Family-friendly SUV that looks cool and merely sniffs at fuel
It’s about as fresh and woke as an SUV can get. Swoopy styling, Focus underpinnings, and clever future tech that’ll get you a claimed 200mpg – this writer bears witness to nearly 100mpg in the real world – at least for a while. The Kuga has come a long way, cue wavy lines to inset a quick history lesson…
The Kuga SUV has been around since 2008, and this is the all-new third generation of the nameplate launched last year. The Ford Escape has been around since 2000 originally developed jointly with Mazda. It was hence also badged the Mazda Tribute (and Ford Maverick in some markets). Escape was a relatively basic, dare it be said, crude off-roader that I remember ragging in the desert to some enjoyable effect.
In 2013 the third generation Escape was no longer an Escape – it was a rebadged second gen Kuga. The Kuga already benefited from being based on a platform the basis of which also served up a great hot hatch. The reference here is to the Focus of course, in case you lost track – keep up!
So the question is, should you hate the Escape (as the Kuga is called in America), and by inference the new Kuga, for softening up and being a jacked-up family hatchback crossover pretend SUV thingy now?
Especially when you look at this particular car, the Plug-In Hybrid Electric version (PHEV), offered with just front wheel drive, a CVT transmission, and a 2.5-litre Duratec petrol engine putting out 225bhp, but a less than scintillating a top speed of 125mph and 0-62mph acceleration in 9.2 seconds.
And costing £36,985 – once you add the Lucid Red paint, space-saver spare wheel, Winter Pack (heated steering wheel and rear seats); Technology Pack (LED lights and heads-up display); and Driver’s Assistant Pack (cameras, adaptive cruise control with traffic sign recognition, blind spot warning, park assist and the absolute must-have automatically deploying door-edge guards), the final price is nearer £40k.
Okay, a slight digression here, because OMIGOD – DOOR EDGE GUARDS! In a blink of an eye, these rubber strips slip out from their hiding place inside the door and wrap themselves around the further edge of the doors (front and rear) so that if you hit the car next to you, they will not scratch! Not entirely new and unique to the Kuga, but it’s the first time this reviewer had witnessed them in action.
They are the best new car innovation since ABS brakes, the best invention overall in the world ever, since sliced bread! A true ‘why has no one thought of this before’ epochal eureka moment. Of course, much as in the manner of the facemasks we all should now wear, these are an altruistic device – they protect other’s cars not your own, but altruism is what this decade should be about in light of recent events, and if we all order these and ensure they catch on – then one day all cars will have them and our car doors will at last be scrape and ding-free!
Okay, back to this Kuga. On paper it’s not that quick, but it’s thrifty with a claimed combined petrol and PHEV fuel consumption figure of 201.8mpg, and CO2 emissions of just 26g/km – although that’s tempered with normal fuel consumption figures of up to 47.1mpg and 148g/km. In the first 25 miles of motoring, 19 were on electric only, achieving a staggering 97.5mpg. Ford claims it has a pure EV range of 35 miles.
Once the electric charge drops, so does the economy (although it continues to charge the battery through the hybrid system and regen braking) so the figure of 47mpg should be easily achievable. A non-plugin version of this same hybrid powertrain is likely to be introduced next year. By the way, you can also set it to save the low-emission EV power for when you need it in built-up city areas.
Now to that performance – forget the 9.2 seconds, on the road, not only does this never feel slow, but in-gear acceleration is potent and overtaking is not an issue – the shove from the electric motor provides extra impetus. The CVT has artificial ratios so the typical CVT drone is mostly unnoticeable until you accelerate hard over longer durations. There’s even a moderately engaging engine note – it’s more remarkable as a sudden reminder that this PHEV does indeed have a traditional engine, as it’s so quiet the majority of the time.
The steering is light, and the handling is remarkably composed – unsurprising as it’s based on one of the best-handling hatchbacks around. This ST-Line version comes with attractive 19-inch alloy wheels (plus body kit) and firmer sports suspension. However, the ride is impressive, never unruly, always refined and smooth in most circumstances. There are drive modes, including ‘off-road’ modes which use the traction and stability systems to aid progress on uneven or slippery terrain. Leave the off-roading to the 2.0-litre diesel version as that comes with all-wheel drive.
While it’s easy to drive and perfectly manageable around town, it does feel like a large car from behind the wheel, so make sure you take it for a test drive first. In fact it’s 9cm longer and 4.4cm wider than its predecessor. There’s 411 litres of load space available (more in the non-hybrid models) plus split folding seats increase the cargo capacity. Under the floor sits the spare tyre and charging cables.
In the rear there is plenty of space for individuals of over six foot tall to sit behind front occupants of the same height with feet, knee an head space to spare – plus you can slide the rear seats individually for more room. There’s an armrest with cupholders, two rear AC vents and a three-point plug power supply.
In the front there’s an entirely digital instrument screen, good storage space including a non-slip mat specifically for your phone, two USB plugs, large 8-inch centre touchscreen with sat nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus B&O sound system. The seats are comfy, the seating position is good and visibility is not an issue – though the reversing camera helps.
This trim is very well specced including a panoramic glass roof, power tailgate, heated sports seats, keyless entry and start, driver monitor, lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking, and a flat-bottom steering wheel.
Unlike the more straighter-edged previous iteration, this one has contours and curves that nuance the light reflections and give the Kuga an appealing presence that isn’t too overtly SUV-like with a signature large gaping grille that gives it a welcoming smiley face.
Feel good, save the environment, visit the petrol station less often – what’s not to love? The hybrid system is unobtrusive but very effective, and the Kuga is capacious, comfortable and, in ST-Line trim, sporty and stylish too. As for the original question about whether it’s a betrayal of the original Escape’s premise – who cares? How many of you really go off-road? If there’s a fault with this car, it’s not easy to pin down – unless the Kuga is bit too large for your needs. Maybe then you need the new Fiesta-based Puma instead, and perhaps I need to review that one soon!