Ford Kuga Review
With the SUV revolution in full swing, Ford has revamped the Kuga with a swanky new look and some new powertrains. After all, this is a car that has to keep up with some really capable competitors. Fortunately, Ford has got it just right, and though this car is aimed squarely at the more enthusiastic drivers, it has plenty to attract those who prefer to take things at a more leisurely pace. It’s a very complete all-rounder.
Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5
With a focus on handling and driver involvement, the Kuga is capable of filling the role of a family hatchback and that of a larger, more practical car. It’s a winning combination, and with so much technology available as standard, it’s one that’s evident across the Kuga range. The basic Zetec misses out on a few goodies, but the mid-range Titanium Edition will suit most needs. Yet it’s the sportier ST-Line trims that will be among the most popular, with their training shoe design language and impressive standard features. The luxury-orientated Vignale, meanwhile, puts the Kuga even closer to its premium rivals.
It sounds strange to pick the Kuga’s infotainment system out as its most charming feature – particularly when the screen is standard across the range – but credit should be given where it’s due. This is among the best infotainment systems out there, thanks to its clear displays and simple menus. No, it isn’t fancy, but there’s a lot to be said for doing simple things well.
The same could be said of the Kuga as a whole, really, with lots of simple features that make the car easier to live with. The door pockets, for example, have cupholders of varying sizes and shapes to make sure your bottle stays upright, no matter what you’re drinking. And the optional door edge protectors are among the simplest, cleverest inventions on the market. Simple mechanical devices, they flip out when you open the door to stop you dinging the edge on a wall, bollard or other car. Genius.
The Kuga is available with a wide range of engines, with petrol and diesel power complemented by mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. The line-up begins with the 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine with 120hp and a six-speed manual gearbox. It isn’t especially fast – the 0-62mph sprint (if you can call it that) takes 11.6 seconds – and it isn’t especially economical, either.
So it’s probably better to look elsewhere in the Kuga stable, starting with the 150hp 1.5-litre petrol engine. More power has made it considerably faster, getting to 62mph in less than 10 seconds without completely ruining the economy. Alternatively, there’s a 1.5-litre diesel engine that comes with 120hp. Again, it isn’t quick, but at least the diesel engine is relatively frugal and you get the option of an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
But if it’s performance you want, you need to look higher up the range. There’s a 2.0-litre mild-hybrid diesel engine that comes with 150hp, or a more conventional diesel with 190hp, depending on what takes your fancy. The 150hp engine is plenty quick enough, but the 190hp engine is faster and it’s the only one with four-wheel drive, which might come in handy if you want to take your Kuga off-road.
There is another way, though, and that’s the 2.5-litre petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, which uses a petrol engine and an electric motor to produce 225hp. That means 0-62mph takes around nine seconds and the top speed is 125mph.
No matter which engine you choose, the Kuga is set up to make driving enjoyable. Like many of its rivals, you sit quite high above the road – and quite high within the cabin, for that matter – but the Kuga handles like a car standing eight inches shorter. It doesn’t pitch and roll anything like as much as you might expect, so the whole experience feels very car-ish. Almost as if it’s just a Focus that ate a few too many pies.
But the Kuga actually gives you the best of both worlds, because it comes with all the advantages of an SUV. Because you sit quite high, you can lord it over the other cars on the road, and you get a better view at junctions. It’s even quite comfortable, albeit not among the very best in the segment. You can’t really have a magic carpet ride and great handling in a family SUV – the laws of physics see to that. Nevertheless, the Kuga is perfectly smooth on a motorway slog, and although racing drivers would say it gives you lots of ‘feel’ for the road, it never jolts you around.
As usual, those seeking economy should probably steer clear of the petrol engines. It’s not that they’re bad – both the 120 and 150hp engines will manage around 40mpg or so – but they aren’t a patch on the diesel and hybrid engines. If you do lots of long runs, go for one of the diesels; either the 120hp 1.5-litre or the 150hp 2.0-litre. Both manage similar economy thanks to the latter’s mild-hybrid system, which helps to take some of the load off the engine, but both will be quiet, efficient methods of propulsion.
If you mostly do short journeys, though, consider the plug-in hybrid powertrain. With a 35-mile range on electric power alone, it’ll cover you for commuting or shopping during the week, while the petrol engine is there to serve if you find yourself making longer journeys at the weekend. Charge the batteries strategically and you could see more than 200mpg from the plug-in model – but only if your lifestyle suits the car.
If you’re trying to find the most eco-friendly, least polluting Kuga, choosing the right engine comes down to how you use the car. If you do lots of long journeys, diesel will suit you best, but if you spend most of your time pottering around town and only occasionally make long trips, the plug-in hybrid will be for you.
If, on the other hand, you’re a company car driver trying to reduce your tax bill, plug-in hybrid is the way to go. With CO2 emissions of 32g/km and a 35-mile all-electric range, the powertrain will keep your tax rate down at 10%.
The Kuga’s cabin is leagues ahead of the old car’s interior, which felt fussy and occasionally flimsy. But considering the previous-generation Kuga was introduced in 2012, perhaps that’s no surprise. With influence from the Focus, the new model feels much more competitive than its predecessor, offering better-quality plastics and a much more modern design. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the Germanic, minimalist style of a Volkswagen, but it has charm and solidity all the same.
What’s more, it has some handy practical touches, including proper dials for the climate control, which will be a welcome feature for anyone who has to struggle with a touchscreen-based system on their current lease car. The overall look largely depends on your choice of trim, though, so be careful what you choose. ST-Line cars get red stitching and alloy pedals that look great, but black roof lining can really make it dingy in there – unless you go for the ST-Line X’s panoramic sunroof. Titanium Edition models get brighter dashboard trim and grey roof lining, helping to increase the airiness inside.
