You may have noticed Ford is on a roll.
Admittedly, the company is undertaking major restructuring in Europe, something felt most keenly in the UK by the closure of its historic Bridgend engine plant. And in an effort to rationalise R&D costs, it is also now teaming up with the Volkswagen Group on electric and ‘autonomous’ vehicles. There is some belt tightening, and plenty of business uncertainty, but this is the road test section of Autocar, not the news pages, and from the perspective of the driver’s seat, Ford is doing things very well indeed.
The most recent Fiesta won’t blow anyone away with its cabin ambience, but in terms of handling, it is simply head and shoulders above supermini rivals. And when it arrived in 2018, the fourth-generation Focus followed suit. Even the basic versions exhibit a degree of involvement and dynamism beyond that of even some bona fide hot hatches, and in a way that Ford hasn’t perhaps achieved since the Mk1 Focus of 1998.
Then, late last year, the Puma nameplate was revived for a small SUV built on the Fiesta’s underpinnings – and it trounced its numerous rivals for driving enjoyment.
Now it’s the turn of the new Kuga. In a bid to win people over from the Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen Tiguan and Peugeot 3008, all of which outsold the previous Kuga, Ford has softened the car’s exterior design, made the interior more spacious and added economical mild and plug-in hybrids to the range.
What we’ll now discover is whether that’s enough to fire it up the rankings.
The Kuga range at a glance
Never before has a prospective Kuga owner had so much choice over the powertrain. There are conventional models, and it’s possible to have the car with a plain old petrol motor and six-speed gearbox or a more juicy diesel mated to an easy-going eight-speed auto, but a mild-hybrid petrol assisted by a 48V electric system and the full plug-in hybrid tested here are both new to the line-up.
Ford expects roughly a third of buyers to opt for the PHEV, with petrol and diesel sales split roughly evenly elsewhere.