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 without sacrificing performance or flexibility.
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 39 miles on electric power alone, which is enough to cover the average daily commute in the UK.
Charging the battery pack from empty takes up to 3.5 hours, 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. Using a standard three-pin socket takes around six hours.
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 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
Practicality isn't too badly affected by the extra hardware either, with boot space only down to 412 litres from 526, 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 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 39 miles without using any petrol at all. In our experience, a range of 28-30 miles is more realistic in daily driving.
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 home wallbox 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. Charging with a three-pin plug takes six hours, so this will also be a viable option for anyone who hasn't had a wallbox installed.
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 23g/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 per year compared with the standard rate. Insurance groups run from 19 for entry-level trims to 24 for the lavish Vignale, which is quite low compared with the Vauxhall Grandland (groups 24-32).
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. Its CVT automatic gearbox is one of the main obstacles to a sporty feel because the petrol engine drones quite loudly if you put your foot down.
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 an 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 on the move.
The PHEV is available across several trim levels but sadly not the cheapest Zetec or Titanium Edition specs. It kicks off in ST-Line Edition, 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 Edition brings luxuries like a powered tailgate, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, 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 VED (road tax) bill.
Practicality & boot space
Plug-in hybrids usually aren't quite as practical as conventional models because the battery sits beneath the boot, cutting into luggage space. Ford has limited this by fitting most of the hardware under the passenger compartment, so boot space only drops from 526 litres to 412 litres, which is still reasonable for family life. 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 came 19th out of the top 75 models in our 2021 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, which is an impressive result. It also scored well in the reliability and build quality category. The Kuga PHEV was part of a high-profile recall in 2020, with all plug-in hybrid models fitted with a new battery pack by Ford. This followed a small number of reports of fires caused by a manufacturing issue. Affected cars were provided with an extended warranty and a £500 fuel card as a goodwill gesture, while new cars have a revised battery design.
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.