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The Ford Kuga plug-in hybrid is an impressively efficient SUV

Ford is a brand undergoing enormous change. Just a couple of years ago, the only whiff of electrification was a hybrid option in the soon-to-be-retired Mondeo. Move forward to today and we have mild-, regular and plug-in hybrids left, right and centre as well as big pledges when it comes to EVs. By 2030, every new Ford sold in Europe will be electric.

There are clearly some big cogs to turn, and though slow to wake up to electrification, Ford seems to be getting things right, with the brand’s new Kuga plug-in hybrid one of the latest electrified options. But in a competitive field, does this SUV have what it takes?

Ford couldn’t have launched its third-generation at a much worse time, right as the world was shutting down with Covid. Nevertheless, the new Kuga has plenty to offer, from its range of electrified options – mild-hybrid, hybrid and this PHEV are all available – to a more modern cabin packed with technology.

Photos: PA Media

The Kuga also gets a far more modern design than before, while a raft of new driver assistance features – including various optional features – makes it one of the safest Fords yet.

Power for the Kuga plug-in hybrid comes from a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine combined with an electric motor and battery. The combination of petrol and electric actually makes this Kuga the most powerful model in the line-up – kicking out 222bhp, which enables a 0-60mph time of nine seconds and a top speed of 125mph.

But really it’s the Kuga’s efficiency that will be the main motive behind opting for it. Thanks to a 14.4kWh battery, Ford says it could do up to 39 miles on electricity once the battery is charged – something that takes 3.5 hours using a home wallbox or around six hours if plugged into a standard household socket. In fact, Ford claims up to 282.5mpg, while CO2 emissions of just 23g/km give it a benefit-in-kind of just eight per cent – making it hugely appealing to company car drivers.

For a company relatively new to making hybrids, the Kuga’s plug-in setup is one that’s really rather impressive. Even the electric motor on its own provides plenty of punch, while when the engine kicks in when you want to put your foot down a bit more, it happens with minimal fuss. Though the CVT gearbox can make the powertrain quite noisy at times – a general problem with this type of gearbox, and not exclusive to Ford – it’s largely smooth and very easy to live with.

Elsewhere, the Kuga handles well in true Ford fashion, and though there’s plenty of extra weight that comes from the hybrid system, it is counteracted well, though the ride was a touch too firm for our liking on this ST-Line model that sits on stiffer springs.

But the stand-out factor here is the Kuga’s efficiency. It will realistically get you more than 30 miles every time it’s fully charged (and not just around town), while even once the battery is depleted, you will quite easily see 50mpg.

We’d argue the design of the latest Kuga has really stepped up a notch – having a far more sculpted and elegant look than its predecessor. In fact, there are certain details that are resoundingly similar to Aston Martin’s DBX SUV, not least its stylish grille and intricate headlights.

If you want style, our ST-Line test car is the one to go for, bringing with it painted wheel arches (there’s no cheap black plastic on show here) and sportier bumpers to make it look racier than it actually is.

The latest Kuga’s cabin is a big advancement over its predecessor, with a much newer, decluttered layout on show, as well as plenty of technology. Clear 12.3-inch digital dials sit ahead of the driver and help to offer a more modern feel, while an eight-inch touchscreen is easy and simple to use, if not quite as cutting-edge as some you’d find with rivals.

With Kuga offering plenty of appeal to families, Ford has also ensured it’s practical and useful. Clever packaging means the boot is hardly any smaller than regular petrol or diesel version, while rear space is generous too – ideal if you’ve got grown-up teenagers.

Though the rest of the Kuga range is available with lower – and more affordable – Zetec and Titanium Edition trim levels, the Kuga is only available in higher specs

So our ST-Line test car serves as the ‘base’ version, though still gets you a long list of equipment – not least full LED headlights, an electric boot, keyless entry and a reversing camera.

We reckon there’s little reason to upgrade from this, though an ST-Line ‘X’ Edition can be had, bringing larger 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof and heated front seats. At the top of the range, a more ‘luxurious’ Vignale grade offers leather seats, a head-up display and park assist.

It seems like Ford has really hit the nail on the head with the Kuga Plug-in Hybrid. Though by no means perfect, it ticks every box that buyers will be looking for – spaciousness, equipment, style and low running costs.

A special mention needs to go to the hybrid system’s efficiency, which really is a step above that of rival cars like the MG HS PHEV and more premium Volvo XC40 Recharge. For that reason, it’s the pick of the Kuga line-up.

