First Drive: Ford’s Puma ST brings performance to the crossover segment
What is it?
It’s fair to say that the rise of the crossover has been stratospheric. Across the country, they’re being snapped up in droves thanks to the ability to offer a slight amount more practicality than a regular hatch, but with the high-riding, confidence-inspiring driving position that people love.
Now, in a form of natural progression, we’re getting performance crossovers – like this, the new Ford Puma ST. Underpinned by the much-loved Fiesta ST, it aims to give an option to those buyers considering a hot hatch but want a little more space. Let’s find out if it’s any good.
In essence, this Puma ST follows the same basic formula as the Fiesta ST. Take the regular car, introduce a punchier engine, implement heavy suspension revisions and tune-ups and give the whole car a sportier, more dynamic look. It worked handsomely for the Fiesta, so you can understand why Ford would take the same tack with the Puma.
But Ford hasn’t forgotten about space, either. It’s why the Puma ST has retained the regular car’s party-piece boot feature – but we’ll get to that in a minute – while the car sits slightly higher than the Fiesta.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Puma ST uses – yes, you guessed it – the same 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine that you’ll find in the Fiesta ST. Here, it produces a whisker under 200bhp as well as 320Nm of torque, resulting in a 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds and a flat-out top speed of 137mph. It’s driven through a six-speed manual gearbox to the front wheels, while a limited-slip differential can be added as an optional extra for enhanced cornering ability.
Despite the brisk performance that engine does well in the economy stakes, too. Ford says it’ll do a combined 40.9mpg, while emissions stand at a very reasonable 155g/km. In terms of a performance car which won’t cost the earth to run, the Puma looks impressive – in terms of claimed figures, that is.
What’s it like to drive?
Even though the Puma has been designed to feel a little taller than the Fiesta, in outright crossover terms it’s certainly not one of the most high-riding around. That means that it’s got a good place to start as a performance model and when Ford stiffens the anti-roll bars and revises the suspension, things only get better.
Because despite its added size the Puma corners keenly and manages its performance extremely well, going around bends well without wallowing all over the place.
The six-speed manual is a delight to use, while the 1.5-litre engine it’s linked to is brawny and feels far punchier than the stark figures would lead you to believe. In short, the Puma ST manages to be just as much fun to drive as its little Fiesta brother and though the low-speed ride is a touch on the firm side, it’s never too distracting nor overly sharp for the UK’s roads.
How does it look?
The ST styling treatment works well on the Puma, which looks punchy and ever-so-slightly more muscular than the standard car. We’ve got a revised grille, beefier arches and a twin-outlet exhaust at the back all signifying the car’s performance intent, but it’s certainly not a design which shouts out to other motorists.
Of course, the bright green paint – a unique feature for the Puma ST – might say otherwise, but spec this car in a more subtle shade and passers-by will be hard-pressed to distinguish it from the regular car, and that doesn’t feel like such a bad thing.
As an understated way of getting around the Puma ST is very appealing.
What’s it like inside?
It’s a similar story inside, too. Yes, the large Recaro bucket seats showcase a slightly sporty nature – and they’re incredibly supportive, too – but it’s largely an understated and easy place to spend time. The materials are of a decent quality, while the ST benefits from driving mode-specific buttons on the multifunction steering wheel, allowing you to quickly and easily tailor the car’s settings to your liking.
Space in the back isn’t what you’d call palatial, but there’s enough room for adults travelling shorter trips or for children sitting there for longer ones.
Plus, as we alluded to earlier, the ST retains the standard Puma’s excellent MegaBox. It’s an area of additional storage under the boot floor, and because it’s lined with waterproof material and incorporates a drain, can be used to store things like muddy wellies without messing up the rest of the boot. It’s an ingenious solution.
What’s the spec like?
All Puma ST models boast a good level of standard equipment. It comes with Ford’s latest SYNC 3 infotainment system which incorporates satellite and media functions, as well as Apple CarPlay for enhanced smartphone connectivity.
The ST also benefits from a new digital display ahead of the driver (replacing the traditional dials). It’s configurable, too, while a new sport mode transforms the screen into a red hive of activity, further highlighting the car’s dynamic intent.
And whereas the little Fiesta is available with a series of alloy wheel size choices, with the Puma there are just one – 19 inches. In truth, it’s quite a large wheel size for this type of car, but there aren’t any options to change them out, sadly.
Though some people might lament the rise of the crossover, the Puma ST shows that they do transfer over the performance side of things rather well. As a slightly more practical, more family-friendly option it’s a car which will likely appeal to many, particularly those who don’t want to forsake performance in the face of daily duties.
It’s a well-resolved proposition, that’s for sure, and shows Ford is maintaining its commitment to the ST badge by ensuring that the Puma steers, drives and performs as a true ST should. We reckon it’s going to go down a treat.