Reborn Puma set to pounce

10 Jan, 2006 10:17am Sam Hardy

Take cat! Ford has let loose its wild new Puma. Packed with technological innovations, the stunning coupé wowed the crowds at this week's Detroit Motor Show with its solar-powered headlights, inflatable seatbelts and diesel-electric hybrid engine.

And underneath the amazing body of the car, currently badged the Reflex, is the platform of the next-generation Fiesta. The Reflex features a sporty front end dominated by a three-bar chrome grille and broad lights. Vast 20-inch polished alloys and thick rear haunches mark out the side profile, and with minimal overhangs, the newcomer has a chunky, athletic stance.

The squat rear end owes much to the Porsche 911, but it's the glass roof and hatch that's a major talking point. This gives a great view of the complex electronic circuitry that lies inside the car, providing the nerve structure for the diesel-electric hybrid engine and lithium-ion batteries.

Access to the futuristic interior is gained by twin butterfly doors. In the front, there's plenty of space for the driver and passenger, while in the back a special single chair can be split into two at the touch of a button, giving enough room for a couple of children. It's a feature that may well debut on the next Ka, as could the Reflex's mesh seats, which are designed to improve airflow around the occupants. Twin TV screens mounted in the front seatbacks are also included, while a screen in the headlining allows the driver to keep an eye on kids in the back. Further safety items include injury-reducing inflatable seatbelts and an integrated child seat for the single rear chair.

The dashboard is equally impressive. Switching the Reflex on requires a simple button press which illuminates a bank of blue LEDs. In a bid to keep things as simple as possible, a touch-screen centre console gives the driver access to most of the control systems.

With the emphasis on future materials, there is no wood or leather in the Reflex; all the trim - including the steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters for the six-speed semi-automatic gearbox - is plastic. And in line with the model's eco-focus, the rubber sound insulation comes from recycled Nike training shoes. The cabin is kept cool by solar-powered fans, which operate even when the car is parked.

A diesel hybrid engine powers the front axle, while the rear axle is driven by an electric motor - giving the Reflex four-wheel drive. Lithium-ion batteries are used to store energy, which comes via solar panels mounted in the headlights and tail-lamps. Together with specially developed Michelin tyres, which offer low rolling resistance, the Reflex is said to be capable of 65mpg. And given its low overall weight, the new car should have lively performance, too.

While the Reflex is a concept at this stage, you can expect to see much of its hybrid technology debut in future Ford models as the manufacturer seeks to reduce emissions across its range. And a Reflex-inspired Puma is tipped to arrive in 2008, with power from a line-up of blue oval petrol engines. It will debut a year or so after the all-new Fiesta.