A hot mess of a concept, the Ford Puma ST mashes three different categories of car together in a way nobody asked for, but the result is a vehicle you can drive every day with a smile on your face.
Crossovers already mix SUV styling and ride height with family hatchback dynamics and space and Ford isn’t the first manufacturer to add a pinch of hot hatch spice to the mix. Nissan’s first generation Juke had a Nismo RS edition as well as the insane Juke R, Seat’s performance spin-off Cupra has a hot version of the Ateca and there’s any number of premium offerings like the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works to consider too.
Purists may grumble, but the Puma is a car that looks great, drives brilliantly and fits a small family in comfort, despite being based on the same supermini underpinnings as the Fiesta.
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Ford Puma ST performance and handling
With the same turbocharged 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine as the Ford Fiesta ST, the Puma ST has 197bhp at its disposal which makes for a not-too-shabby 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds. That’s a match for the Fiesta ST, despite the Puma’s added bulk, thanks to 22lb ft of additional torque compared with the smaller car. The engine growls and warbles to great satisfaction (although that sound is artificially enhanced) and power delivery is steady through all six ratios of the short-shift manual transmission.
With its crossover design, the Puma is taller than the Fiesta and has a higher centre of gravity, so Ford has had to give some serious consideration to the suspension set up and steering to ensure the Puma handles like a hot hatch and doesn’t lurch about like a boat in bad weather. The suspension feels stiff and controlled in the bends without being backbreaking at low speed and the steering is much sharper than the standard Puma, nicely weighted and precise.
If the goal was to create a bigger, more grown-up version of the Fiesta ST with the hot Puma, then Ford has made a very good stab at it. The Puma feels very similar to the supermini, but with a nicer driving position and more road presence.
Interior and practicality
That driving position is fundamentally better than the one in the Fiesta. Despite firm, part-leather Recaro sport seats that hug the driver and the large, flat-bottomed stitched leather steering wheel hemming you in, everything feels just a little bit higher and more naturally positioned. Completing the internal ST flourishes are the ST emblazoned gear shift and alloy sports pedals which give the cabin a sporty feel.
The scratchy plastics and hard surfaces of 1990s Fords are (mostly) long gone and the material choice in the Puma is of a high standard, with lots of soft touch surfaces beneath the ST glamour. The dashboard is dominated by an eight-inch touchscreen monitor running Ford’s Sync 3 operating system with sat nav and a 10-speaker premium B&O sound system.
Like the standard Puma, there is ample space in the cabin for an average family of four in terms of leg room. The sloping rear roofline does put a limit on the height of the rear passengers though, and tall adults may struggle to stay comfortable on longer journeys.
Luggage space in the Puma is surprisingly good thanks to Ford’s ‘megabox’ boot extension that deepens the luggage compartment and adds 80 litres of additional storage when you remove the boot floor. That neat addition, only possible due to a lack of spare wheel compartment, turns the Puma into something of a Tardis with 1.15 metres of useable boot height - not quite enough for a golf bag standing upright, but enough that you can get one in at an angle without having to drop the rear seats, which fold on a 60/40 split.
Fast, fun and just grown-up enough, the Puma ST is a more practical option than the Fiesta ST for buyers looking for hot hatch thrills, but who need to be able to carry passengers in something approaching comfort. The fast SUV/crossover segment can be an expensive niche and compared with contemporaries like the Cupra Ateca (circa £37k) and the Mini Countryman JCW (circa £36k), the Puma ST actually looks a bit of a steal at £28,495 on the road.
I can’t help but think that if you’re looking for something just as fun, but more spacious and more practical than a Fiesta ST the obvious answer is still the Ford Focus ST and not the Puma. The Focus ST is all of the above and more - bigger engine, more power and more space at a starting price that’s actually a shade cheaper than our test car with options.
If you’re tickled by the Puma’s on-trend looks, decent space and compact footprint though, then the Puma ST is the most fun you can have in the range.
Ford Puma ST
Price: £28,495 OTR (£30,495 as driven); Engine: 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 197bhp; Torque: 236lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 137mph; 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds; Economy: 41.5mpg; CO2 emissions: 155g/km