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Driven: Ford Kuga PHEV. Image by Ford.

Driven: Ford Kuga PHEV
This is one of the most impressive plug-in hybrids we’ve tried yet, this Ford Kuga ST-Line.


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Ford Kuga PHEV

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: quite incredible energy management, superb refinement, decent handling, smooth drivetrain

Not so good: slightly gawky front-end looks, not exactly cheap, a few... safety issues arose with the Kuga PHEV during 2020

Key Facts

Model tested: Ford Kuga ST-Line 2.5 Duratec PHEV
Price: Kuga range from £26,765; ST-Line PHEV from £35,685, car as tested £38,485; or, Kuga ST-Line PHEV from £449.33pcm across 36-month/9,000-mile per annum contract with 10 per cent deposit and limited-time Ford deposit allowance of £1,000, optional final payment of £16,484 (0% APR representative example)
Engine: 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder petrol engine plus electric motor-generator and 14.4kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmission: CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door plug-in hybrid crossover-SUV
CO2 emissions: 32g/km (VED Band 1-50g/km Alternative Fuel Cars: £0 in year one, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 201.8mpg, energy consumption c.25.5kWh/62 miles, electric range 35 miles
Top speed: 125mph (hybrid, 85mph limited electric mode)
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Power: 225hp (system maximum)
Torque: 200Nm from 2.5-litre engine, no electric or system outputs quoted
Boot space: 475-1,534 litres

Our view:

The Ford Kuga has always been a bit of an odd one. When it launched, waaay back in the dim and distant past of 2008, it was well-received as it was among the first proponents of Kinetic Design, the American company's in-house styling trend which succeeded New Edge, and it possessed a typically sprightly chassis, this being the 'C1' platform which it shared with the second-generation Focus. And that Kuga Mk1 was genuinely good to drive, despite its loftier stance and family-leaning orientation.

As a wider concern, Ford's never really lost that chassis know-how knack in the interim, but somehow the Kuga has faded from its bright beginnings 13 years ago into obscure mediocrity. The second-gen model came and went, arriving in 2012 as a larger, grander offering but one which didn't quite have the handling dynamism - or interest - of the original. And by the time the Kuga Mk2 went off-sale at the end of its life in 2019, where it 'boasted' premium-tilting models like the confusing Vignale, the Ford was well down in the also-ran midfield of the C-segment crossover class. Pushed into a zone of irrelevance by, not least, a whole (and seemingly endless) slew of Volkswagen-Group-MQB products from various manufacturers, as well as solid contenders from other car companies all over the globe.

Time for a bit of a change of scene for the Kuga, then, because this new third-gen model appears as if it has the tools at its disposal to get back to the forefront of this incredibly lucrative market sector. It looks very smart, for starters, with perhaps a touch too much front overhang when you view it in dead-on profile, but as an ST-Line in the desirable Lucid Red paint (£850) there's a real air of class about the Kuga's bodywork. Better yet, you could prize all the badges off it and still know that it's a Ford, as it has familial styling that's both fresh and comforting at the same time. One slight aesthetic bugbear is that the 18-inch Rock metallic alloys can occasionally look a trifle lost in the rear arches, but that's only a valid viewpoint from certain angles.

Inside, the Ford SUV's even better. Spacious, beautifully appointed and easy to operate, this ST-Line comes with plenty of desirable kit, like premium-touch Sensico sports seats with red stitching, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control, eight-inch SYNC3 infotainment, a Bang & Olufsen Premium audio system, cruise control, a wireless smartphone charging pad and ambient lighting, among more. To this, Ford's team had added the Lucid Red paint, plus a mini spare wheel (£100), a hands-free powered tailgate (£450), the Technology Pack (£400, with full LED quad-projector and glare-free headlamps plus a Head-Up Display) and the £1,000 Driver's Assistance Pack - incorporating front- and rear-view cameras, Adaptive Cruise Control with Traffic Sign Recognition, Blind Spot Information System, Active Park Assist and door-edge guards. All ways up, the interior on the Mk3 Kuga is a big improvement on that found within the Mk2.

