It’s a sea of SUVs out there, with a few making waves, and others simply swimming with the rest of the school. The Escape and Puma could be considered in the second group; they don’t stand out, but they get the job done, and those who own them seem to like them immensely.

But things change, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in electric vehicles (PHEV) SUVs coming along, leaving behind those simply riding the wave. Ford needs something that’s going to propel the Escape and Puma on to more buyer’s shopping lists. Can a solid refresh of both models sell more, or will they be left behind?

We headed to Auckland to the launch of the 2020 models.

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Simon Rutherford, Ford New Zealand’s Managing Director, was first up to give us a global view of Ford at the moment. He mentioned there’s an EV version of the American pickup truck –  the F150 – coming, sales in China sale are up 25% year on year, and this is on the back of localised production for the Ford-branded Lincoln product.

With regards to New Zealand and the new model – the Wildtrack X Ranger – there are 50 units arriving this month to go out to buyers. Ford NZ are well aware of ongoing pressure from the likes of the new Toyota Hilux, Mazda BT50 and Isuzu D-Max; obviously they are keen to retain their market share in the ute sector.

So on that, there’s the all-new Ranger FX4 Max arriving in January 2021, an updated Ranger XLT also in January and this model comes with a new grille, the new 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Simon went on to say that there’s still diehard buyers out there who will only buy the 3.2 diesel motor for their Ranger, but more are moving on to the 2.0-litre bi-turbo.

NEW ESCAPE AND PUMA

Since it’s already on sale, Ford NZ had some data regarding sales of the new Puma. Apparently it’s already ahead of sales expectations.

Questions were asked about the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Escape, which is very popular overseas – especially in the UK – but has had some issues with batteries. Ford NZ is taking a cautious approach, but are expecting the car to be on sale here within twelve months, but with no promises made.

Rachel White, Ford NZ Marketing Manager for passenger cars, spoke about the new cars. She says the Escape is longer, lower and wider than the previous version, and now uses the same platform as the Focus. There’s the new engine, a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder Ecoboost unit, pumping out an extremely healthy 183kW of power, and an excellent 387Nm of torque (up from 178/345). Fuel economy remains the same as the previous model, at 8.6L/100km. All Escapes are fitted with an 8-speed automatic gearbox.

Escape

Some other changes include the removal of the parcel tray, and this is now a shade attached to the back window, to make it easier for loading/unloading stuff. The rear seats are now sliding to allow for more luggage space, and there’s an embedded modem for data transfer for the car. The ST Line and ST Line X both have Qi wireless phone charging, and a 180-degree camera. There’s lots of driver assist systems, and we’ll cover these off in the review.

The Escape is manufactured in Spain, while the Puma is built in Romania.

ESCAPE PRICING

  • Base $42,990
  • ST Line FWD $47,990
  • ST LINE AWD $50,990
  • ST LINE X AWD $55,990

Interestingly, the base model has chrome highlights around the grille and rear doors, but on the ST Line and above these are black, as apparently this makes them more sporty. The ST Line X has an electric tailgate, and both the ST Line and ST Line X have red stitching inside on the steering wheel, doors and seats.

There’s also a semi-active dash in ST Line and ST Line X, along with a flat-bottom steering wheel. All Escapes are fitted with a rotary transmission selector. There’s also traffic sign recognition across the range, along with blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with start/stop, lane keep assist, lane departure assist, and other safety functions.

PUMA

The 2020 Puma is fitted with the 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder Ecoboost engine, managing 92kW of power and 170Nm of torque. Fuel consumption is listed at 5.3L/100km. Both models are fitted with a 7-speed automatic. So far, this model has won 7 international awards, and has a 5-star safety rating (as does the Escape).

There’s two Puma models; base and the ST line. The ST Line has Qi wireless charging, and both models have 180-degree camera. Adaptive cruise is not standard this time, with ‘normal’ cruise control on the base model, and adaptive (with stop/go) on the ST Line. 17” alloys are standard, with 5-spoke on the base model, and 10-spoke on the ST Line. There’s also a multi-level rear floor. Under the lower floor, there’s a big area for more storage, and then the space-saver spare under that.

