Ford's Kuga has sharpened up its act in this third generation guise. Jonathan Crouch checks out the changes.
The Ford Kuga has evolved in this third generation guise into a more credible mid-sized SUV contender that now benefits from an engine range featuring both plug-in and mild hybrid electrified offerings. There's sharper styling, a much nicer cabin and extra technology that segment buyers will like. In short, if you're shopping in this sector, this is still a car you very much need to consider.
Ford's Kuga was one of the first affordable family SUVs to prioritise a decent driving experience. With other rivals now frequently copying that approach, the Blue Oval brand needed to do more to set its contender apart. Hence the changes made to a third generation model that's now been revitalised. The updates made are mainly of the kind you'd expect would be needed for this growing fashion-conscious market - electrified engine tech, smarter looks, extra media connectivity and more sophisticated safety provision. So, will it all be enough to keep this Kuga feeling current in a marketplace crammed with fresh, modern alternatives? It's time to find out.
The Kuga has always been good to drive. What it's not always been is efficient to run. But Ford reckons that's changed, courtesy of this third generation model's electrified powertrain line-up. The headline model is the plug-in Kuga Hybrid, which comes with a 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor/generator powered by a lithium-ion battery, the package putting out a useful 225PS. There's a choice of front wheel drive or Ford's 'Intelligent All-Wheel Drive' system. If you can't quite stretch to this plug-in derivative, your Ford dealer will suggest you take a look at the mild hybrid 150PS version of the brand's 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel powerplant, which comes only in front driven firm and employs a belt-driven integrated starter/generator (BISG) that replaces the standard alternator. The BISG enables recovery and storage of energy during vehicle decelerations, while charging a 48-volt lithium-ion air-cooled battery pack. Plus the BISG also acts as a motor, using the stored energy to provide electric torque assistance to the engine under normal driving and acceleration, as well as running the vehicle's electrical ancillaries. More conventional powerplants also feature across the line-up. There's a base 120PS 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel. And you can have the brand's usual 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine carried over from the previous Kuga, available here in 120 and 150PS forms. All three of these options come only in front-driven form. If you want a Kuga with AWD and can't afford the plug-in version, you'll need the 2.0 EcoBlue 190PS diesel model.
This third generation Kuga is a significantly bigger thing than its predecessor. It's 44mm wider and 89mm longer than the outgoing model, while the wheelbase has increased by 20mm. This is thanks to a new C2 platform that allows for a wheelbase increase of 20mm and has allowed this Ford to become one of the bigger SUVs in the mid-sized sector, freeing up space for the brand's new Puma crossover to fit in between this Kuga and Ford's entry-level EcoSport SUV. Inside, the exterior size upgrades translate into 43mm more shoulder room and 5mm more hip room in the front seats than the outgoing model, while rear passengers benefit from 20mm more shoulder room and 36mm more hip room. Despite an overall height that is 20mm lower than the outgoing model, this third generation Kuga also has 13mm more headroom for front seat occupants and 35mm more in the rear. For rear seat passengers, heated outer seats are available for the first time, and the entire second row of seats can be moved backwards for best-in-class 1,035mm rear legroom, or forwards to increase boot space by 67-litres. A remote release function enables the second row to be folded flat with ease. At the wheel, it's much as it would be in a Focus hatch, with the usual 8-inch centre-dash SYNC 3 infotainment touchscreen. Upper-spec Kuga variants though, differ from their Focus counterparts in their provision of a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
Pricing sits in the £24,000 to £38,000 bracket and there are five Kuga trim levels - 'Zetec', 'Titanium', ' ST-Line', 'ST-Line X' and 'Vignale'.From launch, there were also various First Edition 'Titanium', ' ST-Line' and 'ST-Line X' variants. Even base 'Zetec' variants are well equipped, coming complete with 17-inch alloy wheels, a 'Quickclear' heated windscreen, an 8-inch SYNC 3 centre dash infotainment screen and a very complete package of camera-driven safety kit. Most buyers will want though, to at least go a step further up the range to 'Titanium'-spec, which gets 18-inch machined alloy wheels, full-LED headlamps, front LED fog lamps, auto headlights and wipers and keyless entry. Inside in a 'Titanium'-spec Kuga, you can expect sports seats with lumbar support, cabin ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control and a B&O Premium audio system. Ford thinks the most popular trim level will be 'ST-Line', which adds a body styling kit, 18-inch 'Rock Metallic' alloy wheels, sports suspension, black roof rails and a large rear spoiler. Inside with an 'ST-Line' variant, you get a flat-bottomed steering wheel, alloy pedals, 'Sensico' sports seats with red stitching and a full digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster. 'ST-Line X' trim adds 19 inch wheels, a panoramic roof, heated powered front seats and a powered tailgate. And the plush 'Vignale' variant gets full-leather upholstery and special 19-inch 'Liquid Aluminium' alloy wheels.
Ford has pulled out all the stops to make the latest Kuga more economical than before. Obviously, the ultimate option in this regard is the plug-in hybrid 2.5 Duratec PHEV version, which records an official WLTP fuel figure of 201.8mpg and an NEDC-rated CO2 reading of 26g/km. As you might expect, the 1.5 EcoBlue 150PS mild hybrid diesel is next up, managing up to 56.5mpg (WLTP) and up to 111g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. The conventional 1.5 EcoBlue 120PS diesel manages up to 55.4mpg (WLTP) and 109g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. Less impressive is the 1.5 EcoBoost petrol 120PS unit, which manages up to 42.2mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and 128g/km of CO2. The 1.5 EcoBoost petrol 150PS unit manages up to 42.2mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and 126g/km of CO2. As for other stuff you'll need to know, well these days, the three year/60,000 mile Ford warranty looks pretty unremarkable, but in the first year, you do get unlimited mileage UK and European roadside cover and unlimited paint cover. There's also a 12 year unlimited mileage perforation warranty. There's also the 'Ford Service App' that you can download to your phone for free. It lets you locate your nearest dealer to make maintenance bookings, plus as a bonus, the app can help you find petrol stations and even has a 'Park Me' feature that remembers where you left the car, to save hunting for it in busy multi-storeys.
Having in recent years at last got serious about SUVs, Ford has also got serious about this Kuga - as it needed to. The MK1 model was cramped inside. And the subsequent second generation version had fallen behind the best of its rivals in terms of ultimate diesel efficiency, media connectivity, safety spec and visual pizzazz. All that's been put right here. This Kuga certainly needed wider appeal if it was to expand its market share and push itself up-market and this third generation re-design looks to have provided just that. Other crossovers still make more of a style statement in this class, but correctly specified, this Ford now has considerably greater showroom appeal. In summary then, it's clear that the Blue Oval brand now means business when it comes to this class of car. And if you doubt that, then you need to try this one.