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Citroen updates C4 line-up for 2022

Citroen has announced a series of updates for its C4 range of cars.

Applied to both the regular C4 and the electric e-C4, the changes include revisions to the car’s specifications while introducing new exterior colours and alloy wheel designs.

On the electric e-C4, the changes, according to Citroen, include ‘improvements in driving efficiency’ which, says the brand, enhance the real-world driving range under ‘a variety of driving conditions’. The car’s range remains at a claimed 217 miles, however.

Citroen’s Smart Pad Support – a universal electronic tablet holder located in front of the passenger – is now standard across the range. Citroen has also designed the car’s airbag to deploy over the tablet holder, ensuring that there’s no loss of protection in the event of an accident.

Entry-level Sense and Sense Plus models will now receive alloy wheels finished in a light grey colour, while Shine and Shine Plus-specification cars now wear 18-inch alloy wheels with a bi-tone diamond-cut finish, replacing the dark-tinted versions on the previous models.

Photos: PA Media

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The performance cars you need to check out today

The enthusiasm for driving sure isn’t dead – and these are some of the best cars to enjoy the open road in.

There’s still plenty of enthusiasm for driving these days. Take one look at the new car market and you’ll see a variety of models which trade on their ability to induce a grin on a twisty road. In fact, there are plenty of performance cars out there that have been engineered specifically to make the most of every drive.

So let’s dive in and see some of the best options on the market today.

Photos: PA Media

BMW M5 CS

BMW’s M5 has always been one of the poster stars of the fast saloon segment, but the CS version takes things one step further. Though it’s still a useable and practical car, it’s lighter and more focused than even the standard M5.

Plus, it’s got some unique touches such as the retro-style yellow daytime running lights and the oversized carbon bucket seats.

Caterham Seven

If you want the purest driving experience around then look no further than the Caterham Seven. Still handbuilt in the UK, the Seven is incredible lightweight and this makes it ideal for darting around country lanes.

Ranging in power outputs – from the Suzuki-engined 170 to the supercharged 620R – there’s a Seven for all tastes.

Honda Civic Type R

The Honda Civic Type R is often seen as the benchmark for hot hatches. The most recent version is arguably one of the best to date, with impressively sharp handling being matched by a useable and practical bodystyle.

Though its looks might not be for everyone, the Civic Type R is still one of the best-driving cars on sale today.

Toyota GR Yaris

When Toyota announced that it would be making a rally-inspired version of its Yaris, there were some reservations about whether or not the final product would be any good. How wrong people were. The end result – the GR Yaris – is a brilliant example of what a hot hatch can be.

With a clever four-wheel-drive system incredibly dialled-in handling, the GR Yaris feels as though it was designed for the open road.

Porsche Cayman

Porsche’s Cayman is often guilty of stealing some of the attention from its larger stablemate, the 911. With its relatively compact proportions but expertly judged steering, the Cayman is a really useable daily sports car that just happens to be one of the best-handling ones around.

It’s surprisingly practical, too, with more boot space than you might expect from a car of this size.

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Lexus has given the ES saloon a new look for 2022

Luxury car also gets mechanical updates and new safety features.

Lexus has revealed the refreshed ES, which has received various updates for the 2022 model year.

The mid-sized saloon is said to have received handling, styling, safety and specification improvements.

It retains the fourth-generation self-charging hybrid system, which uses a combination of a battery-powered electric motor and a petrol engine to provide decent fuel economy and lower running costs.

The exterior styling hasn’t changed a great deal, with updates focused on the front end. For example, the new ES has a spindle grille with fewer vertical bars and new L-shaped motifs, as well as slimmer LED headlights.

There are also new wheel designs for the standard 17-inch offering as well as the 18-inch units used on the Premier Edition and Premium Pack.

Photos: PA Media

Inside, there are a couple of new upholstery options, but the main focus will be the new 12.3-inch touchscreen available on all models with navigation. It can be controlled through touch, the trackpad or through voice.

Another upgrade is the introduction of the BladeScan adaptive high beam system. It uses a fast-rotating mirror to provide wider illumination, offered in the Premium, Tech and Safety and Takumi packs.

Finally, there have been suspension updates to make the ES handle better while also being more comfortable, while Lexus Safety System+ – fitted to all trim levels – has new and improved features.

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17-year-old becomes McLaren Automotive’s CEO for a day

A 17-year-old has become McLaren Automotive’s chief executive officer for the day to celebrate International Day of the Girl.

