Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4
  • Broad range of engines available
  • Hybrids promise great efficiency
  • Little choice for four-wheel drive fans

One thing you won’t be stuck for if you opt for a third-generation Kuga is choice, with seven engine and gearbox combinations available from launch, including two with electrification.

>> We rate the best hybrid SUVs for 2020

Pair of petrols

Kicking the range off is a 120hp version of the 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol, packing 240Nm of torque. This is only available with Zetec trim and is primarily offered due to its attractively low price. Top speed is 115mph, while the 0-62mph sprint takes 11.6 seconds.

A six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive is all that’s available here.

That’s also the story with the upgraded 150hp version of the same engine – torque remains unaltered. It’s more appealing if you don’t cover the annual mileage to warrant switching to a pricier diesel and the performance is more palatable, too: 121mph top speed and 9.7 seconds for the 0-62mph benchmark.

Diesels will be popular

Although sales of diesel cars are declining, they remain sensible, popular choices in family SUVs such as the Kuga.

Also a 1.5-litre is the EcoBlue with 120hp and 300Nm of torque. Front-wheel drive is the order of the day again, but there’s an eight-speed automatic option alongside the manual.

Neither are especially swift: the manual’s vital statistics are a top speed of 112mph, with a 0-62mph dash of 11.7 seconds, compared with the auto’s 110mph and 12-second claims.

Quickest of all the Kugas is the only one fitted with four-wheel drive – the 2.0-litre EcoBlue, with 190hp and 400Nm of accelerative power. Top speed rises to 129 mph, while the 0-62mph time drops to a speedy 8.7 seconds.

Electrification options

Expected to be the most popular of the two electrified Kugas is the 150hp EcoBlue diesel mild-hybrid, or mHEV for short.

In essence it uses a beefed-up stop-start system that’s capable of turning the engine off at low speeds or when acceleration’s not required to improve fuel efficiency – up to 56.5mpg on paper.

But, in the quest for efficiency, performance hasn’t been sacrificed, with a 121mph top speed and a 9.6-second time for the 0-62mph benchmark. A six-speed manual and front-wheel drive are standard again.

Bigger news, and sitting as the flagship of the range is the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version. A 2.5-litre petrol engine combines with an electric motor to produce 225hp. For reference, the large engine produces just 115hp, the electric motor the remaining 110hp.

Performance-wise that equates to a 125mph top speed and a 9.2-second 0-62mph time. It feels spry thanks to the electrical energy boost, but given Ford’s recent plaudits with the speed-oriented Fiesta ST and forthcoming Puma version, this feels unsatisfying as a sports SUV.

Primarily that’s due to the CVT transmission, which makes the engine rev much higher than you’d expect at most road speeds, making the engine sound especially gruff. There are artificial gear ratios to make it feel a little more like a conventional automatic gearbox, but ultimately it doesn’t sate keener drivers.

Think of it as a brisk eco-focused SUV rather than a quick crossover that happens to be efficient.

Variety of driving modes

All Kugas have a suite of driving modes – which on models fitted with the digital instrument display change its colour and graphics.

Normal is best for everyday driving – and ensures maximum EV use on the PHEV, while Eco dulls down the throttle responses to eke-out the most efficiency.

Sport proves to be the most responsive and feels most at home on a winding B-road, while Slippery and Snow/Sand are more specific to particular climates or terrain, varying the amount of power to the driven wheels in order to ensure continued progress.

How does the Kuga handle?

  • Will satisfy the majority of drivers
  • Not as sharp as older models, though
  • Sports suspension is on the firm side

Just as the Ford Focus remains one of the best-handling cars in the compact family car arena, so it is with the Mk3 Kuga in the family SUV market. But, as with the Focus, the competition has caught-up considerably.

For instance, while the Kuga’s steering is still communicative, giving the driver a decent amount of feedback about traction and road conditions, it’s not as sharp a signal as it was before, and the weighting is a touch light for enthusiastic drivers.

Still, all Kugas – unlike the Focus hatchback range – feature fully independent rear suspension. Don’t worry, we’re not about to get al technical. What you need to know is that it’s more sophisticated kind of suspension than that fitted on many rivals, enabling the Kuga to handle better and ride more comfortably. It’s less of a compromise than competitor set-ups. The way it corners at speed is particularly noteworthy.

However, that’s not the primary reason most customers choose a car of this type – for those, the experience will be steering that keeps them accurate and true both around sweeping bends and multi-storey car parks, while the fine body control means it will remain relatively level when cornering.

The distance between the pedals and the weight of the gearshift on manual versions is ideal – you’re unlikely to find your feet too close together with the former and the latter snicks between ratios with a satisfying action.

Just be cautious if you’re considering an ST-Line version because you like the sportier looks. It’s riding in Sports suspension, which means its firmer than the regular models. While poor surfaces won’t feel especially sharp thanks to the fine damping, they do remain very noticeable, which can become tiresome.