There are some jolly good reasons why car makers resurrect model names from their past. Some have acquired legendary status in their absence, like Supra, while others simply have more reach with the target audience, like Corolla. Without fail, when an old name does a Lazarus it generates conversation.
These fondly-remembered names brought back from the past are more evocative than something new. They channel memories of thrilling Sunday morning drives gone by, of peerless reliability perhaps, or of your first ‘proper’ sporty car. Puma is one such moniker.
Maybe you’re already fluent in Ford’s 1990s mini-coupe; it wasn’t exactly unpopular. Launched in 1997 exclusively as a handsome two-door with flattering, flowing curves and a sprinkling of Ford handling magic, it was a distinctive and desirable alternative to a boring supermini. It originally competed with the original Vauxhall Tigra, but, even being kind, the MkI Tigra was utterly rubbish. The Puma was, then, quite unique.
Of three initial petrol engines you had the choice of an insurance-friendly 1.4 with 90bhp at a dismal 5500rpm, a racier 1.6 with 103bhp at 6000rpm, and the one teenagers at the time really wanted – a fizzy 1.7 with 123bhp at 6300rpm that chopped 1.6 seconds off the base 1.4’s 0-62mph time. Later, there came the wider, muscular and limited-edition Racing Puma, which hid a fettled and strengthened version of the 1.7, good for 153bhp. It’s a rare car that’s still stunningly pretty today.
A lot of people look back fondly at the Puma now, except at its rear wheel arches and fuel filler, which rusted as if they were made of cheap iron that kept being dunked in a saltwater bath when you weren’t looking. The contemporary Ka had the same problem but it’s no great surprise that, although the flawed Puma was killed off in 2002, Ford should want to reuse its name.
But why on a compact SUV or, to use Ford’s description, an ‘SUV-inspired crossover’? It makes absolutely zero sense. Those of us who can’t shake the rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the Puma loved – and love – it for what it was: a small, lightweight, agile and fun-to-drive coupe that was unashamedly different. The new Puma might be small, but it won’t be as light as it could have been. Thus it won’t be as agile or as fun to drive as it could have been because of its raised ride height and compromised suspension setup.
The final nail in its coffin for fans of the old Puma is that it’s the exact antithesis of different. It’s yet another high-riding hatchback built for an audience that already seems to have several thousand of them to choose from. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the commercial merits of the car: it will launch into a popular and lucrative market sector, so we get it, but the Puma name appeals to people who won’t be interested in the new one, so where’s the benefit? It feels like a pointless exhumation.
This same point stands for the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross (below) and Ford’s own Mach 1 crossover concept, which may end up being called the Mach-E, because batteries. The Eclipse, the Mustang Mach 1 and even the Puma were cars bought by people who were enthusiasts in one way or another. Not by them alone, obviously, but what is there about a B-segment supermini on stilts that gets the juices flowing? Ask Ford of Europe how fondly its depressing Fusion (a fifth-gen Fiesta with a suspension lift) is remembered these days – that’s if anyone even remembers it at all.
Worse could be to come, as part of this weird trend in reusing cool names on cars that don’t really deserve them. Audi is said to be thinking about axing the once-iconic TT despite the UK’s long-term love affair with it. If it does get the chop, what’s the betting that we’d get an electric SUV-coupe called TT within a further decade?
Reusing these names attracts the attention of enthusiasts who then have no choice but to rain hate on their new SUV/crossover owners. It doesn’t make any difference to those people who might actually buy one, but there’s no particular benefit either. It seems daft to invite the inevitable tide of negativity online.
Unless… it’s just a clever and cynical marketing ploy to secure column inches for a car that otherwise might attract less attention than a pigeon at London Zoo. Just a thought.