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Decisions decisions, Ford Puma and Escape first drives

A little over a month ago Ford New Zealand unveiled their new nameplate Puma and completely revamped Escape at the Glasshouse in Auckland and last week we got to drive them both, however, the drive left us in a bit of a quandary – which one did we prefer?

Ford Puma and Escape Review NZ

The drive event was based at Simunovich olive estate at the Bombays, it’s a very cool place thanks to its seclusion, its food, clay pigeon shooting range (I’ll get to that later) and some challenging roads that surround it that are coincidently, great for testing out new small SUVs.

We arrived early and (after coffee) were brought up to speed on Ford’s progress both globally and locally and given a refresher course on the two new vehicles. In short, Ford’s new CEO Jim Farley has positioned customers at the top of the brand’s ‘focus’ tree, it all starts and ends with them (or is that us). New products have been released/under way, some of which are not planned for NZ anytime soon (Bronco and the electric F150), operations in China are up 25% and all things considered, things are pretty rosey at Ford internationally right now.  

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 NZ

locally, the Ranger is still top of the tree (with Wildtrak X, FX4 Max and a refreshed XLT all on the horizon) and Performance models such as the Mach1 Mustang, Fiesta ST and Focus ST are all gaining ground, the latter two being particularly relevant for this Puma and Escape piece.

You see, underpinning both these two new models lies the tried and very tested Fiesta and Focus chassis (Puma and Escape respectively), so ground up you can be sure they’re built to be driven. And they were. 

The events driving segment was split into four time slots and with most model variants on offer and a ‘user/chooser’ format meant that I flip flopped between both nameplates and two different specs for each, beginning with the regular Puma

Ford Puma and Escape Review NZ

The Puma is the lower spec’d of the Puma (duo) range but you wouldn’t really know it. The mini SUV still comes with LED head, tail and daytime running lights, it’s even got fog, cornering and puddle lights too. It’s got a leather steering wheel, 8-inch touchscreen with Sync 3 and Apple/Android connected, it’s Fordpass connected and when it comes to driver and safety aids where do I start – AEB, Lane Keep alert and assist, Cruise Control, Traffic sign recognition, 180-degree reverse camera…To top it off, the luggage space is multi-tiered so you can hide what to need to hide and 410L is ample enough for a weekly shop.

Anyway, I already knew of a little route around the area that would test the small SUV’s capabilities, it included plenty of twists and turns, some of them off-camber and a few straights thrown in for good measure. Off I trotted. On paper, the 1L, 3 cylinder engine that sits underneath the shapely bonnet doesn’t seem like much, but in actual fact, it’s not bad at all. Turbocharged, it creates 92kW of usable power and 170Nm of torque. The 7-speed auto box is quick to change and being front wheel drive, it enjoys pulling out of bends as much as you do. A great start for the day.

Ford Escape NZ

Next up the Escape. There are six in the Escape range, from Ecoboost FWD to ST-Line X PHEV, we didn’t have the PHEV there to play with but I opted for the ST-Line AWD version first up and its list of accessories and perks is almost too many to print. Highlights would be the 12-inch LCD instrument display with multiple settings and backgrounds and adaptive cruise control (that’s always a winner).

The Escape feels more mature on the road, particularly with its AWD system. It’s spacious for a small SUV and the 2L Ecoboost engine (183kW/387Nm) is strong and reasonably responsive. I flicked through the driving modes and preferred Sports (no surprises there) and both the steering and the suspension made light work of the route. Again, another great drive but in fairness, the Puma felt more involved. 

For my third stint I was back to the Puma, however, this time the ST-Line. The power is the same and it’s still FWD but the additions of adaptive cruise, park assist and uprated trim had me picking this as the winner on the day, or so I thought. 

Ford Puma and Escape Review NZ

My final ‘lap’ had me behind the wheel of the FWD ST-Line Escape and this my friends was the one. The front wheel drive feels more nimble, more fun than its AWD sibling and yet it still came with all the ST-Line trimmings. I was lucky enough (possibly not for him) to have Ford NZ’s MD Simon Rutherford beside me for this drive and as we vigorously rounded 35km/h corners a tad faster than recommended, he confirmed that although the dealers were excited about having an extended Ford RANGE of vehicles to be proud of (and orders for the Puma well exceeding all expectations), the interest in the new Escape was rapidly gaining momentum – or was that our digital speedo,

The day was topped off at the Olive estate’s events area, where archery, knife throwing, pellet gun shooting and finally clay pigeon shooting with shotguns was undertaken (it’s a must do for your stay cation this year) and a chance to reflect on which model suited me best. 

Ford Puma and Escape Review NZ

The Ford New Zealand Puma is a new badge and therefore has, quite rightly, grabbed a lot of attention. It is priced well at $30-$33k and offers a raft of involved, fun driving. But my preference is the $47k front wheel drive ST-Line Escape. It has all the bells and whistles that come with the top model, but is more playful and seems more powerful under foot – although maybe an ST version of the Puma may change my mind again – decisions, decisions.

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