The new Puma ST is a hot version of Ford’s award-winning crossover, boasting 197bhp and dripping in Performance Ford branding. But does it live up to the name?
Words and photos Jason Dodd
Back in 2005 I owned a Puma 1.7 – a fun little coupé that was compact, agile, and had limited space for rear occupants.
But it also had a tiny boot, which was not so good – especially for a photographer with loads of lighting gear to cart around. I had it for just under a year because it didn’t quite work as a daily for me, but it was a lot of fun.
Move on 15 years and the Puma is back. Now a crossover model – a source of controversy among fans of the original – the Puma is still based on the Fiesta but in a much roomier and more versatile package.
If the original Puma was Bruce Banner – relying on tact and brain power over brawn and brute force – Ford has definitely subjected it to some Gamma radiation when designing the new model, and then finished this particular example in the outcome’s favourite shade, so as to not make it angry. You wouldn’t like it when it’s angry.
The Fiesta the new Puma is now based on – the Mk8 – is miles better than the old Mk5 that was found under the skin of the first Puma (which itself was an evolution of the Mk3 from the late 1980s).
What’s more, based on the Fiesta ST, it now means there’s a full-fat performance version that can combine the Banner-like precision of the first Puma with the Hulk-esque brute force of a turbocharged ST. And it can do all of this without having to resort to expensive limited-editions hand-built by Tickford.
What I’m trying to say is that if you thought the first Puma was good when it was based on a fairly humdrum Fiesta underneath, just imagine how good the new version must be when it’s built on much better foundations.
So, to find out what the new Puma ST is really like (away from the social media love-it-or-hate-it responses to widespread press photos), I spoke to Haynes of Maidstone (www.haynesford.co.uk), grabbed the keys to the dealership’s latest demonstrator and went for a drive.
In Mean Green metallic the Puma ST looks good, but Ford hasn’t just slapped a bodykit and ST badges on a lesser model – that’s what the ST-Line range is for. Instead, this full-fat ST earns its Sports Technology moniker.
Under the bonnet you’ll find the same turbocharged 1.5-litre EcoBoost as fitted in the award-winning Fiesta ST; power is the same 197bhp and torque is increased to 236Ib.ft – presumably to compensate for an extra 96kg over its little brother.
Alongside this, Ford has improved the dampers, steering, brakes, and fitted the ST with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. Better still, the Performance Pack adds a proper mechanical limited-slip differential, launch control, and shift lights. At £900, it’s an option you’d be mad not to tick.
Of course, we’ve already raved about the Mk8 Fiesta ST and Mk4 Focus ST many times before, so why not just buy one of those instead of the Puma? That is a good point, and in terms of outright performance the less-compromising Fiesta and Focus models may be a better option.
But life isn’t uncompromising; family, work and everyday life get in the way – there’s a reason the crossover market is booming right now. If you need a car that can tackle the challenges of everyday day life, and still want to have some fun doing it, the Puma ST starts to make a lot of sense.
Despite its added bulk, the Puma ST has plenty of power and the handling is excellent. In fact, the harder you push it, the more this car comes alive – especially in Sport mode, where the steering firms up and the engine becomes more vocal.
At first, I confess I felt underwhelmed. It was all very comfortable and compliant at town speeds, and seemed to lack that ST rawness. But then I came to some open Kent countryside and was able to knock it down a gear or two, and put my foot down. That’s when it transformed into something worthy of the ST badge; you can fully exploit all of that 197bhp thanks to the taut chassis and fantastic road-holding.
It’s a real hoot to drive, and still feels solid; despite the higher seating position, the balance is spot on, with very little body roll.
Then it dawned on me that this isn’t just one car; just like the Hulk this car has an alter-ego. I felt things were a little flat when I was just cruising through town, perhaps expecting the ST to have the same buzz (and firmer ride) as the Fiesta. But that’s not what you want from a family car going about its day-to-day business, so the Puma is deliberately comfortable and compliant.
But when you get to some roads that allow you to provoke it, you quickly realise that the Puma has lost none of the ST playfulness – it still eggs you on, and offers an incredibly rewarding and gratifying drive. You can then settle down to be Bruce Banner when you’re back to daily duties after a spirited blast.
And for that reason, I reckon the Puma ST will prove incredibly popular – whether as the perfect combination for the one-car family, or as an ideal upgrade for the Ford fanatic who wants to spice-up the daily drive while the summer show car is safely tucked away during the working week.
The ST starts at £30,415, but with the aforementioned Performance Pack, the cameras and sensors included in the Driver Assistance Pack, and finished in a colour other than red or white, you’ll be looking at closer to £33k. Tick all the boxes and you’re looking at the best part of £35,000 – although dealers like Haynes will be able to shave a good chunk from that, and some are offering interest-free finance deals at the moment too.
And, we’ve got through an entire review on a brand new car in 2021 without mentioning the word ‘hybrid’ once. Well, nearly…
1.5-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder, 197bhp, 236lb.ft, six-speed manual gearbox, Dinamica Recaro seats, Performance Pack adds limited-slip diff, launch control, and shift lights. Prices start at £30,415