The Kuga PHEV is one of the most frustrating vehicles that we’ve tested in a long time. This is a really good car, hamstrung by its low towing limit.
Ford will have its reasons for setting that 1200kg maximum, but it’s a shame to set the bar so low when plug-in hybrids with broadly comparable performance have towing limits of 1500-1600kg. If the Kuga PHEV had a similar maximum, there’s little doubt it would score higher in our assessment.
It’s also disappointing that just before we went to press, Ford recalled Kuga PHEV’s built before 26 June, owing to an overheating fault. In a handful of cases, this has led to vehicle fires. Once this problem is solved, the Kuga PHEV will make a capable tow car for lightweight caravans.
The fuel economy figures we achieved while towing and in solo driving are the best we’ve seen from a plug-in hybrid. The Ford seems particularly adept at recapturing energy while driving, so it still sips fuel, even with very little charge in the battery.
In most respects, the Kuga upholds Ford’s reputation for building cars that keen drivers will enjoy. We wish the brakes felt more consistent, but this is a foible we’d live with for such low running costs.
The Kuga handles well for such a heavy car, and it’s relaxing and quiet when running as an electric vehicle. Please Ford, add extra cooling, beef up the gearbox, whatever it takes to raise the PHEV’s towing limit – there’s a really good tow car waiting to get out.
The third generation of the Ford Kuga has new engines, new technology and a smart new look. Ford has introduced a plug-in hybrid Kuga for the first time, and that’s the model we’re reviewing here.
There’s also a mild-hybrid diesel, as well as conventional petrol and diesel options. We’re pleased that Ford hasn’t rushed to abandon diesel power, as some car makers have with their family SUVs.
What are we looking for?
The Kuga PHEV has been priced within a few hundred pounds of the top-spec diesel. Has plug-in hybrid technology matured enough to allow caravanners to swap from diesel to hybrid power without need to compromise? Or does diesel power make more sense for towing?
With so much pulling power available immediately from the electric motor, the Kuga pulls away really smartly
Browse the Kuga PHEV’s technical specs and at first, it looks as though it has the makings of a very capable tow car. Between them, the petrol engine and the electric motor muster 225hp. And the kerb weight of 1844kg is very high for a five-seat family SUV of this size.
However, the numbers don’t look quite so promising when you get to the legal towing limit for a braked trailer: it’s only 1200kg. This isn’t just low compared with diesel SUVs, it’s low compared with other plug-in hybrids. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV can legally tow a 1500kg caravan, while the Volkswagen Passat GTE can pull up to 1600kg.
We matched the Ford to the Bailey Discovery D4-4 from our long-term fleet. This has a MiRO of 1050kg, so made a legal match because it was empty for our tow test. But even though this is a small, light caravan, had we loaded it to the 1206kg MTPLM, it would have been the wrong side of the Ford’s legal maximum.
So the pool of caravans the Kuga’s PHEV can tow is a pretty small one. The Bailey Discovery D4-2 and D4-3 fit the bill, as does the Swift Basecamp in two- and four-berth forms. The Elddis Xplore 304 and 422 are also light enough. But look beyond small tourers like these and the Kuga’s maximum is going to be too restrictive.
This is a shame, because what the Kuga is able to tow, it handles very well. With so much pulling power available immediately from the electric motor, the Kuga pulls away smartly, and usually puts its power to the road cleanly, despite being front-wheel drive. The rate of acceleration isn’t quite so strong at higher speeds, as for overtaking, the petrol engine will need to wake up to help the electric motor.
Compared with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, engine noise is better suppressed when accelerating hard, although the Ford’s 2.5-litre engine is not as sweet and smooth as the VW Passat GTE’s 1.4-litre petrol.
The Kuga was happy to hold 60mph on the motorway, and felt stable, even when overtaking high-sided vehicles. To be fair, a 1844kg car towing a caravan weighing just over a tonne really ought to be stable; but even allowing for such a favourable matching ratio, we were impressed with its secure and reassuring towing ability.
Towing quickly drains the battery, but the PHEV is very efficient when it comes to recouping energy that would be lost while coasting or braking. Even with the pure-electric range showing as zero miles, the electric motor would regularly contribute to forward progress. Perhaps acceleration from a standing start was not as strong with a low battery, but the Kuga coped well with steep gradients and with pulling away on a slope, whatever the state of charge might be.
