(Pocket-lint) - The new Ford Kuga makes a huge departure from its predecessor. It's not just the first Ford to come with mild, self-charging or plug-in hybrid options, it's a completely new car.
Look at the Ford Kuga and you really can't recognise the squarer, more utilitarian, version of this car that came before it. Ford says that this is its best-selling SUV in Europe, so a change of direction is a bold move - or perhaps Ford knows something that we don't.
Changing the Kuga's looks result in a longer, wider, but visibly much lower car. The interior space is reportedly larger, but it now looks much more like a crossover than it previously did. The long bonnet brings to mind cars like the BMW X2 and in some ways it's less rugged than it used to be.
In many ways it's a more modern design; Ford alluded to its drivers as creative people, but we suspect the reality is that it's people who don't want an SUV as big as the Ford Edge rather than the young exciting millennials who put style first that Ford claims.
The look of the car is also going to be dictated by the trim level to a degree: the ST line gets sportier looks, while the Vignale aims for more lofty finishes. We've not seen the Titanium, but that will be the most affordable and, in reality, probably the biggest trim seller for cash concerned buyers.
There are practical design features to support the Kuga's positioning too, with a sliding rear seat that will let you expand the boot spare or rear passenger space accordingly. As is typical of many crossover style models, the rear passenger space isn't too different to a family hatchback, but we suspect you'll get three kids on the backseat without too much trouble.
The boot too is sizeable, with a spare wheel sitting under the false floor, so it's flat from rear opening. Integrated is the battery in hybrid models and on first inspection there didn't appear to be a difference between the boot of the PHEV and regular versions of the car.
A lot of options under the hood
Aside from what this car changes on the exterior, the Kuga's big story is in its powertrain. This is the first Ford that's going to be offered in just about every powertrain option you can think of - except pure electric.
That means there are regular petrol and diesel options, there's the mild hybrid option that brings greater efficiency to the diesel, lowering emissions and providing a torque boost on acceleration.
Then there's the self-charging hybrid, which will greatly reduce emissions with a small internal battery to give you a cleaner drive from your petrol engine but without having to plug-in to charge it. It won't match the performance of the plug-in hybrid, but if you really can't get to a plug socket, then the self-charging option has you covered.
Finally, and potentially the most interesting, is the plug-in hybrid option. While the self-charging option won't launch until later in 2020, the PHEV is going to be available instantly. That puts Ford in a great place as far as plug-in goes. There aren't a huge number of plug-in hybrids in this class (self-charging is more common with the likes of the Toyota C-HR) and while we don't have a price, Ford's timing is pretty good here.
The PHEV model claims around 30 miles from the battery - 14.4kWh cell - which is average for a PHEV, with the charging socket on the front left-hand side. It uses the CCS connector, the standard for Europe, so it will be compatible with the vast majority of public chargers that you find.
You'll also get a range of driving modes to use that electric power the way you want, with an EV button in the centre controls. There will also be front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options, as well as six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic gearboxes.
Of course we've not had the chance to drive the Ford Kuga and probably won't get that chance until around November 2019.
Interior tech and safety features
Ford is piling a lot of technology into the Kuga to make it a connected experience. The first thing you'll notice is that big display sitting atop the dashboard. While some of the display elements retain their design from the previous model - like the climate control layout - moving the display out of the centre console gives it a more modern look.
That also allows Ford to sculpt the dashboard a little better, so it doesn't look like a wall of plastic. Exactly how the options will pan out for some of the interior tech we see on the Vignale pictured here we don't know - but we do know that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be standard - with no fees.
The advantage that brings is that you can always use your phone for entertainment and navigation and not have to rely on the car's systems to do that if you don't want. But we also like the positioning - to see that display you're not looking down into the car, you're still keeping your eyes on the road.
Ford has also moved to a 12.4-inch digital driver display in the Kuga. Again, we don't know if that's on all models (we suspect not), but this does give a lift to the interior. The Kuga will also give the option for a heads-up display, projecting information onto the bottom of the display. We've not seen it working, but Ford details that it will have configurable information, including speed, navigation, road signs, entertainment, alerts and other driving details.
Road sign recognition is on the tech roster for the car - something you can have projected in your heads-up display - which is really handy for remembering what the speed limit is in the zone you're in. Outside of adaptive cruise control, you have other features like lane departure and collision avoidance.
So the Ford Kuga is a very different car. From the interior there are some similarities and the new model feels like a big evolution of the last; but from the exterior, the Kuga is effectively a brand new design. That may well attract different drivers, people who want something with crossover styling and less rugged.
The range of powertrains are designed to give people an easy introduction to electrification. It seems that Ford is well aware that some people just don't subscribe to the idea of electric motoring, in which case the mild or self-charging hybrid may cater for them. For those wanting lower emission and short range electric driving, we think the plug-in hybrid remains the more interesting option.
Exactly how much of a premium the larger battery models will attract remains to be seen, but we'd expect Ford to remain true to its founding ideals in being accessible to the many rather than the few.
The new Ford Kuga will be available towards the end of 2019.