Ford has announced a hotted-up version of the Ford Puma, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show as the ST160 it now seems to have metamorphosised into the Ford Racing Puma. Exactly why we cannot be sure, given that the Mondeo has an ST200 version which even has the same paint job. Described by Ford as the ultimate Puma, much of the work is being undertaken by Tickfords and we are assured only 1,000 will be built for the UK market only. From an appearance point of view the car certainly looks nice, the wider wheel arches and larger wheels complimenting an already attractive Puma shape giving it a much tauter look. The original Puma always looked like it was tottering on slightly high heels since its wheel arches were never quite filled.
Ford are keen to stress that this is no mere styling job, and lay it on thick about racing heritage and Ford racing programmes. It appears that the engine has not received major surgery though, with the block and head remaining the same. The camshafts are new and there is an improved inlet manifold and exhaust system to improve breathing and, Ford claim, allow higher rev capability. Ford don't give a power output, merely stating that it is over 150PS. Performance figures are not given, but Philip Dunabin of Ford was keen to point out that with over 150PS in a vehicle of 1040kg it should be strong.
Tuned Suspension and Uprated Brakes
Much of the work has gone into upgrading the suspension and brakes. Immediately visible are the 17 x 7.5 inch Speedline alloy wheels shod with 40 section tyres. On top of this, springs and dampers are uprated and the track has been widened. 295mm ventilated front discs are aided by cooling vents in the front panel. It would be useful to make a back to back comparison with the standard Puma which has such an excellent combination of compliant ride yet sparkling handling. Such flat rubber must surely compromise the ride especially when the stiffer springs are thrown into the equation - one must assume the handling is sharper than ever.
Market and Philosophy
Quite where Ford are aiming this car is not particularly clear. The press release gives no details of an actual racing model that will be available alongside. The press blurb talks about bringing 'the thrill of the race track to the road for customers who place performance and a rewarding driving experience at the top of their list'. This is where, in my mind, the Racing Puma starts to come unstuck. You see at £23,000 it's starting to tread on some pretty big toes. The Lotus Elise for starters - surely a better driving experience than any souped-up Puma. And then if you're after drag racer-type performance what about a Fiat Coupe 20 valve turbo, now in plentiful supply with big discounts - also quite a strong visual statement.
There's nothing wrong with the Puma, it's a great car, and at £15,000 it deserves to be the roaring success that it is. It looks great, handles and goes well, and is affordable for enthusiastic and not so enthusiastic young professionals. However, people do buy on price, as well as status and all the other intangibles which are bandied about as influences on people's decision-making in the showroom. This may explain Ford's decision to make only 1000 limited edition racing Pumas. There just wouldn't be more than 1000 people who would be prepared to fork out an £8,000 premium on a car that is still essentially a Fiesta with a nice body.
Alex B - firstname.lastname@example.org