3-inch digital instrument display – has a list price of €38,425.

So, what we have here is a handsome, decent-to-drive, and practical SUV that has ample zero-emissions capability, and returns solid fuel economy numbers when you take it on a long journey. What was that about a crisis, again?

Ford Kuga 2.5 PHEV ST-Line: the lowdown

  • Power 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol plus electric motor and 14.4kWh battery putting out 225hp and 220Nm of torque with a CVT automatic transmission and front-wheel drive
  • CO2 emissions (annual motor tax) 26g/km (€170)
  • L/100km (mpg) 1.4 (201.8)
  • 0-100km/h 9.2 seconds
  • Price €38,425 as tested (Kuga starts at €33,357 for the 1.5 TDCI Titanium version)
  • Verdict A hugely impressive plug-in hybrid that might just help cement a Ford renaissance