Curbside Newsstand: Ford’s Puma, A Compelling Subcompact Crossover, To Stay In Europe

2020 Ford Puma

It goes without saying that death and taxes are basically the only two things guaranteed in life. But there are many more things that come pretty close to joining that exclusive club. For Americans, forbidden automotive fruit from Europe definitely ranks pretty high up there. Dozens of people perennially lament the products Ford only offers across the pond.

That trend is set to continue into the future, as Ford has apparently decided the subcompact Puma is not suitable for North America. That’s an incredibly puzzling decision, given the Blue Oval’s increasingly thinning roster of inexpensive vehicles. With exactly one subcompact crossover in its stable right now, you’d think Ford would be hellbent on getting as many over here ASAP. What is going on here?

For a bit of background, the Puma is a subcompact crossover Ford introduced for Europe in 2019. It’s based on the current generation Fiesta platform and shares a decent amount of components with it. Currently, only one engine is offered: a 1.0 liter EcoBoost three cylinder with a 48V mild hybrid system. There are two tunes, with the highest output rated at 153 horsepower and 180 Ib-ft of torque.

As a modern crossover, the Puma is available with all the modern safety features one would expect, like automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. But it also boasts features that would be class exclusive if it were offered in America, like a 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster, massaging seats, and the MegaBox rear cargo area, which even has a drain plug for easy cleaning.

Since its introduction, the Puma has received extremely good reviews from European automotive outlets. AutoTrader lauded the little crossover for its spaciousness, available tech, and sophisticated ride and handling. What Car? even gave it their Car of the Year award for 2020, citing the same reasons as their rival publication. Here’s what they had to say:

“The judges praised the Puma for being fun to drive, cleverly packaged and well priced. Additionally, What Car?’s independent True MPG tests showed it to be extremely economical in real-world driving, thanks to its mild hybrid technology.”

A good looking and dynamically capable vehicle with decent pricing? That’s roughly the playbook Ford followed on the original Taurus, the 2001 Escape, 2013 Fusion, and countless other vehicles. There’s nothing inherently baked into the Puma that would make it unpalatable to Americans.

Plus, there’s a decent amount of white space between the EcoSport and Escape. A chasm that should be filled with the freshest product available and as soon as possible, because right now Ford’s smallest crossover is like a container of milk a day or two after its expiration date: acceptable for now, but not much longer. The EcoSport does have some things going for it: Ford incentivized the little crossover to the point where it is now priced competitively with the likes of the similarly sized Hyundai Venue. But unlike the other entry level subcompacts, the EcoSport can be equipped with a more powerful engine and all-wheel drive. In that way, it’s sort of splitting the difference between the cheaper subcompacts and their more expensive stablemates.

But there’s no denying the EcoSport is a tad outdated. It lacks automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control. The horizontally opening tailgate doesn’t help things either. And it’s certainly not anywhere close to boasting segment leading styling or driving dynamics. In fact, the EcoSport’s position in the Ford lineup brings to mind the American market Focus, which was introduced in 2008. It too lacked award winning looks or segment leading capability, but it boasted decent features and attractive pricing.

Why isn’t the Puma headed to North America? As previously mentioned, it has a lot going for it. But it currently doesn’t offer all-wheel drive or an automatic transmission, two things that are pretty important for a vehicle that would slot above the entry level subcompacts like the Kicks and Venue. Given the Puma’s platform, which itself is an evolution of the architecture used by the EcoSport, those features will most likely be outfitted to future iterations of the model. But for now they aren’t there.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

There are also more practical reasons why the Puma won’t make it into U.S. showrooms. Ford is currently retooling its plant in Cuautitlán, Mexico to produce the Mustang Mach-E. That factory formerly produced the American market Fiesta. Additionally, Ford’s Hermosillo plant, which is also in Mexico, is in the initial stages of being reconfigured to produce various products based off the company’s C2 compact car platform, which debuted with the current generation Focus. Four products are tentatively slated to be built there: the next generation Transit Connect, the Escape-adjacent Bronco Sport, the upcoming Outback competitor rumored to use the Fusion name, and whatever Ford ends up calling their car-based sub-Ranger pickup.

Ford’s got a lot of buns in the oven. Paired with the Bronco and redesigned F-150, both of which are projected to go on sale within the next six months, executives may simply feel that the average Ford dealership will soon have more than enough product on hand to offer shoppers. Ford may be walking away from several segments but they’re about to enter some new ones too.

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That being said, the Puma would pretty much perfectly fit between the EcoSport and Escape. Hyundai is fielding similarly sized crossovers in its lineup right now and reaping the full benefits of having a full spread of such vehicles available for customers. The Kona, which just so happens to be a sporty, well equipped, and reasonably priced crossover, found just over 73,000 buyers in 2019. The EcoSport resonated with about 64,000 shoppers last year. An acceptable figure, but without a dancing partner like the Puma, Ford is at a disadvantage. Nearly all of its rivals now have two entries in the subcompact segment.

Ford dealers will most likely have no shortage of $15,000-$23,000 pre-owned Escapes and Fusions to sell to customers. And in all fairness, Ford has historically lucked out when finally getting around to offering a global Ford product stateside. The current EcoSport and Ranger debuted around 2012 but didn’t arrive in America until recently, where they’ve since gained decent traction. But the company also dumped a whole bunch of entry level models since 2018. And in this new reality we find ourselves in, new car customers will most likely want something a bit less expensive than a $25,000 Escape S but more upscale than the EcoSport. Plus, not everyone is going to want a $20,000 pickup, which is the rumored starting price for the Focus-based truck on course for a 2021 introduction.

The truth is, the American subcompact crossover market is currently a bit like the Wild West. Automakers haven’t really coalesced around any de facto sizing standards. Right now, the cowboys with the quickest draws are getting all the spoils. Ford’s still reaching for its revolver while competitors have already got their finger on the trigger. They still might come out ahead, but for now, that outcome is very much unclear.