- Decent looks
- PHEV offers low running costs
- Good handling
- Inferior interior
- Rivals have bigger boots
- The infotainment system is a bit dated
Everybody is going after SUVs, so Ford has come up with a few to satisfy everyone.
While the smaller Puma aims to capture the energetic modest sports car vibe that the small early 2000s hatchback had, the Kuga is based on the larger, more sophisticated coupe (spelt ‘Cougar’) of the same era.
Nowadays the Kuga could be the answer if you're after the larger size and additional practicality of a compact crossover SUV as opposed to a family hatchback.
Neither car bears much resemblance to their predecessors of the same names, though. The Puma is based on the Fiesta, while the Kuga is based on the larger Focus.
There are five trims to choose from.
Entry-level Zetec gets 17-inch alloys, halogen projector headlights with LED day running lights, heated powered door mirrors, privacy glass, a rear spoiler, front and rear parking sensors, air conditioning, sports seats, and a driver lumbar support. You also get sliding adjustable back row seats, electric windows, a heated windscreen, and a host of safety features.
Titanium Edition adds 18-inch rims, full LED headlights and taillights, a powered tailgate, keyless entry and start, and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. You also get an eight-inch infotainment system, a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, climate control and premium sports power-adjustable seats.
ST-Line Edition gets a sportier body kit, black roof rails, sports suspension, front passenger lumbar support, a larger rear spoiler and red brake callipers.
ST-Line X Edition adds 19-inch alloys, front and rear heated seats, a rear-view camera, a heated steering wheel and an electric panoramic sunroof.
Top-of-the-range Vignale gets silver roof rails, memory function door mirrors, a smaller rear spoiler, standard suspension, and front and rear parking sensors. You also get premium leather seats, a ten-way powered adjustable memory driver’s seat, and heated rear seats.
All models are available with a 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine with 150PS and a six-speed manual gearbox.
ST-Line Edition, ST-Line X, and Vignale trims are also available as hybrids with a 2.5-litre engine and electric motor producing 190PS in the self-charging (HEV) variant and 225PS in the plug-in (PHEV) edition thanks to a larger motor.
Both hybrids have an automatic CVT gearbox, while there are no diesels.
On The Road
Both hybrids have decent low-end torque, so they naturally feel brisker when accelerating from a standing start. Plus, they have better acceleration across the rev range.
The hybrids can run on electric power only, although you’ll get more out of the PHEV. So, for environmentally conscious people, that eco-friendliness is good to know when you're driving down the high street.
The hybrids have CVT (continuously variable transmission) gearboxes, so it’s a one-speed that adjusts itself to compensate for the lack of gears. Unfortunately, while it does the job, it makes a droning noise at higher revs, which can get annoying when you're putting your foot down. But that’s true of all CVTs on just about any car.
If you don’t want the hybrids, you’re in luck as the manual is preferable, shifting smoothly and adding more engagement to the driving experience.
The hybrids are undoubtedly better for long-distance cruising, while the 1.5-litre petrol is better suited to shorter trips, the school run and driving around town.
The entry-level Zetec is the one to go for if ride comfort is your priority, thanks to its standard suspension and smaller 17-inch alloys (the standard suspension comes with all non-ST-Line trims, albeit Titanium and Vignale have bigger wheels).
But even the 19-inch rims and sports suspension of the ST-Line X trim isn’t enough to ruin it, even though it’s noticeably firmer.
Ford has refined the driving experience of its range, and, thankfully, the Kuga benefits from this. When the going gets bendy, it’s fun to drive, gripping firmly around corners and limiting body roll. Although the hybrids – especially the PHEV – feel a little dialled back in their sharpness due to the extra weight.
While the bulkier body means it’s not a match for the Focus on which it’s based, it performs admirably well for a car of its size. And it’s arguably the number one choice in its class if handling and enjoyment are your priority.
The steering firms up at higher speeds, meaning it’s excellent for threading the car neatly between the lines on the road.