Maisy, from Wales, took over from McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt as part of the Woking-based firm’s long-term partnership with global children’s rights charity Plan International, and as a way to encourage young people – particularly young women – into science and engineering careers.

It comes as a survey of 1,000 11-18-year-old girls in the UK conducted by Plan International shows that one in four have wanted to try out a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subject but have either been told that it’s for boys or were worried about being negatively judged. Many were also unsure about pursuing the subjects as they’d only seen boys doing it in the media.

The research also showed that close to half of girls have heard through the media, friends or family that ‘girls are not good at STEM’.

CEO for the day Maisy said: “My day as CEO of McLaren Automotive was full of incredible moments but being part of building a supercar was amazing, and that’s not something many people can say.

“Plan International is about smashing stereotypes, changing attitudes, and unlearning lessons because a lot of girls think they should be playing with dolls and not cars, and that’s not right.

“This partnership between McLaren Automotive and Plan International is inspiring young women to consider STEM careers and achieve their full potential.”

Photos: PA Media

The day kicked off with a full handover from CEO Mike Flewitt, who presented Maisy with her CEO business cards and McLaren access pass. During the day, Maisy led her executive team with a variety of strategic decisions while collaborating with the company’s female business leaders, engineers, scientists and designers.

Flewitt said: “Having Maisy take over as CEO of McLaren for the day to celebrate International Day of the Girl has been both an enjoyable and valuable experience for me and the whole McLaren team. Her ideas, insights and intelligence – as well as clear passion – will help us move forwards even faster on our efforts to achieve even greater diversity and inclusion.

“Maisy also got to see the incredibly exciting and diverse range of talents we depend on to produce our supercars and I hope, in the process, she has helped to dispel stereotypes associated with the automotive industry from a gender and skills perspective.”

Maisy also met brand ambassador Amanda McLaren – daughter of the company’s founder Bruce McLaren – who showed her around the new ‘McLaren: Driven by Design’ exhibition at the Brooklands Museum.

Flewitt added: “Our work with Plan International is for the long-term and I’m delighted that one of the key decisions Maisy led on as CEO was our pledge to work with Plan International on McLaren’s commitment to holding workshops with 100 girls over the next 12 months, scaling up to 1000 globally by 2025 to encourage greater take-up of STEM careers. That is a legacy Maisy and everyone at McLaren can be very proud of.”

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Volvo’s updated XC60 refines a winning formula

The XC60 has been a core part of Volvo’s range for a little while now. In fact, it’s been one of the firm’s best-selling cars since 2009, which goes to show just how important it is. So it’s little surprise that Volvo has chosen to refresh its ever-popular XC60, adding a little extra sparkle to this mid-size SUV while ensuring that its powertrains tie in with the brand’s electrified ethos.

But given this market is so awash with options, can this update do enough to keep the XC60 current? We’ve been finding out.

Given that it’s been such a hit with buyers, you can’t fault Volvo for keeping things relatively simple with this new XC60. Exterior-wise, it’s similar to how it was before, save for redesigned air inlets, while around the back the exhaust pipes are now hidden which, according to Volvo, ‘showcase the company’s continued journey to electrification’.

Photos: PA Media

The technology inside has taken a big jump too. The main infotainment system now uses Android’s operating technology, which was first used on the fully electric XC40 P8. It gives access to Volvo’s full range of services, while over-the-air updates mean that the car is constantly kept up to speed with the latest software.

It’ll come as no surprise that electrification plays heavily in the XC40’s design. In terms of plug-in hybrids you have the T6 and range-topping T8, while the rest of the range uses a mild-hybrid system to help reduce emissions and improve fuel consumption – and that’s just what we’re looking at here.

The B5 is one of the more powerful non-plug-in hybrid versions of the XC60 you can get, packing 247bhp and 350Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol.

With fuel consumption at between 31.7 and 36.7mpg it’s certainly on the juicer end of the spectrum, though CO2 emissions of between 176-202g/km are pretty much on par for the segment. Performance is certainly brisk, too; zero to 60mph takes 6.5 seconds while the XC60’s top speed lies at a restricted 112mph – just as it is in all Volvo cars for safety reasons.

The XC60’s refinement was something that always shined through and this has certainly been carried over to the new version. It’s comfortable and quiet – though the engine can be a little vocal under hard acceleration – while there’s plenty of acceleration to tap into should you need it. The throttle response can be a little delayed at times, particularly as you’re exiting a bend, but when travelling at lower speeds it’s just sharp enough.

