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Ford’s original SUV gets a round of targeted updates to sustain its dwindling appeal - to what effect?

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There's no denying how much of a success story the Ford Kuga has been. 

The SUV started out in life in 2008 as the Blue Oval’s first dip into the then murky waters of jacked up hatchbacks, and soon after became one of the UKs best selling cars, then in 2022 the country’s best selling plug-in hybrid.

Fast forward to 2024 and it has received a range of targeted updates concerning its design and technology in an effort to get ahead of slowing sales and keep up with the ever increasing, and ever more appealing, competition.

Class victory in this segment has never been so hotly contested, with rivals stretching from the spacious Volkswagen Tiguan and the evergreen Toyota RAV4 to more premium rivals such as the Volvo XC40, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA

Crucially, though, as the market share of plug-in hybrids becomes ever more prominent, each of those cars can be configured as a PHEV, and given their newfound popularity, particularly among company car buyers, Ford has truly honed in on the hybrid Kuga in its marketing push.

But is this, as well as a new design and upgraded interior technology enough to continue its appeal or is Dearborn’s cash cow now lacking in competitiveness?

The Ford Kuga range at a glance

The Kuga's powertrain line-up is fairly simple, consisting of three engines: one mild hybrid, one hybrid, and the other plug-in hybrid.

The range opens with a 1.5-litre Ecoboost turbo petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. It produces 148bhp and 177lb ft, with a 0-62mph sprint of 9.7sec and top speed of 121mph. This is available with front-wheel drive only.

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Above this sits a 2.5-litre full-hybrid which, along with the top sec car, can be had with either front- or four-wheel drive. The front-wheel drive car produces 178bhp and 147lb ft, while the 4x4 gets as much torque but with a bump in power to 181bhp. The former gets from 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds, while the latter does it in 8.3 seconds. Both top out at 122mph. 

The top-spec car, meanwhile, is the 240bhp 2.5-litre plug-in hybrid, which combines a four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol engine with a 14.4kWh battery and electric motor. This results in a warm hatch-baiting 0-62mph time of 7.3sec and a top speed of 125mph.

Both full-hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars send their power through a CVT gearbox.


Ford Kuga hydrid S line 2024 side

Ford has de-emphasised the previous car’s soft styling even further. It gets a near-ovular front grille, above which sits a light bar if you specify the technology pack, as well as a softer-edged front bumper and redesigned taillights.

We believe both Active and ST-Line trims complement the car's design more successfully than the entry-level car, their additional black gloss trim pieces and sharper-edged front bumpers giving the Kuga a tougher, harder-edged look that many buyers look for at this end of the market. This is evidenced by the fact that both Ford and Volkswagen expect their sportiest trims, ST-Line and R-Line, to be their best-sellers.

The Kuga is underpinned by Ford's C2 platform which is also used by the Focus hatchback. Being 4614mm in length, 1883mm in width and 1678mm in height, it's both shorter, narrower and lower than the Volkswagen Tiguan and Volvo XC60, but slightly larger than a Toyota RAV4.

Aside from the lack of a diesel option, the engine line-up has remained unchanged from the pre-facelift car. We're focusing on the PHEV, however, which uses a 14.4kWh battery pack mated to an electric motor. The system offers an electric-only driving range of 41 miles, and is similar to that used by Toyota in that power is sent through a CVT gearbox. This puts it somewhat short of the Volkswagen Tiguan e-Hybrid (71 miles), the Toyota RAV4 (46 miles), and the BMW X1 25e (51 miles).


Ford Kuga hydrid S line 2024 interior dashboard

Ford’s marketing is keen to push how much 'more' this car can do compared to its predecessor, and this philosophy translates inside to a larger screen and more functionality for the infotainment system. However, you arguably get less in terms of hardware, because the HVAC controls have migrated onto the screen, and in their place sits a small row of shortcut buttons for the surround-view cameras, de-mister, and park assist.

The dials which have remained fall easily to hand, though, especially the gearchange which feels tactile to both use and hold.