The Kuga has decent, sharp looks, which, especially in the ST-Line models, shout sportiness but in a family-friendly way.
It's anything but flashy, with Ford’s now traditional large grille and shapely front end. The ST-Line versions get a more aggressive chiselling, creating two air intakes on either side of a sharper lower grille.
The side and rear are a more modest affair across the Kuga range, with only a diagonal shape above the number plate housing, adding any sense of flair to the design.
It’s pleasant to look at, with a stylish appearance while retaining plenty of humility.
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
The interior is okay. It's simple and decluttered but looks too plain and does little to excite.
In our test car, there was some silver trim on the steering wheel and around the gear selector on the centre console, but not enough to brighten it up sufficiently.
A shiny carbon-fibre-patterned black strip runs along the dashboard, which is a nice touch. But the infotainment screen sits on top and has thick surrounds that look like an old iPad.
The infotainment system is intuitive, but rivals' systems have a more modern feel. Mind you, the digital instrument cluster looks nice.
Overall, some challengers have it licked in terms of stylishness, but at least it feels well-built.
Space & Practicality
There's a lot of adjustment in the steering wheel and the driver's seat, especially in higher trims. But you won’t struggle to find a comfortable driving position in any model.
The Kuga has lots of room, so you don’t feel hemmed in, and even taller drivers won’t fight for head or legroom.
The rear is equally spacious. And although fitting three adults in for longer journeys won't be ideal, only the tallest will brush their knees against the back of the front seats, thanks to the sliding rear bench.
Isofix anchor points for child seats are included, while there are a couple of cupholders, a larger cubby in the centre console and a decent-sized glove compartment. However, the door bins are on the small side.
Boot space depends on which variant you choose, as the hybrids have slightly less room. You’ll get between 575 and 612 litres, expanding to 1,481 to 1,534 litres, with the rear seats folded in a 60/40 split.
That sounds good, but some opponents have bigger boots.
The 1.5-litre petrol manages 42.8mpg, producing 150-155g/km of CO2.
By comparison, the self-charging hybrid achieves 48.7mpg, producing 132g/km of CO2, while the plug-in variant claims up to 141mpg, making just 32g/km of CO2.
Charge up the PHEV, and you'll also get up to 39 miles of all-electric range, although expect slightly less than this in the real world.
It’ll take up to three-and-a-half hours to charge when connected to a 7kW home wall box. But the slow charging speed means it won’t be any faster if using a more powerful public charging point.
Quality & Reliability
Ford isn’t famed for its reliability, but the Kuga has outperformed most of the range, so hopefully, this means the automaker is turning a corner.
The car feels solid and well-built and has an air of quality, so we hope that continues to ring true in future years.
You get a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty as standard, but this is extendable to four of five years for an additional fee.
Servicing costs will depend on which version you buy, with the hybrids likely to cost more thanks to their bigger engines. Meanwhile, Ford also offers its own service plans.
Safety & Security
Euro NCAP last crash-tested a Ford Kuga in 2019, awarding it a five-star rating. It scored 92 per cent for adult occupants, 86 per cent for children and 73 per cent for safety assists.
All Kugas come with pre-collision assist with autonomous emergency braking, cruise control with speed limiter and lane-keeping aid with lane-departure warning.
More safety features, such as blind-spot monitoring and cameras, are available as options.
The Ford Kuga is an attractive, likeable car.
It’s fun to drive, especially in the sportier trims, while the engines are decent, well-refined and economical.
The hybrids – particularly the PHEV – make a lot of sense. But they are more expensive, so it’s worth working out if you’re likely to save money in the long-term, which will depend on your mileage across your ownership.
It's spacious inside and versatile, thanks to the sliding rear seats. But the cargo capacity is beaten by some rivals while the interior lets it down with its mediocrity compared with most of its competitors.
Nevertheless, the Kuga ticks many boxes and is still a good family car.
It’s only a fresh interior away from being brilliant. It’s a good thing, then, that we've heard it's getting an overhaul as part of an upcoming facelift, which may be worth holding out for.