Puma interior

Like the Escape, there is a shade attached to the rear window for privacy of your valuables. Again like the Escape, the ST Line has red stitching on the seats and doors.

The Pumas does have a normal shifter though, no rotary dial transmission in this car. The ST Line is fitted with park assist, and an electric tailgate.

The base Puma is $33,990, while the ST Line is $37,990.

Puma

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

It was time to get behind the wheel, so we grabbed a base Puma, finished in Race Red. I’ve got to say, the Puma is a good-looking small SUV. It borders on a mini Porsche Macan from the front, and it looks great. Front, side or rear, the whole car is fresh and funky, and the lines are perfect for this size of SUV. The base Puma, with its chrome on the front and sides, looks like a premium model. This could be a design to take on the Mazda CX-3, currently the best-looking small SUV.

First impressions are good. As a passenger first, there seems to be lots of hard, black plastic, but this is the base model after all. The new infotainment system (Sync3) works well, and the screen resolution is now crisp and clear.

The engine seems generally quiet, and (almost unfortunately) doesn’t have the three-cylinder growl that some triples do. Overall, it feels quite refined for such a small car. After a while, I got in the driver’s seat for a spin. Performance is good, especially in Sport mode, and the little 1.0-litre gets around the country roads in Bombay easily. On some of the tighter roads with lots of corners, the turn in is fantastic, with the car almost falling into the corners. Early days, but it feels good.

Next up was a base-model, front-wheel-drive Escape, finished in Blue Metallic. Like the Puma, this base model has chrome trim all around the car, black on the up-spec models. It doesn’t look as fun as the Puma, but looks classy, refreshed, and modern. Definitely an improvement on the previous Escape. Like the Puma, there’s quite a bit of flat black plastic about the cabin, but overall it’s a nice place, and relatively airy. There’s some nice textures used up front, especially on the doors where your hands fall.

Pushing 183kW and 387Nm of torque through the front wheels does mean a lot of wheel spin. It doesn’t take much of a prod of the accelerator to get the wheels to spin those Continental tyres. If you’re in the mood, I expect it would be a lot of fun. There’s a reasonable amount of torque steer along with the wheelspin, so I’m not sure this would be a good car for a new driver to learn in. It will be interesting to see what the AWD models are like.

Turn in is not as good as the Puma, but the general driving of the car is still good. It does feel a lot bigger than the previous Escape, seemingly taking up all its lane.

The engine, while so torquey, is very free revving, spinning out to the redline quickly and easily. It’s quiet too though, and a quick spurt on the motorway shows the car to be refined and comfortable. I could easily see myself driving Wellington to Auckland in this car.

After lunch, it was into the all-wheel-drive (AWD) Escape ST Line. I ticked the box for the one finished in ‘Magnetic’ not realizing this was actually grey, in Ford speak. Not my favourite colour by a country mile, but the car still looks sharp in this colour.

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Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have time to get into the ST Line X today. After the FWD base model, this one was so much better. Almost no torque steer, and no wheel spin off the line on full throttle. The ST Line AWD was able to get the power down with no drama, and delivered excellent acceleration. Already, this felt like the sweet spot of the models.

The interior wasn’t actually too much different to the base model, with almost the same amount of black plastic, but the nice red stitching thrown about the place. There’s the active display too of course; you can’t customize it or do too much with it though. To change screens, you have to pick a different drive mode and the dash changes to suit that mode. This AWD version feels like a different car to the base model.

Next up it was the Puma ST Line, finished in Desert Island Blue, and looking awesome. It felt similar to the base model, since they share the same running gear and wheel size, and made me realise that some people won’t need the size of something like the Escape. With the clever boot arrangement, space in the Puma is efficient and the car feels spacious inside.

Lower stowage space in the Puma

All in all it was a great day, and the two new models should sell well. They’re both current in design, and should appeal to existing owners looking to upgrade. Will the Puma and Escape bring buyers from other brands? I think if they get behind the wheel, that could happen. As always though, we’ll wait to get our hands on one for a week for an in-depth car review that only DriveLife does.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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