Plug-ins and full hybrids offer decent performance and impressive economy as Ford ditches diesel
Diesel engines were once the bread and butter of the family SUV segment.
Even five years ago, if you wanted a big engine to haul a lot of people and stuff, you’d more than likely end up with 2.0 liter lumps of oil under the hood, regardless of what badge was on the hood.
However, time has passed and more and more brands are ditching DERV completely, with Ford among them.
It recently discontinued the diesel version of the popular Kuga family SUV and has put all its weight into the hybrid motor to offer a diesel-like economy without the stigma.
There’s still a 1.5-liter straight petrol model that offers 148bhp, and around 40mpg, but the Kuga is also equipped with a 2.5-liter petrol under the guise of a “self-charging” or full plug-in hybrid, both front-wheel drive and come with a CVT transmission as a starter. standard. The full hybrid offers 187bhp and a claimed economy of around 49mpg whereas the PHEV has 222bhp and features the usual ridiculous 200mpg+ claim.
Ridiculous official numbers aside, the plug-in variant was one of the first PHEVs to impress me with its performance. Maybe it was just luck that my needs matched its characteristics, but over a few hundred miles on various roads the Kuga made an impressive 70mpg. That’s with a regular overnight charge to recharge the battery, but without any changes to my driving style and with the hybrid system it’s mostly left to the devices themselves.
The full hybrid will never match plug-in economy if used properly but it still returns mid-40s economy easily and can be coaxed north of 50mpg without too much effort. It’s also about £1,000 cheaper. Which option is better will depend on how and where you use it and whether you have access to charging at home.
In the setup and in one of the two trims I recently tested, the Kuga’s ride remained problematic. It’s just the wrong side of the company, with fragility that rivals like the Nissan Qashqai and Honda CR-V have largely removed. The Vignale’s softer suspension is offset by larger wheels so there’s not a huge difference in ride quality between it and the ST-Line Edition. For a truly decent ride, you’ll need to get down to a Titanium spec car with smaller wheels. Of course, in typical Ford styling, it handles better than most of its rivals, corners neatly and covers its size well.
Whether dynamism on the road is more important than comfort in a family SUV is a personal choice, but either way, the Kuga has the practical side involved.
There are more attractive and stylish interiors in this segment, but the Ford’s solid simplicity is a welcome and easy approach to getting in and driving non-stop fiddling with the touchscreen and menus.
It’s also practical and spacious, with decent legroom even behind tall front seat passengers and enough head and shoulder room to fit three rear seat passengers. Boots range from 412 to 526 liters depending on how you position the sliding and reclining rear seats.
The Vignale is now firmly established as the top trim level in Ford’s lineup, offering all the luxury you could want and maybe some you just can’t. To be precise, it’s also the most expensive, even though it’s only around £1,300. Given how complete the ST-Line Edition is, the choice really depends on whether you prefer the ST-Line’s sportier look or the chrome trimmings and Vignale-coated leather.
Both versions come with full LED headlights with self-dipping function, power tailgate, keyless entry, 12.3-inch digital instruments, dual zone climate, and an eight-inch Sync3 touchscreen with smartphone mirroring.
The Vignale adds active noise cancellation, heated rear seats, wireless phone charging, luxurious leather trim, and a unique exterior styling kit that won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Regardless of the trim level, the Kuga remains a major force in the family SUV segment. Aside from compromised comfort, it’s spacious, practical and well-equipped and, especially in the form of a PHEV, very frugal.
Price: £39,305 ((£40,995 when tested); Machine: 2.5 liter, four cylinder, gasoline with single electric motor;Power: 222bhp; torque: there isn’t any; Transmission: automatic CVT; Top speed: 125mph; 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds; Economy: 256.8 mpg; CO2 Emissions: 25g/km; Ford Kuga 35 miles