Ford Kuga Plug-in Hybrid SUV review
"The Ford Kuga PHEV is one of the best plug-in hybrid SUVs to drive"
- Low CO2 emissions
- Electric range
- Fun to drive
- Underwhelming interior
- Sluggish gearbox
- Reduced boot space
The Ford Kuga SUV is now available as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model for the first time. The technology gives eco-conscious private buyers and company-car drivers the chance to cut their fuel and tax bills.
Based around a 2.5-litre petrol engine, it's the electric motor and 14.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack that help improve fuel economy. From a full charge, the Kuga PHEV can travel for up to 35 miles on electric power alone, which is enough to cover the average daily commute in the UK.
Charging the battery pack takes up to 3.5 hours if it's completely flat, using a home wallbox supply. You can charge the Kuga PHEV using public charging posts too, but it doesn't support fast-charging and most owners will likely rely on an overnight top-up.
With 222bhp at its disposal, the plug-in model is the most powerful Kuga in the current range, but in reality its performance feels similar to that of the 2.0-litre diesel. That's mainly because of the car’s weight and the rather unresponsive automatic gearbox. The Kuga's handling impresses, with very little body roll and pin-point steering accuracy, so it's better to drive than a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV or Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
Practicality isn't too badly affected by the extra hardware either, with boot space only down from 581 litres from 646, and plenty of space for passengers. Interior quality is decent, but the Kuga lacks flair next to rivals such as the MINI Countryman PHEV. Everything works well enough, though, including the SYNC 3 infotainment system and new digital instruments.
MPG, running costs & CO2
It may come as a surprise that the Ford Kuga PHEV is fitted with a large 2.5-litre petrol engine, but as it's assisted by a potent electric motor, it doesn't have to work especially hard. Together, the petrol four-cylinder engine and electric motor can produce up to 222bhp, which is quite a bit more than standard versions of the Kuga.
When fully charged, the 14.4kWh battery pack can power the Kuga for a distance of up to 35 miles without using any petrol at all. Fast-charging isn't available but because the battery capacity is relatively small, charging from 0-100% only takes 3.5 hours using a 7.4kW supply. If you have off-street parking, a full charge should be easy to achieve overnight. It's also possible to use the petrol engine to charge the batteries as you drive, but this causes fuel economy to plummet, so is only worth doing if you specifically want to build up charge before driving into a low emissions area.
The Kuga PHEV has an official fuel consumption figure of 202mpg, but as with all plug-in hybrids, this is entirely dependent on the length of your commute and how often you recharge the battery. The impressive CO2 figure of 26g/km is fixed, and represents a big advantage for company-car drivers thanks to the low Benefit-in-Kind liability it brings. Road tax is slightly cheaper, but only by £10 at £140. Insurance groups run from 19 for entry-level trims to 24 for the lavish Vignale, which is quite low compared with the Vauxhall Grandland X (groups 24-32) and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (groups 27-31).
Engines, drive & performance
A headline figure of 222bhp almost suggests this Kuga is a performance SUV in disguise, but that's not how it feels from behind the wheel. The PHEV is quite heavy and tuned more for economy than rapid acceleration, so its 9.2-second 0-62mph acceleration figure is only average for the class. The Toyota RAV4 hybrid takes 8.4 seconds, while the MINI Countryman PHEV is faster still, taking just 6.8 seconds to get to 62mph. We also wish the gearbox was slightly faster to respond when the petrol engine is running.
Ford has a reputation for making some of the best handling family cars on sale, and while the outgoing Kuga lost some of this polish, the new car has recaptured the magic. It's now one of the best-handling cars in the class, with almost no lean through corners, even when switching directions. The steering is also accurate, even if it isn't bristiling with feel. For road use there's plenty of grip, but with front-wheel drive only, this isn't an SUV you'll want to take too far off the beaten track.
Interior & comfort
Some may find the lack of design flair inside the latest Kuga disappointing, while others will appreciate its simple, intuitive layout. Technology has taken a step up, thanks to a new eight-inch tablet-style infotainment screen and digital instruments, with Ford's latest SYNC 3 software making it easy to connect your smartphone. We also think the decision to leave chunky physical controls for the climate control is a good one because they're far less fiddly than trying to control it via a touchscreen.
The PHEV is available across several trim levels but sadly not the cheapest Zetec spec. It kicks off in Titanium, so you'll get 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights, dual-zone climate control, wireless smartphone charging and sat-nav. ST-Line adds sportier styling, digital instruments and a different set of wheels, while ST-Line X brings luxuries like a powered tailgate, heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof and 19-inch alloys. If that's not enough, the range-topping Vignale spec is also available with premium leather and a head-up display, but it's all too easy to tip this version over £40,000, bringing a bigger road tax bill.
Practicality & boot space
Plug-in hybrids usually aren't quite as practical as conventional models because of the space taken up by the battery. Ford has limited this by fitting most of the hardware under the passenger compartment, so boot space only drops from 645 litres to 581 litres, which is still generous. This expands to 1,481 litres with the seats folded, which isn't as much as the Toyota RAV4 but is more than the MINI Countryman PHEV.
Passenger space is generous, with plenty of space for adults as well as kids to stretch out in the back. There's no option of a third row of seats, but there are plenty of cubbies and door bins.
Reliability & safety
The Kuga is an all-new model, so it hasn't featured in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. Its predecessor performed well, however, coming 44th out of the top 100 cars ranked, despite it nearing the end of its life. Only 8.5% of owners told us about a fault within the first year of ownership.
Independent safety body Euro NCAP has already tested the Kuga, giving it a five-star score thanks to its excellent crash-test performance. It scored 92% for adult safety, 86% for child safety and 82% for pedestrian protection. There's plenty of standard safety kit including lane-keeping assist, hill-start assist and autonomous emergency braking. For around £1,000 extra, a Driver Assistance pack adds blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition and all-round cameras.