New Kia Sportage vs Ford Kuga vs Hyundai Tucson
In a vibrant family SUV market, can Kia’s striking new Sportage make an impact? We’re pitting it against its Ford and Hyundai rivals in hybrid form to find out...
New Kia Sportage 1.6 T-GDi HEV 2WD 3
List price £34,445
Target price £34,445
Closely related to the Tucson, this new Sportage has a smart interior and comes with hybrid power for the first time. It should be well placed to take on the best of its non-premium rivals
Ford Kuga 2.5 FHEV ST-Line X Edition
List price £36,195
Target price £34,480
The Kuga may not be the newest kid on the block, but it promises to be a strong contender with its agile handling and frugal petrol engine
Hyundai Tucson 1.6 T-GDi Hybrid Premium
List price £35,060
Target price £33,433
Hyundai’s practical family SUV has previously beaten the Ford Kuga in plug-in hybrid guise. Now it’s the cheaper regular hybrid’s turn to prove itself
The SUV market is about as busy as the smartphone sector at the moment, with what seems like a new model arriving every few months with the freshest look and technology that purports to enhance our everyday lives. And yet, because there are so many of them, it’s quite easy to lose track of them all.
It’s going to take more than the boomerang-shaped headlights to stand out from the crowd, though, and if you want to be noticed, the Hyundai Tucson has already been catching people’s attention for the past year. Based on the same underpinnings as the Sportage, the Tucson is one of the most obvious rivals in terms of price and size. The hybrid version we’re testing is even propelled by the same 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor.
They’re joined by the Ford Kuga. It’s a staple contender, blending practicality with agile handling for those wanting a bit more fun behind the wheel. Although it’s slightly bigger than the Korean pair on the outside, the Kuga is another natural rival on price, with all of our contenders costing around £35,000. But while we know it’s good as a plug-in hybrid, what if you’re prepared to trade some electric range for never having to mess around with charging cables? Can the regular hybrid version hold a candle to its newer rivals?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
The Kuga has the biggest engine (2.5 litres) and yet is the least powerful of the three. With 188bhp, it’s nearly 40bhp short of the Sportage and Tucson with their 1.6-litre turbocharged engines, and despite producing a respectable 0-60mph test time of 8.6sec, the Kuga feels the most lethargic during hard acceleration. The Tucson is the quickest to sprint to 60mph from a standstill (6.8sec), with the Sportage not far behind (7.2sec).
The order is the same if you ask for a burst of acceleration when you’re rolling, as you would when joining a motorway or overtaking a slower car. However, the Tucson and Sportage can be quite slow to respond to accelerator inputs, due to the way their six-speed automatic gearboxes are set up.
True, they shift through the gears smoothly and quickly, but if you decide to pull out to overtake or start to climb a steep incline, there’s often a long pause before the ’box decides whether to change down a gear or two. Opting to use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear yourself isn’t a solution, either, because these respond in a similarly sluggish manner. There’s less of this drama with the Kuga’s more responsive CVT automatic.
Hybrid power brings the benefit of being able to make hushed progress at low speeds, but despite the fact that the Tucson and Sportage have slightly larger batteries than the Kuga, they struggle to stay in electric mode for long, firing up their engines much sooner and more frequently. Mercifully, the transition is smooth, but they sound much busier over the same stretch of road as their engines switch on and off repeatedly.
The Kuga is more willing to run on electric power alone for longer periods, and engine noise only becomes an issue under hard acceleration, droning as the CVT gearbox holds it at a constant high speed until you ease off. In normal driving, it’s reasonably muted when it’s running.
The Kuga is also the quietest cruiser, generating very little wind and road noise at motorway speeds. The Sportage suffers from some wind noise around the door mirrors, while the Tucson is the loudest cruiser, generating notable tyre roar.
The Tucson’s suspension is the softest here, but that doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable, because it still jars over potholes. This only gets worse the faster you go as it struggles to absorb sharp ridges, resulting in the most fidgety ride on the motorway.
The Kuga, by contrast, has quite a firm ride around town, but it smooths out as you increase your speed to be the most settled on the motorway. The Sportage, meanwhile, sits neatly between the two. You’re more aware of minor imperfections in the road than you are in the Tucson, but it has enough absorption to round off the harsher surfaces nicely, perhaps helped by the fact that it comes with one-inch smaller wheels than the others on test.
The Tucson’s light steering makes it the most effortless of our contenders to drive around town, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence as you build up speed, while the body starts to wallow and lean if you try cornering hard. It’s not unnerving by any stretch, but the Tucson feels the least composed and runs out of grip surprisingly quickly.
Unsurprisingly, the firmly sprung Kuga has the best body control, while the Sportage again treads the middle ground, offering similar grip to the Kuga and tighter body control than the Tucson. The Sportage also has the most naturally weighted steering of the trio, helping you to place it accurately, although the Kuga’s quicker responses to inputs encourage you to have a bit more fun on winding roads.
When it comes to shedding speed, the Kia Sportage is easiest to bring to a stop smoothly, whereas the Kuga’s brakes are occasionally grabby at lower speeds. The Tucson’s light pedal requires the least effort, helping in heavy traffic, but is the least confidence-inspiring at higher speeds.
Both the Sportage and Tucson were quite unstable during our braking tests, requiring a degree of steering correction to keep them in a straight line. This was most evident in the Hyundai Tucson, although it was still able to come to a halt in a shorter distance from 70mph. The Ford Kuga pulled up in the least amount of space and was the most stable in the process.
Page 1 of 5
Best family SUVs 2024: our favourite SUVs for kids and cargo
Want practicality, class and an elevated driving position in a relatively compact and affordable package? These are the top 10 cars you should be looking at – and the ones that are best avoided
Kia Sportage long-term test
The Sportage is one of our favourite family SUVs, and the mild hybrid version promises low running costs, but what's it like to actually live with? We're finding out