What is it?
Over the past decade or so, crossovers have taken off in popularity like few could have expected. These high-riding models have appealed to those looking for something more spacious and ‘rugged’ than a typical hatchback but without the associated high running costs of a 4×4.
Though they’re appealing in many respects, they’ve nearly always come at the expense of driving pleasure – the sheer laws of physics meaning that raising a car’s height leads to a loss of agility. But Ford showed last year with its new Puma that that need not be the case, and now there’s a sporty ST model buyers can choose from. But can it really be considered in the same vein as a hot hatch?
Though the Puma might be Ford’s first European SUV to wear the ‘ST’ badge, it bodes well that this is more or less just a Fiesta ST underneath that crossover-y frock. It’s got the same engine for starters and sits on the same platform, too.
Ford has also made a raft of other performance updates, including a faster steering response and larger brakes while its large 19-inch alloy wheels are shod in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres – rubber often associated with the best performance cars.
What’s under the bonnet?
As we’ve mentioned, the Puma shares the same engine with the Fiesta ST, and it’s a good one at that – a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol unit that delivers 197bhp and 320Nm of torque, with power being delivered to the front wheels with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The sprint to 60mph takes 6.5 seconds – just three-tenths of a second down on the Fiesta – and flat out it would hit 137mph. Yet it’s a performance car that also wouldn’t put a huge hole in your wallet, with its official fuel economy figure of 41.5mpg being achievable in normal driving and CO2 emissions of 155g/km.
Like the Fiesta ST, it’s also available with a £950 ‘ST Performance Pack’, which brings a Quaife mechanical limited-slip differential capable of distributing torque to the wheel with the most grip, maximising cornering ability and limiting understeer.
What’s it like to drive?
Any reservations about crossovers being rubbish to drive are quickly quashed within the first few miles of driving the Puma ST. It bodes well even before you press the ignition button, with superb Recaro sports seats and a near-perfect pedal setup all being a great start.
That greatness continues, with this Ford having unmatched agility from this class, with the confidence to really push on through the corners in a way that only the best hot hatches can manage – that differential really helping to maximise grip. The engine is also super responsive, while the manual gearbox has a feelsome mechanical shift about it that makes it all the more rewarding to use.
The one downside of this sporting brilliance is that the stiffened suspension is rather firm, not helped by those big alloys. While some might find it a bit much so, we did a lot of miles during our time with the Puma and never found it uncomfortable.
How does it look?
Though the Puma’s design was a bit controversial at first, we reckon it’s mellowed already and it really does look quite fetching in ST trim. Those large 19-inch alloy wheels come as standard, while other cues such as a large rear spoiler, an imposing front splitter and rear diffuser help to set it apart from other Pumas.
It also sits quite slow to the floor, too, which helps to give it a sportier profile – something we approve of, even if it does lose some SUV styling cues. Should you want to stand out, there’s also the rather luminous shade of Mean Green that’s exclusive to the ST.
What’s it like inside?
Look past the ST’s excellent Recaro seats and sports steering wheel and the rest of the cabin is just the same as a standard Puma. That means you get a large digital dial system included along with an intuitive touchscreen. Though some of the quality doesn’t quite feel befitting of a car of this price, it’s a generally good interior that favours ergonomics over style.
But possibly the best thing about the Puma’s interior is its boot, which features what Ford calls a ‘MegaBox’. It’s essentially a deep plastic-lined container that sits beneath the main boot floor, allowing an impressive 80 litres of storage and also meaning that you can stand a set of golf clubs upright in the trunk.
What’s the spec like?
With the ST heading up the Puma range, it certainly doesn’t feel lacking in equipment. So, along with the big wheels and sporty bodykit, it also features the likes of keyless entry, heated front seats and full LED lighting with a particularly attractive signature.
As for pricing, it kicks off from £28,510, but by the time you’ve ticked the box for the Performance Pack (which you’ll want) and metallic paint, it will be costing £30,000. Though it might seem quite expensive at first – especially when you consider a five-door Fiesta ST is available for £5,000 less – that increased space and cooler styling go a long way to justifying the price.
The Puma ST is without question the first sporty crossover that feels truly as engaging as involving a hot hatchback. It really is a remarkable effort from Ford, and one that still gets you some of that chunkier styling from an SUV and far more practicality to go with it – not least with the boot’s additional storage.
While purists may still resent the idea of a sporty SUV – and just choose a hot hatch anyway – for those willing to try something a bit different, the Puma ST is not a car that will leave you disappointed. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Model: Ford Puma ST
Base price: £28,510
Model as tested: Ford Puma ST Performance Pack
Price as tested: £30,835
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol
Max speed: 137mph
0-60mph: 6.5 seconds