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Ford Kuga long-term test

2020 onwards (change model)
Parkers overall rating: 3.1 out of 53.1

Written by Luke Wilkinson Published: 4 January 2023 Updated: 30 March 2023

Ford Kuga (2021) long-term test

The Ford Kuga is one of the most popular family SUVs you can buy right now. But does it deserve that position in market packed with exciting alternatives? We’re running one over six months to see just how good it is – and to test how effective the plug-in hybrid option is at saving fuel.

Reports by Elliott Humbles.

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Update 1: Welcome

Introducing the Ford Kuga ST Line X PHEV

Throughout the original Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown here in the UK I had been left with a Ford Fiesta ST. Not bad right? However, it was time for the in-house Automotive Videographer to be sensible and take on a vehicle capable of supporting all of my equipment and adult responsibilities. Enter, the Ford Kuga.

What’s in the box?

I’ve got the Kuga in the ST-Line X spec, 2.5-litre plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with a CVT transmission. From the outside you can see that we have the ST-Line full body styling kit, a large rear spoiler, 19-inch machined finished alloys featuring red brake callipers, sports suspension and a power opening panoramic roof.

Not to mention the chosen options too. First up the technology pack, with full LED quad projector head lamps and head-up display. Plus, the jam-packed driver assistance pack, including front and rear cameras, adaptive cruise control with traffic sign recognition, blind spot information system, active park assist and the useful door edge guard. That’s a lot of stuff!

Gadgets galore

Ford Kuga (2021) digital instruments

On first impressions It seems like I will be living the life of luxury with the Kuga and its long list of gadgets. It’s shaping up to be a vehicle fit for supplementing all of my videographer needs and more. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect, however, is the plug-in hybrid element. I am completely pro electric cars and a true environmentally friendly fellow, so I welcome the zero emissions electric aspect with open arms.

Will the Kuga be a videographer’s dream? Will the Kuga’s PHEV powertrain be effective? Can I even charge it from my top floor flat? (No, no I can’t). Over the next few months I’ll be running the Kuga and testing all it has to give, step aside Fiesta ST, it’s time to be a professional.

Update 2: Practicality

What’s the Kuga like as a load-lugger?

Ford Kuga (2021) front end

First and foremost I would like to talk about the practicality of the Kuga. Since my role with Parkers involves hauling around plenty of equipment, it seems like a logical place to start. After all, if this is my work car, am I able to carry out my day to day tasks?

Instantly it’s clear that this SUV is spacious, especially in comparison to the Fiesta I had previously, but the Kuga seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. When in two-seat mode, with the car laden to the roof and considering the optional mini spare wheel, it has a capacity of 1,423–1,478 litres.

However, I personally can’t visualise that without flooding the car with water, but I can tell you that I’ve managed to fill the car with all my camera equipment of various shapes and sizes, a sofa, and a couple of plants on a journey from London to Peterborough.

Ford Kuga (2021) boot space

Perfect for house removals

Furthermore, I’ve moved to a new house with the Kuga, utilising those valuable litres and filling it to the brim with furniture and personal possessions. Perhaps there are bigger cars capable of handling more, but take it from me, this Kuga can handle the majority of loads.

Following on from this I have to mention the Kuga’s capabilities as a tracking car. Tracking, which is more commonly known as hanging out the back of the car filming another car, isn’t something the general public will be doing and be assured the safety precautions are enough of a hassle for you to even bother (so don’t, unless it’s your job!).

However, this car has certainly been a sturdy workhorse in this department. With the seats down I’m capable of stretching my 6ft 1in self comfortably in order to get the shots required. There are also plenty of points to anchor my harness and prevent myself from being ejected. Plus, I have an ultra-convenient (though not so consistent) hands-free power tailgate for ease of access whilst holding the Gimbal mounted camera.

The perfect tracking car

All of this combined with a smooth ride and I manage to get some seriously spectacular tracking shots (even if I do say so myself) featured on Parkers YouTube and CAR’s YouTube channels… if you’re interested that is.

Moving on we have a number of very helpful interior gadgets to keep any videographer satisfied. My favourite happens to be the wireless charging pad (below) and Bluetooth capabilities, handy for keeping the phone charged and synced up for calls when travelling to locations. On top of this there are a number of points within the car to charge batteries, there’s even a three-pin plug socket in the second row.

Once on location the parking assist features come into play. The front and rear cameras in combination with the sensors allow me to park with ease even in the most dubious of spots. Although, I will say that on the two occasions I’ve tried to use the Active Park Assist I’ve quickly cancelled at the last second in fear of a collision. I’m not sure that’s the idea.

And finally, after a tough shoot in the cold and the rain, there is nothing better than the Sensico heated seats with their sporty red stitching and the dual zone automatic temperature control set to HI. Paired with the all-important Quickclear windscreen and heated power folding mirrors for a quick get away, and that’s a wrap! 

Update 3: Driving 

How does the Kuga stack up on the road?