Over the past few years, infotainment has been a major Achilles heel for Ford, but those days are clearly gone. The latest-generation Kuga’s touchscreen is streets ahead of the old car, with a bright, clear display and big on-screen ‘buttons’ that make it easier to use on the road. It’s a clean design, too, despite housing bags of functionality and not being an especially large screen.
Satellite navigation is standard across the range, with the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration systems also featured as standard. You get two USB slots to plug in your devices, too, and all but the basic Zetec models come with a B&O sound system. ST-Line, ST-Line X and Vignale models also supplement all this with a digital instrument cluster, which is one of the clearest on the market. Admittedly, it doesn’t quite have the functionality of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but it’s very good at what it does.
Although the Kuga has grown slightly in terms of length, its roof now sits closer to the road and it’s slightly narrower than its predecessor, so it looks slightly smaller. However, it’s still a roomy car, with plenty of space to seat four adults in comfort. If you choose the panoramic roof, those over around 6ft2in might struggle slightly in the back, but most will be fine. Even if you put them in the central rear seat, which is perfectly comfortable and commodious for short journeys. Just don’t try putting Peter Crouch there for too long. And if you do regularly carry tall rear passengers, stick with the solid roof.
As well as providing space for people, the Kuga also comes with plenty of space for things. The boot measures between 412 and 526 litres up to the window line thanks to the sliding rear seats, which can be adjusted fore and aft to trade boot space for legroom. Fold those seats down and you’ll find a flat boot floor with barely any boot lip, which comes in handy when you’re loading and unloading heavy items. It frees up to 1,534 litres of space, too.
But boot space is not the only measure of practicality, and the Kuga comes with natty touches everywhere. The door pockets have moulded bottoms that hold different-sized bottles securely, and there are tabs in the boot that you pull to drop the rear seats. Go for the Driver’s Assistance Pack and you get door edge protectors, too, which flip out when the door opens to prevent you nicking the paintwork. It’s a simple, mechanical fix, but it’s one that works really well.
As expected, the Kuga picked up a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score when it was tested in 2019. Particularly impressive was its adult occupant protection, which was rated at 92%, but it scored well across the board. In part, that’s down to the car’s squadron of airbags and Isofix child seat mountings in the two outer rear seats.
However, it’s also down to the safety assistance tech on offer, which includes simple stuff such as front and rear parking sensors, which are standard across the range, and some more advanced equipment. Lane departure warning is standard on all models, and all but the Zetec come with adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance to the vehicle in front. And there’s a system that automatically slams on the brakes if it senses the car is about to crash
The basic Kuga range comprises four main trim levels, with Zetec marking the foot of the line-up. Despite being the base model, you get 17-inch alloy wheels, heated windscreen and keyless push-button ignition. You get manual air conditioning, too.
Stepping up the range takes you to the Titanium Edition model, which gives you even more kit and a little more luxury. Set apart from the Zetec by its chrome grille and 18-inch alloy wheels, the Titanium Edition comes with LED headlights, two-zone climate control and a rear-view camera.
Alternatively, you can go down the sportier ST-Line route, which gives you the choice of the ST-Line Edition and ST-Line X Edition. Both cars get you more aggressive bumpers, black grilles and red brake callipers, as well as red interior stitching and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. But the latter adds 19-inch alloy wheels and a panoramic sunroof – something that really brightens up a cabin that would otherwise feel oppressive with the ST-Line models’ black roof lining.
Finally, the range is crowned by the Vignale, which aims to bring a truly premium feel to the Kuga stable. That means you get more chrome and 19-inch alloy wheels, plus heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and full leather trim.
If you feel the need to add more to your Kuga, consider the Technology Pack, which gets you a head-up display, or the Winter Pack, which comes with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Or you could opt for the Driver’s Assistance Pack, which comes with a front camera, blind-spot monitoring and door edge protectors.
Aside from those packs, the only choices to be made are in the engine bay and the paint shop. The usual mix of greys, blacks and whites is complemented by a couple of different blues and a rather smart Lucid Red.
The latest-generation Kuga might be advanced, but it’s up against a constantly regenerating range of rivals. Staying ahead of the game isn’t easy. Not only does the Kuga vie for your affections against the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Skoda Karoq, but it’s also wading into battle with the recently revamped Seat Ateca, new Volkswagen Tiguan and the striking new Hyundai Tucson. Then there’s the Renault Kadjar, the Peugeot 3008 and the Vauxhall Grandland X, and we haven’t even got to the premium stuff yet. The Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and BMW X1 all play in the same ballpark, as does the Range Rover Evoque.
In short, the Kuga is waging war with some great cars, but there are only a few rivals you really need to consider. The closest competitor is the Mazda CX-5, which is cut from much the same cloth. Great to drive and look at, it comes with semi-premium interior quality, but the engine range lacks diversity. It’s still well worth a look. Otherwise, we’d be tempted by the Skoda Karoq or Seat Ateca, both of which are the same competent car underneath, or the Kia Sportage, which majors more on comfort than handling, but comes with a very impressive cabin. At the premium end of the market, the GLA feels very much like a premium version of the Kuga, but it too focuses on comfort over handling, while the BMW X1 is much more of a driver’s choice.
By creating an SUV that drives like a family hatchback, Ford has built a great all-rounder that will appeal to a wide range of customers, but the fact of the matter is other cars fill the same brief with equal aplomb. The Kuga is brilliant, and although the styling won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s definitely a big selling point – along with the technology and practicality. In short, then, the Kuga fails to show its rivals a clean pair of heels, but it does remain up there with the very best in the class, and that’s quite some going in a sector this competitive.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Ford Kuga
**Correct as of 25/01/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1,997.89 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status