Is a manual performance SUV a bad idea?
SUVs continue to claim sales occupied by traditional passenger cars, but there’s a roadblock when it comes to hot hatch-style SUVs.
Despite a populous hot hatch segment in Australia that is littered with manual-only options, we are snubbing the same thing on stilts.
Ford Australia says we won’t get the Puma ST that was unveiled in (and made available for) Europe. It’s essentially a pumped-up Fiesta ST, using the same underpinnings and drivetrain but with the Puma’s appearance and slightly higher suspension.
It seems Ford mates only a manual to the Puma ST because it is a small, baby performance SUV and the fun factor remains fairly similar to something like the Fiesta. Is it strange that the Fiesta ST is available in Australia only with a six-speed manual, yet the Puma ST is not? Would it really not sell enough units?
Homologation should not be much of an issue, as most parts are shared with the Australian-spec Fiesta ST, even the front LSD is a part both have. The only difference from the engine is that the Puma ST pumps out an extra 30Nm to produce 320Nm, while power output is equal at 147kW. This gives the Puma ST the same 0-100km/h in 6.5sec as the Fiesta ST.
Some parts won’t be the same, but there won’t be many – perhaps the front bumper, rear spoiler and such. About 95 per cent of the Puma ST should be a straight shoe-in for the local lineup, and given it’s made for the UK, it’s also going into right-hand drive production, removing the need for a business case there.
But Ford Australia says no, Aussies won’t buy it. That’s a problem considering that passenger car sales are moving to SUVs. In Ford’s portfolio, only the Fiesta and Focus are available to us as STs, and we know there won’t be a Focus RS.
So is it a case that Ford needs to build the Puma ST with an auto, or would that just foul the sporty driving experience? Who knows, but that is all the more reason to test the waters, perhaps a limited edition run of 300-500 units in Australia with a circa-$40k asking price.
Our man Peter Anderson has just finished driving the new Puma ST-Line (review here), which is short 500cc, 52kW and 148Nm of the ST.
“The ST-Line is not a complete corner carver but it’s a great little car and why wouldn’t you bring in the Puma ST,” he reckons.
“There’s space for it, it would slip straight in and the Fiesta ST is only a manual anyway so…”
So, what are we waiting for, Ford?