We’ve marked the Kuga PHEV down quite heavily for its restricted towing limit, but if you own a light enough tourer for a legal match, don’t be put off. The Ford will tow a lightweight tourer very well, but a £37,000 family SUV should be able to tow more than a few entry-level caravans. Other PHEVs are capable of towing a wider range of models.
The Kuga PHEV has an official all-electric range of up to 35 miles. If that’s enough for your day-to-day travel, and you have a drive where you can charge the batteries at night, it’s possible to go for long periods without ever visiting a filling station. Charging from a mains socket takes six hours, which drops to 3.5 hours using a wallbox.
Unless you have a heavy right foot, the electric motor provides more than enough performance for most everyday journeys, and will happily cruise at 70mph without calling on the petrol engine.
The cabin is very quiet when the Kuga is running on electricity, although as speeds increase, you do hear some road noise.
ST-Line and ST-Line X models come with sports suspension, which makes for a firm ride, especially at low speeds. However, the trade-off is a taut and controlled feel on twisting roads.
We haven’t driven the Kuga on standard suspension to compare, but we suspect that many owners will be happier to forgo some of the ST-Line’s sharpness for more comfort.
The Kuga handles well and the steering is direct, whichever of the various drive modes is selected. However, the brakes take some getting used to.
At low speeds they felt sharp, biting hard with the gentlest press of the pedal. Conversely, a hefty shove was sometimes needed to slow the car from high speeds.
This inconsistent feel made it difficult to slow the vehicle smoothly, something that other cars with an energy-recouping braking system can suffer from. The more miles we covered, the more we adjusted our driving, but smooth braking still needed some concentration.
In terms of practicality, boot space is the Kuga’s weak point. Although the boot is wide and long, there’s not much height between the floor and the parcel shelf. With the rear seats fully back on their runners and the shelf in place, the Kuga offers 411 litres of space. Other Kugas which don’t have to find room for batteries have 475 litres.
On the plus side, the boot floor is flush with the tailgate opening, which makes loading easy, and levers either side of the boot fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat.
The rear seat-backs can be reclined or set to a more upright position. They also slide back and forth on runners, which can help to free up a bit more space in the boot.
With the seats all of the way back, there’s loads of legroom – tall adults can get comfortable with room to spare.
Space is generous for those seating in the front, with plenty of adjustment to the driver’s seat and steering wheel.
You sit high for a typical SUV driving position, even with the seat at its lowest setting. But thinner pillars would make for better all-round vision.
The cabin is solidly built, but at this price, there are plenty of premium-badged alternatives that provide a plusher finish.
The Kuga PHEV is priced from £33,585 in Titanium spec, which means it undercuts the cheapest Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV by around £2000. It’s more than £3000 cheaper than the most affordable VW Passat GTE.
In our test car’s ST-Line-X spec, the price is £36,985. According to What Car?, you should be able to haggle that down to about £34,781.
If it’s company money, the Kuga PHEV costs little in tax. Thanks to a low emissions and a long electric range, it sits in the 10% benefit-in-kind tax bracket, compared with 37% for the most powerful diesel Kuga.
Fuel bills will be very low, but matching the official combined economy figure of 201.8mpg will need regular battery charging. We started our towing economy route with an electric range of 24 miles. After 56.6 miles, the Kuga had returned 43.8mpg. We were towing a very light van, but even so, that’s exceptional.
A solo drive on motorways and busy London streets saw the Kuga achieve 52.6mpg, even though the journey began with an electric range of zero miles.
How much will it cost on finance?
You can lease a Ford Kuga PHEV ST-Line X for £359.98 per month over three years from 1st Choice Vehicle Finance. The deal requires an initial payment equivalent to six months of regular payments, and allows for 10,000 miles per year. Maintenance is not included. If 5000 miles per year is enough for your travelling requirements, the payments drop to £320.11.
With a maximum towing limit of 1200kg, you can safely tow a Swift Basecamp.
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|Engine Size||2488 cc|
|Towball Limit||100 kg|
|Maximum Towing Limit||1200 kg|
|Offical MPG||201.8 mpg|
|Towing MPG||43.8 mpg|