NOW, that’s more like it. The new Ford Puma ST may not be as svelt or cute as the well-loved Puma of the 80s, but now it has some credibility when it comes to mixing it up with the Golf GTi or any of the plethora of hot hatches that are still around these days.
Outwardly the Puma ST is altogether more aggressive looking than its cutesy brethren. Unique ST styling includes the front and rear bumper along with lowered, stiffened suspension, rear spoiler and a Ford Performance embossed front splitter. The 19in alloys look sharp with red brake calipers peeping out from behind.
“But it’s an SUV!” I hear you cry – and I hear you loud and clear; the Puma ST is a compact crossover vehicle and thus should never be spoken of when discussing fast Fords – right?
Well, don’t get your strut-braces in a shuffle because the Puma ST is both entertaining and fast enough to slap a great big grin across your face – almost as big as the dopey-looking grin it sports itself.
However, let me say from the start – the Puma ST isn’t quite as much fun as the Fiesta ST. But it is damn close. Spec it with the Performance Pack (and why wouldn’t you?) and the only difference you’ll notice between the two siblings is that the Puma has more space and feels more “grown-up”. You could get away with calling it a family car, whereas the Fiesta just isn’t. Both will hit 62mph in just 6.7 seconds with the Puma gaining a slight increase in engine torque to overcome its extra weight.
The closeness of performance between the Puma ST and Fiesta ST is down to two factors: They both share the same bonkers 3-cylinder, 1.5 litre EcoBoost engine that is good for 197 bhp (200 PS); and the Puma ST has been tweaked and prodded in its handling nether-regions like no other Puma.
Yes, the Puma ST is a hoot to drive and the mechanical Quaife limited-slip diff along with torque-vectoring makes the £950 Performance Pack worth every penny. You’ll also get Launch Control to play around with.
It sounds meaty enough from the back end too – but not enough to become tiresome when pootling, which is a good thing in my book.
Is there any other compact SUV that is as much fun? I can only think of the Hyundai Kona N, but while it drives well, it can’t beat the Puma on looks – both inside and out, while the price is a couple of grand heftier.
Oh yes, price. Well, the Ford Puma ST starts at £31,075 for a Frozen White one. Add between £275 and £525 for other colours – Mean Green being my favourite.
And that’s about it for choices – other than the likes of a panoramic sunroof, power tailgate and parking assistance. You can have a different style 19in alloy at no extra cost, while the interior remains a partial faux-leather with red stitching and ludicrous Batmobile-style front Recaro seats with Ford Performance stitched into the enormous head-and-shoulder rests.
However, once you’ve managed to get both buttocks over the high seat-bolster (careful. . .) you’ll find yourself ensconced in a figure-hugging seat that holds you very well around the corners as well as feeling comfortable generally.
The rest of the cabin is typically Ford with some decent materials surrounded by some nasty plastics here and there. It looks fine but is never going to wow you in the quality department.
The part you’ll be holding onto most of the time – the steering wheel – is very well finished though; Chunky and flat-bottomed with sensible controls built-in that are easy to operate.
The 12.3in digital dash is decent enough and easy to configure, while the infotainment screen is clear and responsive. It comes with SYNC 3 Navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with a Bang & Olufsen 10-speaker sound system.
As well as heated seats and a heated screen, there’s a heated steering wheel that I wholly recommend in these coming winter months. All climate controls are sensibly placed and non-distracting in use due to them being physical buttons and knobs rather than the digital nightmares that some manufacturers are adopting (hello, Volkswagen).
I’m lucky that my daily commute takes me immediately onto some twisting, rural B-roads and these proved to the perfect test for my Magnetic gray Puma ST with Performance Pack. What a hoot. I didn’t even care that most of the exhaust rasp was synthetically pumped into the cabin. The steering feel was real enough and the cornering was VR-free.
I did brake later and later when coming to the corners and became braver as to how soon I put the power down. I’m sure I was nowhere the Puma ST’s grip-limit and I think you would be crazy to get there on a public road – that’s what the Track mode is for.
It is a very enjoyable car to drive and to say it sits slightly higher than other hot-hatchbacks its handling characteristics are exemplary. Too stiff for every day use? Nope, not even close. Around town it feels absolutely fine and it’s only the worst road imperfections that get a thump.
The gearshift is slick, the turbo-lag is miniscule and the grins are all Cheshire-based cat-like.
But what about the kids? Well, they’ll think you’re a cool parent for buying it and they’re unlikely to change their minds once they’re in it. There’s enough room for a couple of tall adults in the rear so kids will be fine.
Ford claim the Puma is best-in-class when it comes to boot space and 456 litres is good – with a further 80 litres being available under the boot floor via the over-hyped MegaBox. It’s a plastic box with a drain plug which the average user may spend hours trying to think of a use for. A blind goldfish?
Truth is, the Ford Puma ST is a car you’ll love to own if you get any joy out of motoring, whatsoever. It’s rewarding to drive, practical and packed with tech that both keeps you safe (pre-collision Assist with Autonomous Emergency Braking, Pedestrian/Cyclist Detection and Post-Collision Braking, Lane Keeping, Aid, etc. etc.) and makes motoring a little easier (Auto High Beam, Auto wipers and lights, wireless phone-charging, etc. etc.)
Family car doesn’t necessarily mean boring car and the 5-door Puma ST has everything covered. I even managed a decent mpg figure of 44 in my week of driving, which really leaves you no excuse at all for not making the Puma ST your next family runabout.
AT A GLANCE:
Ford Puma ST
OTR Price: £31,075
Engine: 1.5 EcoBoost petrol
Power: 200 PS
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top Speed: 137 mph
Combined Economy: 41.5 mpg
C02: 155 g/km