Fast, terrific dynamics, extremely well-engineered
Ride can be a little uncompromising, sub-optimal fuel consumption if you use the performance
What is it?
Compact SUV. Two words to chill the heart of anyone who still maintains that driving in the back end of 2020 can be, you know, entertaining. Ford, stout defender of mass market driving dynamics, hasn’t always balanced the ingredients perfectly, but the last two generations of Fiesta ST have been magnificently punchy – and Top Gear-award winning – efforts. So in turning its attentions to the Ford Puma, the high-riding Fiesta-based crossover with the appealingly quirky design and waterproof, rubber-lined MegaBox boot receptacle, hopes are naturally high.
And they get higher still when you check out what Ford has thrown at it. The charismatically thrummy 1.5-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine has 197bhp, the chassis has been heavily breathed on, and if you spring for the Performance Pack (an entirely reasonable £950) you’ll add a Quaife limited-slip differential and torque vectoring. Ford Performance has even worked with Michelin to develop bespoke Pilot Sport 4S rubber. No-one else in this sector has gone to this trouble, although it’s moot whether anything else would really benefit from the effort.
There’s also a bunch of selectable drive modes, up to and including a Track set-up. This is perhaps a touch optimistic, unless Ford is chasing the coveted sub-200bhp small SUV lap time record around the ’Ring, but nevertheless underlines its ambitions for a car whose great uncle was effectively a 1.3-litre Escort GL estate.
The ST makeover also hardens the Puma’s slightly Pixar-ish, bug-eyed look. There’s a reworked front bumper with a Ford Performance-embossed splitter, and a rear roof spoiler and diffuser (for more ’Ring handy downforce). A new grille improves engine cooling, while a gloss black finish on the roof and elsewhere adds something that approximates menace. You can have Magnetite or a machined metal finish on the 19in alloys. And amongst the six exterior colours you’ll find a lysergic, ST-exclusive Mean Green.
It’s also extremely well-equipped. Wireless charging, heated windscreen, front and rear parking sensors and Ford’s SYNC 3 comms and infotainment system are all part of the package, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. As is the modern way, app-based remote operation of various vehicle features including locking and a vehicle locator – c’mon, we’ve all had wobbly moments in the airport long-term car park – is available via the FordPass Connect modem tech. This also uses cloud-connected Local Hazard Information to warn the driver about something untoward up ahead.
A passenger sun visor and ash tray would have been about the size of it back in Great Uncle Escort’s day.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
Given its close kinship with the Fiesta, it’s no surprise that the Puma ST is easily the most satisfying small crossover/SUV to drive. What is surprising is just how much effort Ford has made to give the Puma proper performance chops. If it can’t quite match the sheer exuberance of its smaller sibling, it gets pretty close, closer than anything touting this sort of body and versatility has managed before. Ford has answered a question that perhaps not that many were asking. But we’re pleased they have.