Cabin quality elsewhere, however, is a mixed bag. Up front, most materials feel good enough, but closer acquaintance throws the cheaper interior plastics into view. The upper door cards, for example, are trimmed in soft-touch artificial leather up front but scratchy plastic in the back. 

The doors themselves feel cheap, opening and closing with an unpleasant clang. It comes from the door protector that pops out, which is very useful, but could have been integrated more neatly.

The Kuga pulls one back for occupant space. The front seats have a wide base and good under-thigh support, and there is plenty of adjustment in the driving position. In the back, with the seats reclined, you have the space to really stretch out and, even though our car came with the optional space-robbing panoramic sunroof, we did not struggle for headroom. 

Storage space elsewhere is good, with plentiful storage for keys, phones and other clutter.  Larger door bins would be helpful, however.

Boot space is reduced for the PHEV from the get-go, falling from 645 litres in the regular models to 581 litres with the seats slid fully forward, but the boot floor does at least conveniently sit flush with the broad boot lip. This compares with 652 litres in the Tiguan e-Hybrid with its seats in the same configuration, or 500 litres for the Toyota RAV4 PHEV.

Ford Kuga infotainment

The centrally-mounted touchscreen is a headline addition for this generation. It sees the introduction of Ford's SYNC4 infotainment system, which uses a 13.2in touchscreen and is said to offer double the computing power of the SYNC3 system used in the old Kuga. 

Overall, the system is more intuitive to use than Volkswagen's MIB4 effort, but doesn't have as much functionality, with no ribbon at the top or bottom to which you can add shortcut buttons for its most important features. There is also no rotary controller like that used in the Mazda CX-5, which may have helped in this respect. 

But, like Volkswagen's system, the air conditioning controls permanently sit at the foot of the screen and, once you get used to them, they are easy enough to configure as you please. The buttons can be difficult to hit while you're on the move, however, and, while the standard-fit Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are easy to connect to, on multiple occasions we experienced some connection issues.

Another gripe is that the indicator ‘tock’ is all but inaudible, especially when you have the radio or air conditioning switched on.


Kuga PHEV engine

With 240bhp and a 0-62mph time of 7.2sec, the Kuga PHEV touts the on-paper performance figures of an SUV that should be genuinely interesting to drive. There is one thing that stands in the way, however: its weight. All that additional hybrid componentry means it tips the scales at 1859kg, making it heavier than the Tiguan e-Hybrid and Mercedes-Benz GLA 250e, but significantly lighter than BMW's X1 25e.

That's not to say the engine doesn't have sufficient get-up-and-go, because it is more than fast enough for a car of its size and target market. Throttle response is sharp by the standards of the class and, with plenty of torque, the car can sustain its initial, electricity-aided burst of acceleration for more than just a second or two.

But when you begin to explore the outer reaches of its operating envelope, the whole car begins to vibrate in a rather agricultural and very unwelcome way. Compared to the impressive refinement and sound deadening of the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Kuga feels several years behind them in terms of powertrain development. Its rather dreadful, monotonous moan is also experienced at lower speeds around town, and, after a while, you find yourself trying to get it to switch back to EV mode so you don't have to listen to it.

Ford has, at least, fixed the issue of the abrupt step-off that we observed on the pre-facelift PHEV, where the electric motor kicked in too enthusiastically around town. It feels more progressive now, and the switch from all-electric power to combustion power is completely imperceptible.


Ford Kuga hydrid S line 2024 rear left three quarter.

In this case, the mass of the battery is handily positioned low and well between the axles. This means that, overall, the Kuga controls itself nicely in day-to-day situations, with good levels of grip and a distinct lack of body roll; impressive given its heft.

But an unwelcome rigidity to how it absorbs poorer road surfaces gets in the way of any enjoyable involvement in the driving experience, at least on the sporty ST-Line suspension that many UK cars are fitted with. It also didn't help around town and over speed bumps, where even in its most laid back mode, Eco, its ride was crashy and uncomfortable.