The high driving position means you’ve got a good view of the road ahead while the abundance of glass in the XC60’s design means that the cabin feels calm and relaxed, which in turn adds to the refined nature of the drive itself. This high-powered, non-plug-in hybrid variant doesn’t, however, feel like the one to opt for – it’d be a better choice to trump for a plug-in version or, if you don’t need as much oomph, a lower-powered mild-hybrid variant.

As we’ve already mentioned the aesthetic tweaks to the XC60 have been minimal and that’s no bad thing at all. It’s still a very handsome car, with sharp lines and a timeless nature which have ensured that it doesn’t look dated, despite having been on sale for some time.

The lack of visible exhausts at the rear is a little odd when you first notice it, but the design does play into the smooth appearance of the car as a whole. This update has also brought new exterior colours and alloy wheels designs, giving more scope for personalisation.

The cabin of the XC40 brings just what we’d expect from a Volvo. It’s solidly made and impressively well finished, with the high-quality materials used throughout giving it a built-to-last feel. The front seats are comfortable and well-padded and it’s the same story in the back, too, where there’s a decent amount of legroom. In terms of boot space, there are 483 litres to play with, though somewhat behind rivals, is still more than enough for most occasions. You can lower the rear seats to extend it, too.

If outright boot space is what you’re after, then remember that the plug-in hybrids – as a result of their electrical systems placed under the boot floor – don’t offer quite so much luggage capacity as the mild-hybrid versions.

Our test car came finished in Inscription trim. Included in that is a nine-inch portrait-orientated touchscreen now running – as mentioned – Android’s operating system which is really simple to use. The voice control is particularly good and can accurately respond to requests, such as changing the radio station or making a call. You also get four years of data allowance for each car, so you can stay connected for some time.

Being a Volvo it’s also packed with standard safety kit. Highlights include oncoming lane mitigation which can guide you back into a lane should you unknowingly drift, or run-off road protection which automatically tightens the seatbelts should the car leave the road. These features – among others – really do help to create a sense of security in the XC60 which will no doubt find favour among family buyers.

The tweaks made to the XC60 might be subtle but they only work to enhance this car’s appeal even further. The interior is where you’ll notice the changes most and they’ve been implemented to ensure that the XC60 keeps up to a speed in what is a very fast-paced segment. Fortunately, they’ve done the job and the XC60 should continue to suit many buyers for some time.

Though we’d often advise opting for a plug-in hybrid variant, this mild-hybrid version does a decent job of providing a balance of performance and economy – particularly if you’re not able to plug in your car at home.

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The Militem Ferox-T is ‘the maximum evolution of the pick-up truck’

A new extreme pick-up truck has been revealed, designed to be ‘the maximum evolution of the pick-up as we know it’ while providing SUV luxury.

Called Militem Ferox-T, it’s based on the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, which gives it excellent off-road capability.

The exterior has been given a makeover through carbon-fibre wide-body wheel arches, a honeycomb black grille and 20-inch alloy wheels with chunky all-terrain tyres.

It also comes with a roll bar that allows for fitment of LED headlights, while the load bed has a nautical material – this is said to be partly because the Ferox-T is ideal for pulling a small boat thanks to its 3.5-tonne towing capability.

Photos: PA Media

Inside, the cabin has been handcrafted with Italian leather upholstery with optional Alcantara inserts. Buyers can customise their cars with a variety of leather, fabric and technical fibres, too.

Under the bonnet is the same 3.6-litre V6 engine as found on the regular Gladiator Rubicon. It has been fine-tuned by Militem and produces 285bhp, fed to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Militem-made exhaust tips are also fitted, with a button on the centre console that can alter the note.

An Adventure pack is also available that adds scratch resistant paint to the bumpers and wheel arches, a snorkel, luggage rack and mud terrain tyres.

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Updates keep the Seat Ibiza as competitive as ever

Seat has tweaked its popular Ibiza. TED WELFORD finds out what it’s like

Seat has hugely adapted its range in recent years. Just five years ago, there was no crossover or SUV option, but today there are three such models to choose from, ranging from the compact Arona all the way up to the seven-seat Tarraco SUV.

But the Spanish firm hasn’t forgotten about its core models – not least the Ibiza, which is the VW Polo-based model that’s accumulated more than six million sales since its debut in 1984.

The latest generation launched in 2017, but four years is a long time in the car world, especially when new versions of rivals like the Vauxhall Corsa and Toyota Yaris have been launched. It’s therefore time for the Ibiza to play a game of catch up.