Ford Kuga (2021) driving

Having never driven an SUV prior to the Kuga, it has been a different experience altogether. For starters I feel like an adult, a family man as many of my friends have suggested. No longer am I at the helm of an empty, echoey metal box. Nor am I low to the ground clinging onto corners and scaring passengers. Instead, I sit comfortably up high, I have a tremendously dominant view of the road and bring with me an air of ‘businessman’ wherever I go.

By far the best part of the driving experience, for myself at least, is the sheer ease of driving the Kuga. It may seem larger than the Fiesta I mentioned before, however driving through towns, even the busiest streets of London, has been a doddle.

Ford Kuga (2021) interior, front

The steering Is light, it manoeuvres well through narrow streets with cars either side, and as mentioned in the last update, all the parking assist features make parking in small spaces a breeze.

Being that bit taller than average, it gives a good sense of your surroundings, and having the automatic transmission gives me one less thing to worry about. Simply jump in without touching the key, strap yourself in, press the ignition, spin the gear selector to drive, and away you go. All, may I add, in the ghostly silence of that electric power, but more on that later.

Then you fancy a jaunt to the other side of the country, and to do so you need to rack up some motorway mileage. Again, the Kuga is easy. This car has all the driver assist tech you could want. We have – adaptive cruise control with traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping aid with lane departure warning, a blind spot information system and pre-collision assists with autonomous emergency breaking.

Ford Kuga (2021) front view

Plus – automatic headlamps, auto wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, a full 12.3-inch instrument cluster, Ford Sync 3 with 8.0-inch touchscreen (including all your navigational needs) and a head-up display. The list goes on, but I’m sure you understand. This Kuga practically drives itself and then some. I drove to and from the Lake District to climb Scafell Pike in a day, a 500-mile round trip from Peterborough, and I’m really not sure how much of the motorway driving I did. Of course, my hands were on the wheel the entire time, safety first.

It’s only when you want to have some fun that the Kuga is less impressive. Surely no one is expecting great things from the Kuga in terms of fun factor, it is an SUV after all. However, being as this is the ST-Line X trim you may expect some enjoyment. It’s not to say that it isn’t fast, you can get to some decent speeds, but getting there is a rough ride.

It is loud and clunky when accelerating, so putting your resultst in some lag from tha transmission, and the transition from electric to petrol is no smooth experience. The saving grace is that the electrical boost means can get you off the line quickly, but once in ‘petrol mode’ it feels less special.

Ford Kuga (2021) rear seats

It has a whole bunch of drive modes to choose from – Normal, Eco, Sport, Wet/slippery and Deep snow/sand mode. I can only say that I’ve used Normal, Eco and sport, there’s not so much deep sand in the East Midlands. Honestly, I’ve found the differences in modes barely noticeable. Sport has a little bit more throttle response and the steering a bit more sensitive, but that’s about your lot.

The worst of it all is where the button to switch modes is located, somewhere on the centre console beneath the gear switch (I still don’t really know without looking every time!). I will say that it grips the roads nicely and has that staple Ford handling that you expect, even so, it does feel cumbersome when cornering at speed. To quote my older brother ‘I imagine it handles like a boat in the corners’. In my opinion he’s really not too far off. 

Update 4: Charging and fuelling 

What’s the Kuga like for plugging in and going?

Ford Kuga (2021) charging

It’s finally time to talk about the electric side of the Kuga. It’s a big moment, and boy is there a story to tell, so I’ll jump straight in…

It wasn’t so far into the heat of summer that I received the news, an urgent email from Ford telling me that the PHEV Kugas were to be recalled. But why? Well, it turns out that the Kuga was unable to handle the heat, quite literally.

If I were to attempt to charge or use this car in anything but auto EV mode, then there could potentially be a fire. I think the risk was low, but I wasn’t going to be responsible for a flaming Kuga on the roads. For this reason, I can only talk of my experiences prior to the age of fire, and therefore my opinion may not be entirely consolidated.

Ford Kuga (2021) front view

What about the charge modes?

Before the fire risk I spent some time exploring some of the EV modes. However, in my first update I mentioned that I lived in a top floor flat and that charging it at home would be impossible, that still stands. The EV modes we have on offer are as follows: EV Auto, EV Now, EV Later and EV charge.

‘EV now’ and ‘EV later’ are fairly self-explanatory. ‘Now’ means the car uses only electric power to drive the car forwards, ‘Later’ means it uses petrol and saves the electric charge for use at another time. Both of these works, there’s not much more that needs to be said. Oh, again, annoyingly the button for switching EV modes is also somewhere on the centre console beneath the gear lever. Awkward to find while driving!

EV auto is where most users will stay. When you start the car, it is already in the auto mode and the car will decide itself where and when to use up your electric charge and when to switch to petrol. All in all, this operates just as expected. When you are travelling at slower speeds and you’re stop starting it usually relies on electric, and when you put your foot down for over taking or anything slightly more exuberant, the car uses the petrol.

How far does it go on electric only?

This is by far the easiest route to take, let the Kuga do it for you and just fill it up when it’s thirsty. I will mention that on occasions it has been eating away at my electric miles whilst cruising on the motorway, at 70mph the electric juice barely lasts five minutes, so it’s useful to keep your eye on it. It is possible to achieve 35 miles on electric power only, but you’d have to drive sensibly to make it last that long.

