Brace yourself: we drive Ford's two new SUVs, Puma and Escape
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- High energy engine
- Fun handling
- Still pretty practical
- Three pot engine takes a while to get going
- Firm urban ride on ST-Line
- Ford dual-clutch gearboxes have history
You wait ages for a new Ford SUV and then two come along at once.
While the Blue Oval has dominated the New Zealand new-vehicle market for years with the Ranger ute, it’s struggled to come up a cohesive range of offerings in the SUV genre.
The company hopes two all-new models launched together will change that: the Puma compact-SUV (top) and medium-sized Escape (above).
Puma’s more like a cute kitten
Having the “Puma” name on a small SUV might irk a few Euro-Ford enthusiasts – it was attached to a much-loved coupe from 1997-2002. But it does at least tell you that Ford wants this small SUV to have enthusiast appeal.
First impressions suggest success. It’s instantly recognisable on the road, fun to drive – but still impressively practical.
The entry version is $33,990, while the top ST-Line is $37,990. Both get Ford’s acclaimed 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder engine making 92kW/170Nm.
Given Ford’s past drama with the PowerShift transmission, you might be surprised to learn it’s having another go with dual-clutch technology in Puma.
But it all comes together really well. The choice of the three-pot engine is obviously more a case of efficiency than character, because the distinctive odd-cylinder “thrum” is very well suppressed in Puma.
The powertrain is a bit laggy below 2000rpm and on really big hills, but once it’s away it really hums (not thrums) along.
The steering is light but accurate and the little SUV turns into corners with authority. It handles like a slightly taller supermini, which is what it really is: Puma is based on the Fiesta, although bear in mind that it’s as heavy as a Focus.
So should you spend the extra on the ST-Line? It has no extra power and while it rides on the same-size 17-inch wheels (albeit in a different style), the sportier suspension tune seems like a step too far for what’s still essentially an urban SUV.
But some of the extra goodies in the ST-Line are tempting: black exterior detailing, auto high-beam, power hands-free tailgate, upgraded interior trim, full LCD instruments, auto climate air, adaptive cruise (stop/go) and automatic parking. Both models are “live” with the FordPass mobile app.
We don’t get the much-talked-about Megabox – a massive underfloor storage area complete with drainage holes – because that’s where the spare wheel so beloved by Kiwis goes. But the Puma is still a pretty practical thing, with 410 litres in the boot and an adjustable boot floor that can also serves as an angled cargo divider.
ENGINE: 1.0-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder
GEARBOX: 7-speed dual clutch
ECONOMY: 5.3 litres per 100km
The greatest Escape?
Escape is a familiar name to Kiwis, but the all-new model really steps up in sophistication. It arrives in base, ST-Line and snazzed-up ST-Line X forms, all powered by a 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine making an impressive 184kW/387Nm.
The $42,990 base car is FWD, the $47,990 ST-Line can be ordered with FWD or AWD (add $3k), while the top $55,990 ST-Line X is AWD only.
All 2.0l petrol models have an 8-speed automatic gearbox with love-it-or-hate-it rotary shift dial.
Escape has always been a brisk medium SUV and this one continues the tradition, deploying that 184kW effectively when exiting corners or overtaking.
Despite the straight-line go, the chassis is compliant. The base car is softer than the ST-Line versions, but all err on the side of comfort.
It’s actually a pretty good compromise for Kiwi driving: lots of grunt, but nicely controlled body movement through those bumpy corners.
Even if you don’t think you need it, the AWD is handy for taming that power. We’ve had preview drives in the FWD ST-Line and the AWD ST-Line X and the former definitely had some trouble getting that power down under duress.
Escape is well kitted-up across the range, including tech like adaptive cruise with stop/go, and intelligent speed assist.
The boot is 556 litres and load length can be increased by sliding the rear seat forward. The cargo cover is cleverly integrated into the tailgate, keeping it out of the way when loading.
The flagship ST-Line earns its “X” (above, in red) with “dynamic bending” headlights, power tailgate, 19in wheels, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with heating/memory for the front chairs, partial leather upholstery, panoramic roof, B&O audio and full self-parking ability.
The elephant in the room is the much-talked-about Plug-in Hybrid Electric (PHEV) version of the Escape, which isn’t in the NZ launch lineup.
To be fair, it was never scheduled to arrive at the same time as the rest of the range. Demand in Europe meant it wasn’t going to get to Kiwi showrooms until January.
But there are now further delays following battery overheating issues in Europe; production is on hold and current customer cars have been recalled.
So don’t expect to see the Escape PHEV, which offers 50km of pure-electric running, in Kiwi showrooms until the second half of 2021. It’ll cost $60,990-$66,990 depending on specification.
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, FWD or AWD
ECONOMY: 8.6 litres per 100km