And, of course, we've avoided the chief USP of this particular car until now, which is that it's the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant. This teams a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine with an electric motor and pretty sizeable 14.4kWh battery pack, as PHEVs go. Ford's a bit coy on the exact technical details of this drivetrain but, at its peak, it will deliver 225hp and has enough grunt to move the 1,773kg Kuga PHEV to 62mph from rest in a shade beyond nine seconds. It'll also go up to 35 miles on electric power alone, emits just 32g/km of CO2 on the WLTP cycle (meaning it's incredibly tempting to company-car users, thanks to its super-low BIK requirements) and is said to be capable of more than 200mpg. With, um, regular charging, natch; speaking of which, a Type 2 socket on the passenger front wing allows a full battery charge in 3.5 hours on a 7.4kW AC wallbox connection or similar, and total replenishment of the lithium-ion unit in six hours if only linked up to something no more advanced than a three-pin domestic plug socket.

The price for all of this - the PHEV drivetrain, the ST-Line specification, the handful of optional extras totting up to £2,800 - is £38,485. Now that's hardly an inconsequential number, especially when the Kuga range starts from £27,000-ish, but crucially it's a figure beneath the £40,000 threshold that triggers the 'rich tax' VED surcharge in years two to six of ownership, resulting in an additional £325 per annum each year going to the Government's coffers, and it's a lot less than some of the PHEV rivals we list as potential alternatives at the bottom of this piece.

Crucially, the way the Kuga PHEV drives justifies its moderately hefty asking price. It's a lovely thing to travel in, and no mistake. The refinement is exceptional, with a plush ride assured despite the fitment of Sports suspension on the ST-Line, while its cabin is a hushed and pleasant place to spend some time; and that counts with the 2.5-litre engine in action. Hooked up to a CVT and combustion petrol operating in the less potent Atkinson-cycle manner, you might be tempted to think this is going to be one of those coarse drivetrains that yells maniacally when you ask it for anything more than about 60 per cent throttle - but the Ford avoids the worst vocal excesses of such a set-up. Of course, once the petrol engine drops away and the Kuga PHEV is running on its electrical reserves alone, it's as supremely sumptuous to be in as any other vehicle in this sector, no matter what their form of motive power.

And yet, Ford's handling prowess shines through. Without being needlessly crashy or having the sort of rigid, flat body control that marks out the seriously talented performance machines in the world, the Kuga is nevertheless deeply appealing to throw about. It limits lean brilliantly, while the brakes are easy to modulate and powerful in bite, and the steering is also pretty likeable. This is one area where some Fords have fallen down recently, as a strong self-centring action somewhat mars the dynamic experience provided by the current Focus ST, and even the majestic Fiesta ST exhibits traces of it too. But, in terms of its ease of use, its general dignity when just rolling along, the smoothness of its drivetrain and the adeptness of its underpinnings, what you have here with the Kuga is a crossover which is leagues better than its immediate predecessor and actually suggests it has captured some of the lively handling magic of the original model.

However, even taking the highly impressive dynamics of the Kuga ST-Line PHEV into account, that's not the main reason we're so enamoured with it. Rather, it's the way it managed its petrol-electric resources during seven days in our company. Our test base is not in the middle of some UK city somewhere; instead, it's out in the rural hinterlands. We don't have a wallbox or AC Type 2 charging point on site, we're not close to a great bank of public hook-ups, and as a result testing PHEVs and EVs presents something of a logistical challenge for us; such as trying to charge a Polestar 2 using a three-pin plug and trailing socket, and then realising that the cable of the extension lead has become very alarmingly hot indeed as a result. Ahem.

To that end, we're acutely aware of PHEVs which munch flagrantly through their battery resources in rapid fashion, causing us the faff of trying to juice them back up so we don't have to suffer the indignity of 28mpg as a weekly economy return. Therefore, allow us to claim in one of those vast, sweeping statements the following assertion: the Ford Kuga PHEV is the best plug-in vehicle we've ever had at managing its onboard resources.

