DT review: Does the new Ford Kuga plug-in hybrid have a weight problem?
It’s a bit wibbly – which is a shame because there's a good car in there
I have a theory that much of what motoring journalists say about car suspension is largely irrelevant. In the history of mankind I’d warrant that many thousands and thousands of hours have been wasted talking about secondary ride quality and damping rates. And if you can find me one normal person who gives a crap – and normal is defined as someone who does not read car websites – then I’ll give up Barolo for a month.
Most regular people buy cars because of the way they look and make you feel. People buy Mercedes because the badge makes them feel accomplished. People buy Fiesta STs because they make them feel alive. People buy Porsche Boxsters because they make them feel like connoisseurs.
Up to a point, people just aren’t put off buying cars by what the springs underneath are doing.
However I’m going to make an exception in the case of the new Ford Kuga plug-in hybrid. Because while it’s a clever and spacious family car that does get decent fuel economy, it made me feel a bit sick. And I have an iron stomach.
That's £38,000 of car right there
On a roll
It’s a bouncy thing. This plug-in hybrid version of the Kuga is powered by a 225hp combination of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol engine and an electric motor connected to a 14.4kWh battery. Together they make for a 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds through a CVT gearbox. So far, so normal. But there’s an elephant in the room you just can’t ignore – or perhaps that should be an elephant under the floor.
Car manufacturers are slowly learning how to disguise the mass of batteries. Honda’s done it well in the new Jazz (admittedly it has a tiny battery pack), but this new plug-in Kuga feels for all the world as if there’s a uranium replica of Ron Jeremy’s money-making member in the boot.
And the radioactive wang is hard to ignore.
Think this is blurry? Wait until you hit the speed bump…
The Kuga’s 1,844kg bulk means that while the wheels want to glide over speedbumps, the car’s sheer mass would rather steamroller them flat. And in the resulting fight, you almost get flung out of your seat. Slight undulations on smooth roads become things that will make your other half tell you to slow down, even when you’re already taking it steady. For a family SUV, this is a bit of a flaw.
It’s a shame, because the rest of the car isn’t bad.
The hybrid system works well – I didn’t plug the car in during my week test, but even when there’s zero electric range, the petrol engine and electric motors still work to give you rapid acceleration and improved fuel economy. Away from a standstill the Kuga’s quick, but the acceleration tails off sharply above 25mph. But this is a family car with more of a focus on economy than performance – and economy is good. I drove for 60 miles on very little charge and the car still reckons it did 35 of those miles on the power of electricity alone. That’s not bad considering plug-in hybrids are designed to be, well… plugged in.
If you can charge the Kuga in at home you’ll be laughing. Especially because the petrol engine doesn’t kick in until you’re really caning it – you can sit at 50mph on a country road in electric mode, at least for a while. From a full charge you can expect to get 35 miles of pure-electric range, and slightly closer to 50 if you mostly drive in town.
But does it feel like a Ford?
Hands up if you forgot to remove your man bag from the passenger footwell before shooting interiors 🙋🏻♂️
You might have guessed the Kuga’s going to get a bit of a kicking for its handling, and it is. The mass just doesn’t let you have any fun, and you sense it’s a car that’s not engineered to put a smile on your face in the bends at all. Which is a shame, because we know Ford has a great team of engineers that can make ordinary cars feel extraordinary. Just look at the way 'normal' Fiestas or Pumas encourage you to fling them around.
The Kuga’s steering has a fairly horrid rubbery self-centring feel that’s exacerbated by the electronic lane assist which never seems to stay off – blame safety regulations for that. And the accelerator has a hair trigger response that makes parallel parking as stressful as mine clearing. On the move, the brake pedal never does exactly what you want it to, and there’s all too obvious a leap between regenerative braking and using the car's actual physical brakes.
In time you’ll get used to most of this stuff, but the Kuga plug-in hybrid just doesn’t drive as well as it should.
The Kuga's back doors have this weird pattern of diamond-shaped dents. I'm not sure why I found this fascinating, but I did.
Thankfully the cabin is rather pleasant. You get a large colourful driver’s display which gives you every last bit of hybrid info, the central infotainment screen’s sharp and relatively responsive to your prods, and the red stitching on our ST-Line test car’s dash and seats gives things a nice sporty edge too. All in, it feels pretty posh. The boot’s big enough to carry my litany of baby transport devices, even though the plug-in hybrid version does lose a bit of boot space compared to the rest of the Kuga range.
Would you buy one?
Not in plug-in hybrid form. Even if you don’t really know your dampers from your trailing arms you’ll find it too damn jiggly and unsettled – and for £36,000 you can do better. The Kuga with a non-hybrid 1.5-litre petrol engine is 280kg lighter and likely a far more comfortable match for family life.
As it stands, the plug-in hybrid Kuga’s cleverness and efficiency aren’t worth the compromises.