Photos: PA Media

At face value, not a huge amount that’s new really. There are some new colours, fresh wheel designs and Seat’s latest way of scrawling the model out across the boot lid.

But it’s inside where the majority of changes have been made, with Seat working to lift up the quality and tech levels – things that are increasingly important, even on small cars. It’s why there are softer materials than before, while it also gets a new touchscreen that offers greater connected services.

Engine choice on the Ibiza remains identical as before, as it continues to be available with a trio of 1.0-litre petrol engines.

An entry-level 79bhp ‘MPI’ engine kicks off the range, though the better options are the turbocharged ‘TSI’ units, which – despite having more power – are actually better on fuel. Power outputs for the turbocharged engines are either 94bhp or 108bhp, with our test car using the former, which is predicted to be the best-seller.

In terms of performance, Seat claims a 0-60mph time of 10.7 seconds and a top speed of 116mph, though its efficiency will be the part that impresses most as its 54.3mpg fuel economy figure and CO2 emissions of 118g/km make it the most efficient Ibiza in the line-up.

The Ibiza has always been up there with the best when it comes to the way it drives, and there’s little change here. For those looking for a sportier drive (but without venturing into a hot hatch), it’s worth choosing a model in FR guise, which gets a sportier suspension setup that helps to all but eradicate body roll, and helps to keep the model feeling agile and nimble through the corners. While the 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine does need working relatively hard to get the best from it (we’d be tempted to spend £400 more for the 108bhp engine), once you’re up to speed, it’s surprisingly settled, and quite happy to sit at motorway pace with minimal fuss.

The only other thing to bear in mind is that as a result of this sportier suspension setup, the ride is quite firm, and that’s especially emphasised at slower speeds. If you want something more comfortable, it’s worth skipping the FR grade.

As we’ve mentioned, Seat hasn’t done a huge amount to the way the Ibiza looks, with the standard-fit LED lights, new colours (Sapphire Blue and Asphalt Blue) and trio of fresh alloy wheels being the main changes.

However, given the Ibiza is still able to hold its own in the looks department, you can’t blame the Spanish marque for not wanting to mess with its formula too much. With its sharp creased lines, sporty bumpers and minimal overhangs, it helps to give the impression that the Ibiza is sportier than it actually is – not a bad thing in our book.

But it’s the cabin where the bulk of the Ibiza’s revisions have been made, and though this Seat’s interior was by no means bad before, it’s certainly a great improvement. The new 9.2-inch touchscreen uses Seat’s latest software and is slick to operate, with crystal-clear graphics – something that couldn’t always be said in the past. Seat Connect app integration allows remote access of the vehicle (if you want to check you’ve locked the doors, for example), while wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a welcome addition.

The other area where the Ibiza scores lots of points is interior space, as it offers the levels of roominess you’d normally expect from the class above. With a 355-litre boot and plenty of room for adults to sit comfortably in the rear, it’s impressively vast for a supermini.

It’s safe to say Seat’s tweaks to the Ibiza are impressively mild, and are the kind of updates you’d usually get from a model year revision rather than a full ‘facelift’. However, if what you’ve got already is good, do you need to change just for the sake of it?

It’s easy to see Seat’s logic then, and the changes that have been made to bolster cabin quality and standard equipment levels are welcome. With the Ibiza being one of the best in its class to drive, one of the roomiest and representing good value for money, it continues to be one of the best all-round small cars on the market.

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Phantom name returns with special edition Suzuki GSX-R1000R

Suzuki has revived its Phantom name with a new special edition of its GSX-R1000R.

Inspired by the GSX-R1000 K6 Phantom from 2006, the GSX-R1000R Phantom receives a Yoshimura exhaust incorporating an R11 silencer and heatshield finished in ‘black metal magic’ with a carbon cap.

It also gets a variety of accessories, including track-focussed brake and clutch lever guards, a tank pad and fuel cap trim.

Powered by an inline-four-cylinder engine with 199bhp that uses the same variable valve timing system as the MotoGP world championship-winning GSX-RR, the Phantom also features a variety of electronic assistant systems including a bi-directional quickshifter, lean angle-sensitive 10-mode traction control and three power modes. Large Brembo brakes provide plenty of stopping power, too.

Photos: PA Media

A digital LCD display sits in front of the rider and relays key information back to the rider.

As well as the black colour paint scheme, the Phantom receives gloss black details and gold wheels with matching gold Showa Balance Free front forks. A smoked double bubble screen gives some protection from the wind, too.

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