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First Drive: Ford Kuga

Is an SUV foot print, combined with Focus underpinnings and plug-in hybrid tech, a happy combination? Martyn Collins finds out…

SECTOR C-SUV PRICE £24,615-£32,565 FUEL 42.2-201.8mpg (WLTP) CO2 26- 160g/km (NEDC Correlated)

Think the third-generation Kuga’s exterior styling is more European in look, and almost like an SUV version of the latest Focus? Well, this is more than a coincidence, because the new SUV is now built on the current Focus’s C2 platform. Exterior styling is best described as attractive but not distinctive and those who liked the previous hard-edged look might be disappointed.

Move inside the Kuga, and you could be fooled into thinking that you’re actually sitting in a Focus, as the dash is essentially the same – although the digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster is new. Sharing the Focus platform means the Kuga has grown significantly (89mm in length and 44mm in width), as a result, whether you’re sat in the front or back of the Kuga, it feels very spacious with plenty of head and legroom. This is particularly true in the back, where the seats can be slid forward or back by 150mm – although this will affect the 581-litre boot space.

Zetec, Titanium, ST-Line, ST-Line X and Vignale trims are available and all are well-equipped, with Ford SYNC 3 Navigation, mobile phone wireless charging pad, and selectable driving modes. Our ST-Line test car felt well finished, but the quality isn’t remarkable considering the near £40,000 price tag.

With a five-star NCAP safety rating, and autonomous emergency braking fitted as standard, Ford’s family SUV is safe too.

The new Kuga is available with 118hp or 148hp versions of its 1.5 and 187hp 2.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engines. Plus 118hp 1.5, or 2.0-litre 148hp mild Hybrid, EcoBlue diesels. However, it’s the 222hp PHEV version we have that fleet drivers will be most interested in, with its 10% BiK rate.

This Kuga might boast over 200hp, from the 2.5-litre petrol and electric motor, but the only time it feels more sprightly than average is in Sport mode – which seems to quicken up the acceleration. This is not a slow car, in fact it feels quite torquey most of the time, and moves between petrol and electric power seamlessly. But the weight of the extra battery and motor, plus the slushy CVT transmission blunts its edge.

Still, with the battery fully charged, which takes three and a half hours from a wall box charger, the Kuga is impressively efficient. Ford claim 35 miles on electric-only power; we couldn’t quite match that, but with it being in the late 20s it wasn’t far off. The same was true of the overall fuel consumption, which at 45mpg, was close to Ford’s high WLTP figure of 47.1mpg.

Considering the Focus underpinnings, the biggest disappointment is the Kuga’s brittle low-speed ride. Probably the result of the extra weight of the electric hybrid system and the ST-Line’s stiffer, sports suspension. This Kuga is at its best on the motorway, and as long as you don’t drive it too hard, this Ford settles into a comfortable cruise. There’s no four-wheel drive, instead Ford has fitted selectable driver modes, which includes one for light off-roading.

Extra weight and ride issues aside, as you’d expect from a Ford, the Kuga is keener than you’d expect to drive. The steering is responsive, grip levels are high and despite the tall footprint, body roll is kept well in check. The only fly in the ointment being the brakes, which are hard to modulate and feel snatchy. But in £35,685 ST-Line PHEV form, the new Kuga is well-priced, and offers impressive electric-only range.

The Lowdown
Key Fleet Model: 2.5 Duratech PHEV ST-Line
Strengths: Spacious interior, well-equipped, electric range
Weaknesses: Looks, performance, ride

The Verdict
Good to drive, cheap to run and the move to the Focus floorpan equals an impressively spacious interior. Needs more performance and sharper looks to be king.

FW Star Rating

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.