For years, a Ford Kuga was the mid-sized SUV Crossover that other brands turned to if they were developing a car in this class and wanted it to be good to drive. This MK3 design had to offer drive dynamics that would return this model to a pre-eminent position in its segment - which was quite a brief for the Ford engineers because it also had to be bigger and carry around quite a lot more weighty equipment. Helping them was this third generation Kuga model's adoption of engineering from the planet's best-handling family hatch, the Ford Focus. This SUV shares that car's stiffer, more sophisticated C2 platform and, unlike the Focus, has the advantage that in all its forms, it features proper all-round independent suspension. On top of that, the steering column's twice as stiff as that the previous MK2 Kuga and compared to that old car, there's a 10% gain in torsional stiffness, a 44mm wider track and a 10mm lower centre of gravity. It all sounds quite promising
And so it proves. On the road, this car feels like what it is: a slightly larger, slightly taller version of the Focus. The steering isn't perfect in terms of feedback, but it's quick and accurate and much better than the previous model's electrified rack. Push on through the bends and this Ford delivers the kind of confidence you simply wouldn't normally expect a contender in this class to be able to give. You'll want to know about engines because quite a lot's changed beneath the bonnet this time round. Things kick off with a couple of Focus-derived 1.5-litre units, a four cylinder 120PS EcoBlue diesel with manual or auto transmission. Or a manual-only three cylinder EcoBoost petrol powerplant, offered with either 120 or 150PS. Ideally though, you'd stretch to one of the electrified engines Ford really wants you to try in this car; there are several - though all of them are combustion-based. The mild hybrid option ought be the most popular, a 2.0-litre EcoBlue mHEV diesel with 150PS, though was a proposition slightly hobbled at the time of this test by Ford's inability to offer it with either automatic transmission or AWD. For both of those two features in a black pump-fuelled Kuga derivative, you'd have to have the more conventional 2.0-litre EcoBlue 190PS diesel model - which has the largest towing capacity in the range, rated at 2.1-tonnes.
Your other route to 4x4 traction in a Kuga is to opt for the self-charging 'HEV' full-hybrid petrol model, which can be had in front-driven or AWD forms and uses a 2.5-litre normally aspirated Duratec engine. This is mated to an electric motor (or in the case of the AWD variant, a pair of electric motors) powered by a 1.1kWh lithium-ion battery that sits at the back of the car. Total power output is 200PS and the front wheels are driven via a power-split CVT belt-driven 6-speed automatic auto transmission. Much the same engineering set-up also features in the top 'PHEV' Plug-in 225PS hybrid variant we tried, though with this front driven-only model, there's a much bigger 14.4kWh battery, facilitating a 35 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range.