Sport Cars

Test report on the Ford Puma ST: The last of its kind

However, not everything is as banal as it seems. You’ll have noticed by now that this is the ST, so it’s been given a makeover by Ford’s performance department. Even better, the Puma fundamentals are taken straight from the great Fiesta ST. Still with me?

I have to say right from the start that I don’t understand the need for a “crossover”. However, the Puma isn’t just one of the UK’s best-selling crossovers, it’s also one of the UK’s best-selling cars. That’s why I wouldn’t be doing my journalistic due diligence if I didn’t give her a chance. But is this car for the average crossover buyer or for the enthusiast?

The car tested has an RRP of £33,985. What did I say about the bad first impressions? This is expensive to say the least. The starting price for the Puma ST is around £5,000 higher than its Fiesta blood brother, but given that Ford has decided to scrap the Fiesta, that’s perhaps not the comparison we should be using. Looking at the market, we only find two options in the arsenal of manual hot hatch models priced under £35,000. The Puma and the Hyundai i20n, the latter from £26,230.

So what do you get for this extra amount of money? First of all, the list of standard specifications is well-filled. Apparently it comes with the “Performance Pack” (this used to be an option on both the Fiesta ST and Puma ST, but is now standard) as well as a whole host of technology. Auto parking, auto lights and wipers, navigation, CarPlay (not that I ever got it to work…) and a fantastic B&O stereo. Once I fit a Fiesta ST for it we’ll be approaching the £30,000 mark, which will narrow the gap a bit.

It’s fair to say that opinions are divided on the car’s looks, particularly this ‘Mean Green’ painted example. When it first came out I didn’t care for the design at all, perhaps mainly because I was using the Puma name for something that wasn’t a small coupe. But over time it grows more and more for me. I even like the color that is exclusive to ST. Unfortunately, Ford has decided to scrap this color option, perhaps an indication of what type of customer the Puma attracts. However, there are other ways to identify an ST model based on the 19-inch wheels and “Ford Performance”-embossed splitter on your standard unit. Of course, this only applies if you’ve already missed the bright red ST emblems or the slanted twin tailpipes.

As you walk in, you’ll be greeted by further branding reminding you that this is the spicy variety. Ford Performance door sills, an ST wheel and the excellent bucket seats. They’re a bold choice in a car that typically values ​​practicality, with the large bolsters making getting in and out of the driver’s seat a little tighter than you might expect. However, once you sit in them, they are incredibly comfortable and supportive. The final icing on the ST cake is the 6-speed shift knob, which is very welcome in an era of countless paddle-only hot hatches. It’s just a shame that the quality of the interior isn’t quite up to par with what you’d expect from a car costing over £30,000, but it’s certainly in line with most Ford products.

As already mentioned, most of the technology is also included inside as standard. The sometimes dismal touchscreen infotainment unit is paired with an excellent B&O stereo system. I just wish it was more intuitive to use, I never figured out how to get Apple CarPlay to work for my phone! Luckily, all HVAC controls have physical buttons. They only use the display to show you what you are doing. Which can be frustrating if it falls short of your input. The same goes for the digital dashboard, which at times looked like I was trying to load it via dial-up. It’s worth noting that just in case the British weather gets a little more British, you also get: heated seats, steering wheel, quick-clean windscreen, automatic lights and automatic wipers. But since it’s summer, this test only put the air conditioning through its paces. Of the non-painted options, the active tailgate was probably the most useful. For £400 you can open the boot by moving your foot under the rear bumper and close it with a button. The “Driver Assistance Pack”, whose function list contains the word “active” several times, contains some very good parking cameras. That means it also includes the ability to self-park, so theoretically you don’t need it, right?

But enough about the features and equipment, hot hatches are all about the way they drive, but I wasn’t entirely sure that would be the case here. I think I was expecting a Fiesta ST with blunted edges, a slightly softer approach to the formula. Within a mile, that assumption was completely thrown out the window. As I was leaving my village on a B-road, the car pulled over every time I fell, no matter how small, seemingly as a guide for all the potholes. I even assumed that lane assist was activated at some point, but that wasn’t the case. This one really has a geometry like a MK1 Focus RS, it’s all about the turn-in and handling rather than the everyday errands. Combined with a pretty rough ride, I once again ask myself, “Who is this car for?” Here we go again with those bad first impressions…

Although the car feels strangely nervous, it’s clear they haven’t watered down the ST recipe, which deserves applause. I guess from now on I’ll have to assume that what we have here is a driver’s car, an enthusiast option, and sell it accordingly. There is also a lot in the background that supports this argument. A mechanical LSD, launch control, sport and track modes are offered here. It would be rude not to show some of my favorite test tracks.

My first piece of territory is a real test of a car’s suspension. I won’t name any names, but it is also used by a local farmer. Let’s just say his YouTube channel rhymes with Gary’s Harrage. In any case, the Puma’s cushioning immediately impressed. Maybe a little more stable when messing around, but once you start applying layers with a bit of speed, it handles almost anything thrown at it exceptionally well. Some of the compressions on this route are also real bump stop finders. Combine that with good steering feel and the unwavering grip of the Michelin PS4S and we have something of a weapon on our hands.

And while it’s not what you’d call fast (the 3-cylinder 1.6 turbo engine is the same as the Fiesta at 197 horsepower, but with about 150kg of extra mass to haul around), the dynamics are great the car more than makes up for it. I also love a hot hatch that you can rev without breaking the law, and that little Ecoboost engine can be quite addictive. The 3-pot sound, the crackle from the exhaust and of course the quiet chirp of the turbo as it takes off. No matter how much is synthesized, I listen to it even more.

You may have noticed that I’ve mostly been talking about the internal family dispute between Ford and the Fiesta. However, since Ford is solving this problem through execution, perhaps I should talk more about the Korean elephant in the room. The Hyundai i20n. It is also a 1.6T with 200 hp, a 6-speed manual transmission and an LSD. But it’s £5,000 cheaper. The Puma feels a bit more elegant, with better materials, that’s true, but I still can’t get over the price.

While I’m sensible, it’s probably time to get back to the boring topic of practicality. That’s why you buy a hot hatch, after all, and it’s mostly why people seem to buy a crossover. The truth is that the rear seats don’t seem to offer any more space than a Fiesta, and the sloping roof can make it feel a bit dark and claustrophobic. However, the boot is much larger, measuring 456 liters compared to 292 liters in the Fiesta and 352 liters in the I20. You also get the so-called “Megabox”, a huge storage space under the boot floor that is waterproof and also has drain plugs!

After a whole week with the car, it was difficult to draw a conclusion. On the one hand, I still can’t fully understand who it’s actually intended for. On the other hand, I applaud Ford for making it happen at all. Maybe it’s for the enthusiast who needs to carry around a little more than can fit in a normal hatch? Or perhaps it’s for the crossover buyer who wants something sportier?

In any case, it’s living proof that with the right engineers you can make almost any type of car fun to drive fast. As brands move away from the classic super mini to this type of vehicle, I’m glad that someone is still flying the flag for the hot hatch. But for me? If I were looking for a brand new small hot hatch right now, there would only be two options: I would go for the Hyundai, but only just.

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