Deciding when to use your juice yourself in my opinion is much more beneficial, this is where EV Charge comes in use. Other than being the only way I could charge the vehicle for the time being, this mode allows for some clever tactics. I found switching between Auto and charge modes most efficient.

When you’re in towns or doing few miles, use auto, use up the well-earned electric miles and save the environment! When you decide to take on longer miles at continuous constant speeds, stick the Kuga in charge mode. This way the Kuga uses petrol only and cleverly regains energy from the likes of braking or freewheeling and converts this to electric charge.

Charging on the go…

Ford Kuga (2021) charging

I managed to drive from Peterborough to London, roughly one and half hours’ drive, in charge mode and charged the 35-mile battery entirely. Once I reached London’s suburbs, I switched to EV Auto and zipped around leaving no emissions behind me.

The only caveat is that in EV Charge mode the cars mpg appears to be woeful, meaning you really drain the tank quite quickly. But hey, that’s the fun of a hybrid, right? A constant battle between expense, efficiency and morals.

Otherwise, I can say that supposedly it takes a wall box/high power outlet (400V/32A) 3.5 hours to charge, and a domestic socket (230V/16A) six hours. That’s what the brochure says at least, I couldn’t say without risking a bonfire.  

Ford Kuga (2021) charging flap

Update 5: Verdict 

How did we find it? Is the plug-in hybrid worth the effort?

After six months, it’s time to say goodbye to my flaming hot Kuga. I won’t harp on about the current global ‘situation’, but it has most certainly affected the way in which the Kuga has been tested. That along with some PHEV teething problems during the summer heat, has resulted in quite the rollercoaster ride of a long-term test.

My initial impressions of comfort and luxury picked up in the beginning remain. This car, in this spec, with all the options, gives me everything I could ever need. It has quality materials, plenty of creature comforts such as heated seats, and driver assistant tech up to your eyeballs. It has that classic Ford driving experience, reliable yet engaging, albeit in a larger vehicle.

It’s an easy and accessible car that guarantees my journey from A to B will be plain sailing. Everything from keyless entry, to wireless phone charging, to an easy-to-use automatic transmission and that all-important adaptive cruise control meant that I rarely had much thinking to do. As a result, your thoughts can focus on the planet and that plug in hybrid element this car has to offer.

How did it work as a hybrid?

Judge your journeys well and deploy its charge at the right time and you’ll have yourself a capable and efficient machine. Long hauls on fossil fuels and the shorter town stuff in electric mode make for an effective combo. However, do bear in mind that anything other than this could lead to some pretty poor results, so think carefully before going for a PHEV.

It was seriously unfortunate that I never got the chance to plug in and charge it up myself. Living in a top floor flat, in the middle of a boiling summer during the dizzying heights of global pandemic really are worthy opponents responsible for this PHEV’s downfall, and who can blame it.

But, it is important to be aware that Ford recognised the problem, released a ‘Kuga PHEV safety action’, recalled all vehicles to have the issue of ‘cell contamination in the drive battery’ fixed by replacing the drive battery, and voila a PHEV that you can actually plug in.

Ford Kuga (2021) badge

How did the recall affect me?

And I’ll be entirely honest, it didn’t actually affect my experience so much, my biggest complaints will be that I lugged around those hefty charging cables for no reason, and I didn’t get to experience those lovely long charging times (wait, that’s a good thing).

If you’re looking for a fast and seriously engaging drive from the Kuga, then you will be disappointed. If you’re looking for something with less screens and less ‘hand holding’ tech, then you’ll also be disappointed (at least from this particular spec and optioned car).

And for heaven’s sake, if you’re looking for a car where you can switch between your drive modes without fumbling around and looking at your centre console for the button, this car could also not be for you.

In conclusion…

However, all in all this PHEV Ford Kuga has been an absolute delight to drive. If you’re looking for a car capable of refined long-distance cruising in effortless style, then this car could be the one for you. I will sorely miss the effortlessness, the jump in and go nature this Kuga presents.

It’s a fantastic size, it’s comfortable with a cosseting ride and has oodles of helpful technology making it one of the most practical cars around. On top of this is a plug-in hybrid system that allows you to be conscious of your emissions by adding a nice 35-mile range of electric power in combination with a 2.5-litre petrol engine. Not to mention, it looks pretty stylish too with the ST-line full body styling kit.

Despite some circumstantial issues, this car has suited my needs and then some. If you’re in the market for a plug-in hybrid SUV, I’m willing to wager that the Kuga could well do the same for you too.

Ford Kuga 2.5 ST Line X PHEV: final figures
 Current mileage  6,100
 Real-world average fuel economy  37.0mpg average
 Official combined fuel economy (WLTP figures)  201.8mpg
 Parkers ‘MPP’ (Miles Per Pound) calculation  35.0
 Car joined Parkers fleet  June 2020

Ford Kuga (2021) tracking car duties