When you push on you will also discover that the accurate, direct steering that works so well in the Focus doesn't translate to the taller and heavier Kuga, whose rack is too responsive off-centre and feels grabby, awkward, and unintuitive anywhere below 50mph. This can make it difficult to keep the car perfectly centred in its lane.

At motorway speeds, though, it feels just as good as many of its competitors. Refined and smooth between 50mph and 70mph, some additional tyre noise is the only way of being able to tell how fast you’re going.


Ford Kuga hydrid S line 2024 front three quarter

Company car drivers will naturally gravitate towards the Kuga PHEV, because of its low BIK tax qualification, which undercuts other members of the Kuga line-up.

In the years since this generation of Kuga was launched, rivals have caught up and overtaken it, however. With 41 miles of electric-only range and CO2 emissions of 23g/km, the Kuga PHEV sits in the 8% BIK tax bracket. This compares to the Volkswagen Tiguan (5%), Toyota RAV4 (8%), BMW X1 25e (8%), Kia Sportage PHEV (8%), and Hyundai Tucson PHEV (14%). 

Its electric-only range is ample for the average commuter to barely need to fill up with fuel during the week, assuming they can charge the car’s battery at work. (It takes three-and-a-half hours from a wallbox and six from a domestic three-pin plug.) Owners may rarely if ever achieve the official 201.8mpg, but over a year, with frequent charging, they might be surprised how close they get.

Fuel economy was quite good for a car of its size and heft. With a flat battery and running the engine alone, we achieved 47mpg on a mixture of country roads, motorway and town driving. 

The Kuga’s towing performance is competitive, with Ford claiming it to have a best-in-class capacity of 2100kg (in four-wheel-drive hybrid and front-wheel-drive plug-in-hybrid guise). This compares to the Tiguan which can tow up to 2000kg, while the Kia Sportage manages just 1500kg.

Pricing? The standard Titanium car comes in at a shade over £32,000 and gets 17in alloys, LED front and rear lights, its own grille design and bumpers clad in rather unattractive black plastic.

Mid-rung Active trim, meanwhile, gets more unpainted black plastic trim around the wheel arches and side sills, along with raised suspension to give it the appearance of something more rugged. If you go for top-spec ST-Line X trims - from just under £40,000 - you get 19in alloys, a meaner front and rear bumper design, and red brake callipers.

The cheapest PHEV, meanwhile, comes in at around £40,000, which means that it costs less than many of its rivals.


Ford Kuga hydrid S line 2024 front three quarter static

It goes without saying just how prominent the UK's fleet market is these days, with 600,000 cars registered in 2024 compared with 490,000 at the same time last year, which means plug-in hybrids like this - themselves part of a growing market - have to work harder than ever to prove their worth.

The Kuga brings with it the sort of cornering dynamics that make it feel just above the class standard, as well as handsome looks and refreshed technology inside to bring it in line with its most fiercely-contested rivals, but even so it doesn't quite cut the mustard among the competition anymore.

While commendably spacious and practical, the PHEV version isn’t without compromise in terms of dynamics and ergonomics, with awkward-feeling steering and a distinctly non-compliant ride quality on the UK’s rutted roads. 

What we would have liked to have seen improved over the pre-facelift car is greater precision and finesse in the way the hybrid's electrified powertrain conducts itself. Its unpleasant noise and uncompetitive range make it seem as if Ford has little in the way of experience developing hybrid powertrains; a fact which we know is untrue. 

While it remains an attractive family car both in terms of pricing and practicality, overall the Kuga feels outdated against newer, more refined and increasingly efficient competition.

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce
Title: Editorial Assistant

Jonathan is an editorial assistant working with Autocar. He has held this position since March 2024, having previously studied at the University of Glasgow before moving to London to become an editorial apprentice and pursue a career in motoring journalism. 

His role at work involves writing news stories, travelling to launch events and interviewing some of the industry's most influential executives, writing used car reviews and used car advice articles, updating and uploading articles for the Autocar website and making sure they are optimised for search engines, and regularly appearing on Autocar's social media channels including Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Ford Kuga First drives