Ford’s Kuga crossover is like a bigger, taller, roomier Focus. Sold as the Escape in North America, it does all of the stuff the Focus hatch (which isn’t sold in North America) does, just with a bigger focus on practicality.
And that recipe has made it the most popular crossover in its class in Europe, where it shifted 15 percent more units than the second place Toyota RAV4 in the first six months of 2021.
And that’s not the only sales list the Kuga tops. The PHEV version is currently the best selling plug-in vehicle in Europe, and we’re running one for several months to find out what those buyers have got themselves into.
The Kuga/Escape range kicks off with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder Ecoboost motor whichever side of the Atlantic you’re living. But while Europeans make do with a 148 hp mild-hybrid version, North America gets 181 horses and no mild hybrid system. Other regional differences include a 2.0-liter petrol turbo that’s available in dollar countries and not in Europe, which gets a couple of diesel options instead.
But there’s more common ground when it comes to the proper hybrids. Yes, there’s more than one, though the ICE motor in both hybrids is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Buyers get to choose between a traditional hybrid with 188 hp/191 PS (200 hp/203 PS in U.S.) or a plug-in version with 221 hp, the one with the plug commanding around a £3,000/$5,000 premium. In Europe, where many new cars are driven by people who get a car as part of their employment package (and are then taxed on that benefit), the PHEV’s lower tax rating is key to its popularity.
Huge Electric Range (By PHEV Standards)
But there’s more to the PHEV’s appeal than simply the prospect of a lower tax bill. Most plug-ins struggle to travel more than 20-25 miles (32-40 km) on a charge, but the Kuga is rated at up to 39 miles (63 km) thanks to its relatively large 14.4 kWh battery.
We all know to take those official ratings with a punch of salt, and we’ll be putting it to the test in the coming weeks and months. But if it’s accurate it should make the Kuga a really useful car for the average driver’s mix of regular urban runs and less frequent long distance trips.
Charging the battery takes 3.5 hours using a 7 kW wall box, which I haven’t got because I’ve never run an electrified car for any sustained period before. But since it only takes six hours via a household socket, it’s no trouble to leave it to charge overnight.
The reality of course is that while the Kuga’s electric range might be good by PHEV standards, anyone regularly doing longer journeys will still demolish it relatively quickly.
And when that happens, the 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine chimes in. Together, the two power sources make 221 hp (224 PS), which was Golf GTI power a decade ago. But the heft of the hybrid powertrain means the Kuga PHEV is around 882 lbs (400 kg) heavier than a Golf GTi circa 2011. And that means it’s definitely not GTI quick. Ford quotes zero to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 9.2 seconds and a top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h). Regardless of which power source you’re running, the energy drives the front wheels.
The Escape PHEV is rated at 105 mpg overall by the EPA and 40 mpg in gas mode. But in the UK the Kuga is rated at up to 47.1 mpg (the equivalent of 39.3 mpg U.S.; American gallons are smaller, remember), or 201.8 mpg (168 mpg U.S.) when the EV hardware is taken into account.
A Taste of ST
North American Escapes come in in S, SE, SEL and Titanium flavors, but in Europe buyers choose from Zetec, Titanium, sporty-themed (but not actually sporty) ST-Line, and luxury-focused Vignale.
The PHEV is only available on the two upper trims, though technically, it’s three, since ST-Line is split into ST Line Edition and ST Line X, our X justifying its £1,435 ($2,000) premium with stuff like an upgrade from 18- to 19-inch wheels, plus on-demand heat for the seats and steering wheel.
Our Kuga is listed at £37,655 ($52,300) and comes fairly well equipped, as you’d hope for that kind of cash. A panoramic glass roof, front and rear parking sensors, power tailgate, keyless entry and start, B&O HiFi, wireless phone charging, and an 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and navigation are all standard.
On top of that we’ve got metallic red paint, a spare wheel (an essential, in my book), and two option packs. The Technology Pack (£550) adds full LED headlamps and a head-up display, while the £1,100 Driver’s Assistance Pack includes safety kit like front and rear cameras, adaptive cruise control with traffic sign recognition, active park assist, and door edge guards.
Obviously with the specification of cars in North America and Europe not being identical it’s difficult to compare like with like. But as always, I’m amazed by how much more expensive cars are in the U.K. Loading up a top-spec American-market Titanium with pretty much every available extra to get it close to our European car, there’s a sizeable £10,000/$14,000 difference.
The focus of this report is to give some background to the Kuga, and this particular Kuga, rather than be some kind of road test, but it’s already possible to glean some early impressions.
The first is that we’re not in love with the way it looks. Styling is a subjective thing, so you might not want to place too much store in our opinion here, but we find the Kuga a little bland, and less assertive than the smaller Focus hatch, Puma crossover, and bigger Explorer SUV.
We’re also not blown away by the interior quality. It’s solid enough and practical but there’s nothing remotely upmarket about the look and feel of the dash plastics. On the plus side, the EV portion of the powertrain is already shaping up to be very useful. Ford’s figures show that Kuga owners are covering half of all their miles using electric power. But more on that next time.
What Do You Want To Know?
We’ll be digging deeper into different parts of the Kuga next time, taking a look at the real-world range, the infotainment system, practicality and more. Got something you want know about it? Leave a comment and let us know.