THERE are certain expectations when it comes to performance Fords. Chief among those is performance and handling, but engine sound is always a big draw. We’ve all seen baseball-capped yoovs admiring the under-bonnet of a mate’s ST while tugging (steady now) on the throttle cable – or whatever passes for a throttle cable these days.

It couldn’t last though; not in the present climate (change). Cubic capacity is diminishing and so is the audio-scape that punctuated our motoring Nirvana of old.

Ford Focus ST Powershift

The tiny-engined, 3-pot motors of today have new features – like piped-in dump valves and made-up masturbatory mechanical sounds that imitate the real thing. But, as many a crusty-socked 15-year-old lad has wondered – is the real thing any better anyway?

Which brings me to the Ford Puma ST Powershift I recently drove for a week. A car that can have Ford fanboys throwing up their arms in despair and declaring that Ford has “lost its way” when it comes to performance motors.

Well, not really . . . The planet is going to hell in a handcart due to climate change, and to carry on as normal would be truly short-sighted.

The 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder engine that powers the (now sadly demised) Fiesta ST and the manual Puma ST is a cracker and allows the driver to have some real fun in their ST. It provides 197 bhp and sounds decent too – even from the outside. Inside, the piped muscle adds to the occasion rather than detracting from it. So, all good then.

However, the Powershift-equipped Puma ST uses a 168 bhp, mild-hybrid, 1-litre EcoBoost engine mated to a 7-speed auto box. I can feel Daz’s anger from here . . .

However, Daz may calm down a little if I let him know this auto version costs no more than the manual, is better on fuel and emits less CO2 – saving you around £390 in tax during the first year.

But the clincher, for Daz, may be the fact that the Puma ST Powershift produces exactly twice the power-per-litre of a 2002 Focus ST170 . . . (mike drop).

Okay, despite all that, I was a bit dubious at first – but was quickly won over.

I’ve already enjoyed the full-fat 1.5 Puma ST and this one isn’t too different. The crisp handling is a major factor in what makes the Puma ST such a driver’s car and both versions are excellent – as you would expect.

They use the same optimized chassis, including bespoke twist-beam and anti-roll bar settings, along with force-vectoring springs. The result is a Puma that dances around corners so confidently, you can’t imagine having 4-wheel-drive would feel any better.

The ride quality is exactly what an ST-buyer would expect. Firm and flat without jiggling your eyeballs out onto your cheeks. Easily liveable as a daily-driver.

Does the auto-gearbox spoil the party? No, not really. Apart from the obvious lack of engagement which the manual provides, it’s something you quickly get used to and come to appreciate when bumbling around town. It’s less stressful.

It shifts pretty quickly through the 7 gears and if you want to get some of that engagement back, then you have the flappy paddles to shift manually. They’re a bit crap though, being too small and feeling they might snap off if you grab at them with too much enthusiasm.

If anything spoils the party, it’s the mild-hybrid system which does a great job of saving fuel but can be a bit disconcerting when you lift off the gas and the car feels like it accelerates a little. Not great in a performance car that you want to be predictable in all circumstances.

But, like the auto-gearbox, spend enough time with it and you soon adjust your driving style accordingly. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker.

Performance figures show a 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds, compared with 6.7 seconds for the 6-speed manual version, and 248 Nm of torque compared with 320 Nm. So, not a lot in it really.

The Puma ST Powershift is, unsurprisingly, just like the manual inside, which means steep-sided, body-hugging Ford Performance seats that set off the interior very well indeed.

Cabin materials are the usual Ford mix of decent up top and distinctly plasticky lower down. Overall though, it’s a pleasant place to sit.

The chunky, flat-bottomed steering wheel houses some sensible controls and feels like a quality bit of kit – well-finished and just the right thickness.

You’ll be well equipped for winter with a heated screen, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

Climate controls don’t require any annoying poking at the screen as they have their own set of easily accessed buttons and dials, low down in the central dash.

Rear passengers get a decent amount of space with good leg and headroom. Smaller kids may not like the high rear windows though and may find themselves not being able to see out so easily, unless they’re in a booster seat.

Boot space is more than adequate for a family and there is also the MegaBox under the boot floor. I’m still not sure what its purpose is but if you need to transport some wet laundry it’s ideal.

Prices for the Ford Puma ST Powershift start at £31,775 OTR for one in Frozen White. If you want one in Azura Blue, like my press car, then add another £525. If you want an opening panoramic sunroof then add another £1,000.

Personally, I’d still go for the 1.5 manual Puma ST as it’s just a little more engaging and fun, while not losing out a great deal on MPG. But if you love an automatic and want some thrills to go with it, then at this price point you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything else.

Is the Puma ST Powershift worthy of the ST badge? I would say so. It’s time we left behind any thought that a performance Ford in the UK needs to be a gas-guzzling, shouty, tyre-screecher that Daz and his mates can donut around the local Morrisons car park.

Although, having just written that – it still does sound quite appealing, doesn’t it? (Reaches for his Mustang Mach1 brochure . . .)

  • AT A GLANCE:   
  • Ford Puma ST Powershift
  • OTR Price: £31,775   
  • Engine: 1.0 turbo petrol    
  • Power: 168 bhp   
  • Transmission: 7-speed Automatic  
  • 0-62mph: 7.4 secs   
  • Top Speed: 127 mph   
  • Combined Economy (WLTP): 44.8 mpg   
  • C02 (WLTP): 144 g/km  

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