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Driving

What is it like to drive?

Under the bonnet of the PHEV (plug-in hybrid) and FHEV (full hybrid) is the same 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine. But while the PHEV’s battery is 14.4kWh, the FHEV’s is only 1.1kWh. To get the best out of the PHEV you need to plug it into the mains – do so and you’ll get up to 35 miles of electric range before it automatically switches to combustion power. We managed 27 miles, which isn’t bad at all. 

The FHEV, meanwhile, cannot be plugged into the mains. The much smaller battery is constantly being drained and then recharged by the combustion engine – Toyota calls its version of this tech ‘self-charging hybrids’. You’ll have seen the ads.

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WHICH VERSION DO I WANT? 

If you have no access to a plug at home or work, the FHEV could be a better option. However if you do have access to power, and make a lot of short trips, check out the PHEV instead. This is a car most commuters could run as an EV and only wake the petrol engine, which is well-supressed when started – on longer weekend trips. Mostly though, it’s the tax numbers that’ll put people in the PHEV – which we’ll cover off in the Buying section. 

Combined power through the wholly front-drive hybrid drivetrain of the PHEV is 225bhp, which is more than you get from not just the FHEV (190bhp) but the mighty Fiesta ST too. But the Kuga is not a fast car. Still, 0-62mph in 9.2sec for the PHEV and 9.1 for the FHEV is adequately rapid, and the e-motor’s boost does a serviceable job of keeping engine revs in check without upsetting the CVT ‘automatic’ gearbox. It’s not as moo-ey as a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, by any stretch. Quiet car, the Kuga. 

We’ve also tried the mild-hybrid 150bhp 2.0-litre diesel with the six-speed manual. It feels not in the least bit electrified, though the starter-generator does mean the stop-start system is super smooth. More than can be said for the diesel itself, which is a bit of a chugger by class standards. 

DOES IT HANDLE WELL?

The Kuga steers and rides and handles with agility to make a Qashqai or Sportage or Tiguan look about as appealing as a broken-down bus. The Ford feels, well, like a Ford. Like a bigger Puma, and that’s the benchmark in the crossover class. There’s more lean than in a business-like German rival, but it’s a more connected-feeling, well-oiled machine than a Citroen Aircross or Peugeot 3008. The ST-line, as supplied on 19-inch rims, even avoids the Puma pitfall of a jiggly ride. 

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There’s obviously more head-toss than a Focus, because you’re sat up higher, but it’s by no means ungainly. In fact, it’s very confidence-inspiring. The PHEV and FHEV do suffer from a slightly dead brake pedal, so judging a smooth stop when balancing regen and actual disc braking takes some learning. There are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel for fake steps in the CVT shift strategy too – but we didn’t miss them.

What we did notice missing was road noise – the Kuga features noise cancellation, like those headphones that are a godsend on long flights, and the result is a hefty reduction in the usual SUV-wind din.
 

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