Honestly, much of what it did for the week was little short of sorcery. It was like it was sucking electricity out of its surrounding environment. The Ford arrived with no charge at all, because it had come a long way from its base and had exhausted its electric power on the journey up. For the first few days, we drove it in 'L' and resisted using the battery-charge function via the 2.5-litre engine. The Kuga then pottered about for around 50-60 miles or so, and quite remarkably generated 33.6 miles of EV driving at an average 66mpg. This sort of fuel economy is unheard of for a PHEV that has 'run out' of battery, trust us, and that's especially true of one which is shaped like an SUV as well.

Then we decided to charge the Kuga twice, both times on a three-pin domestic socket and for about four hours a time. Each charge put more than 75 per cent and a claimed 20 miles-plus on the Ford's in-car instrument cluster range display, and on one subsequent journey to these mains-powered replenishments, the Kuga turned in 930.1mpg going 23.2 miles, 22.4 miles of which were conducted entirely on electric power. And yes, that economy figure is nine-hundred-and-thirty point one mpg. After this, it went back to summoning energy at will from the aether, managing 20 miles of EV driving out of 24.5 miles, despite starting the trip with only 43 per cent of its battery and a 15-mile zero-emissions range showing. By time it had covered 115 miles with us, across five-and-a-quarter hours of driving, it had done 71.7 per cent of its distance in engine-free silence and was averaging a whopping 87.8mpg. It eventually receded back slightly by the end of the test, the Kuga PHEV covering 183.2 miles across seven-and-a-half hours at an average 24mph, with an overall economy of 73.3mpg and that record high of nearly 1,000 miles to the gallon. It recorded 63.9 per cent of its total distance, fully 117 miles, in EV driving alone, despite the fact it claimed - from the two mains charges we actually treated it to, and remembering it arrived with the battery on empty - that it had only received a grand total of 40 miles (or thereabouts) of electric from its hook-ups. You see? Where the hell did it source those other 77 miles of zero-emissions running from?! Witchcraft, we tell you. Pure witchcraft.

This was all quite astounding stuff from the Kuga ST-Line PHEV, and more than enough justification for going with the petrol-electric drivetrain instead of a conventional combustion unit instead. So why haven't we given it a higher mark overall? Hmm. Bad timing, to tell the truth. We had the Kuga on test and thought it was marvellous, although we did already think it was a) quite pricey for what it is, and b) not the most thrilling thing to drive, even though it is undoubtedly capable. And then Ford had to announce a recall of the PHEV models, because of a risk of battery fires after four cases were reported of Kugas going up in flames while charging. Ah. Now, to be fair to Ford, it got the recall out early and it was only on vehicles manufactured before the end of June 2020 - and all remedial battery pack work will be carried out for owners by March 2021 at the latest. However, it does somewhat put a cloud over the entire performance of our test car, sadly.

Nevertheless, considering Ford has now identified and remedied the potential fault with the Kuga PHEV, it makes an appealing package going forward into 2021. It's not as expensive as some of its key plug-in rivals we list below, but then it's not quite as powerful in terms of its drivetrain either. Yet for most people's needs, it's plenty punchy enough. And if it can manage its electrical resources as marvellously as our example did for its week of testing, then the Kuga ST-Line could very well be the PHEV of choice for those seeking their next eco-friendly family motor. No longer is the Ford crossover just there making up the numbers in the C-segment; it's now comfortably one of the finer vehicles in this class.


Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: the one which started the 'mid-sized crossover as PHEV' trend but it has been outmanoeuvred and outclassed in recent years. Also not long for this Earth... well, this part of the Earth, at any rate, as Mitsubishi is soon to pull out of Europe altogether.

Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4: bonkers fast, bonkers price tag. Despite having about the same stats as the Toyota below, the 3008 feels quicker in a straight line and it has the 3008's highly appealing cabin. Still not cheap, though, commanding a ticket around £47,000.

Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid: superbly executed PHEV from Toyota and one which manages its electrical resources almost every bit as well as the Kuga. It also has a 306hp powertrain and a six-second 0-62mph time, but the pay-off for that is it costs in the region of (or in excess of, if you specify it, er... correctly?) 50 grand. Oof.

Matt Robinson - 29 Jul 2020    - Ford road tests
- Ford news
- Kuga images

2020 Ford Kuga ST-Line PHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Kuga ST-Line PHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Kuga ST-Line PHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Kuga ST-Line PHEV. Image by Ford. 


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