Ford Puma ST hits sweet spot between manic and mundane

Top-notch hot hatch crossover balances family and fun

The Puma ST can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds.

Make: Ford

Model: Puma

Year: 2021

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: July 9, 2021

Wed, Jul 21, 2021, 07:15

   

Ford’s focus may be on the September arrival of its new all-electric Mustang Mach-E, heralding a new age of electric models, crossovers and SUVs, but it’s not abandoning its petrol-powered roots just yet. And to prove the point it’s brought its well-earned reputation for performance hatches and delivered a hot crossover.

Ford’s record with crossovers has been patchy at best. It resisted the consumer shift away from hatchbacks and people carriers, and as a consequence sales shrank. It had a very viable competitor in the Kuga, but it got the launch price wrong and then followed up with the fine-looking Edge SUV, which was way too expensive for its place in the market.

After the lacklustre EcoSport, the Blue Oval brand desperately needed a proper small crossover if it was to win sales in this key segment of the market. Small crossovers such as the Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur and Hyundai Kona have been clocking up sales, taking many former Ford customers.

Enter the Puma, a car Ford desperately needed five years ago. Better late than never though and in this case it was worth the wait.

Based on the Fiesta, this little crossover has won plenty of acclaim already, both for its handling prowess and its practicality. It was one of the seven finalists in the 2020 Car of the Year and proved particularly fun to drive during track testing. And that was the regular model with three-cylinder engines up front.

Now comes the Ford Performance version, the Puma ST. The firm’s high-performance boffins have optimised the car’s chassis, and slotted in the same three-cylinder 1.5-litre Ecoboost turbo petrol engine that’s in the Fiesta ST.

With the aid of a few extra tweaks they’ve delivered a crossover capable of getting from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds. That’s just 0.2 seconds slower than the Fiesta ST.

It’s impressive for many reasons, not least because to create that crossover look, engineers have to hoist the little car up on its suspension. That means a higher centre of gravity, which hinders the handling. The chassis maestros at Ford, however, have managed to combat the laws of physics in this regard, and create a crossover with some true hot hatch credentials. Frankly, it’s remarkable how much of the Fiesta ST’s agility has been preserved in this crossover.

The ST features the same bug-eyed front light styling as the original Puma of 30 years ago, but that’s about the only styling link it has to that car.
The ST features the same bug-eyed front light styling as the original Puma of 30 years ago, but that’s about the only styling link it has to that car.

The ST range has always been a sweet spot between manic and mundane motoring and this Puma version epitomises this trait. It behaves like a meek family car on the morning commute, but is as potent as you’ll ever need on public roads when it’s unleashed. And for family motoring, the beauty of the suspension set-up is that it’s stiff enough to provide loads of handling fun, but not back-breakingly uncomfortable on the school run or a cross-country family trip.

Behind the wheel, weaving through the winding bends of the Irish country roads, the car feels nothing like your typical crossover. It’s helped by a lovely short-throw manual transmission that really gets the best of out this engine, which consistently delivers crisp throttle response. There’s engine noise if you opt for the sports or track mode, but it’s very well-mannered in the other modes.

Track mode tunes down the stability control, adds some noticeable weight to the steering feel and a bit more engine rumble, but in reality it’s not necessary to reserve it for the off-chance you make it to Mondello. Our test car also came with the ST Performance Pack, adding a front diff and launch control for an extra €1,172. Yet to underline its sensible credentials, this Puma also has an Eco driving mode.

Family friendly

The commonality with the Fiesta is particularly strong inside with Ford’s stock supply of black plastic, though the Puma is a little bigger, with better rear seat room, while the boot is definitely more family friendly than in the Fiesta, particularly as it boasts Ford’s smart new 80-litre underfloor stowage box. Lined with hardened plastic, it’s ideal for wellies or muddy items, and there’s even a drain plug at its base, which means you can wash it out and let the water run out on the ground below.

The commonality with the Fiesta is particularly strong inside with Ford’s stock supply of black plastic, though the Puma is a little bigger, with better rear seat room.
The commonality with the Fiesta is particularly strong inside with Ford’s stock supply of black plastic, though the Puma is a little bigger, with better rear seat room.

On the outside, the styling is still not universally loved. It features the same bug-eyed front light styling as the original Puma of 30 years ago, but that’s about the only styling link it has to that car. The rear is typical crossover, but up front the mix of mouthy grille and high-set lights gives it a strange frog-like persona, particularly when painted in eye-piercing green.

Maybe I missed the memo, but this is at least the sixth green car I’ve tested this year; it’s a motoring fashion trend that I’m not loving. I’ve seen the Puma ST in red and it’s a far more enticing proposition, so unless you’re planning to make a splash at next year’s St Paddy’s Parade, I’d study the colour options carefully.

For those looking for most fun, I’d still lean towards the Fiesta ST over this Puma variant, but there’s a market out there for crossovers, particularly among younger small families, so this might be offer the perfect mix of practical family crossover and hot hatch.

For purists, it probably isn’t raw enough, lacking that last 10 per cent of crazy that some hot hatches have on tap and for our money the best hot superminis right now is still the Toyota’s GR Yaris, though with a starting price of more than €50,000, it’s for the select few.

But there’s plenty of fun to be had from this car and for those looking for a little more balance between family and fun need not look further than the Puma ST. To sum up, this Puma is a hot hatch that’s easy to live with.

Lowdown: Ford Puma ST

Power: 1,497cc three-cylinder turbo petrol engine putting out 200bhp at 6,000rpm and 320Nm of torque from 2,5000rpm matched to a six-speed manual transmission

0-100km/h: 6.7 seconds

L/100km WLTP (mpg): 6.9 (40.9)

Emissions (motor tax): 134g/km (€210)

Price: €41,813 (Puma range starts from €26,069)

Our rating: 3/5

Our verdict: Top-notch hot hatch crossover