The Ford Puma ST is a car that’s troublesome for boorish car enthusiasts (like me) on two fronts. First off, it’s a Puma. How dare Ford resurrect the name of that loveable, pint-sized, Fiesta-based coupe of the 90s for a compact crossover, all things, the Internet raged last year? Think of the children!
Issue number two is also name-related. Ford has designated this as an ST, giving it two separate titles that aren’t easy to live up to. Thankfully, on paper at least, it merely looks like a lifted version of the tremendous Fiesta ST hot hatchback. And that makes it very promising.
The reality isn’t quite that simple, however. It may use the same platform as the Fiesta, along with its 1.5-litre turbocharged inline-three, but most of the suspension components are different. Ford has sought to give the Puma a similar character though, even going so far as fitting longer versions of the Fiesta ST’s famous banana-shaped ‘directionally-wound’ rear springs.
It works, too, with the hot Puma merely feeling like a jacked-up Fiesta ST in the way it drives. It has similarly quick steering (actually a smidge quicker with a ratio of 11.4:1), and a confidence-inspiring front end that encourages you to barrel into a corner with a lofty entry speed, knowing the mechanical limited-slip differential will provide all the traction you need. Giving the Puma ST further bite is the switch to 19-inch wheels, allowing it to upgrade from the Fiesta’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres to the gripper S version.
You also get that same keenness of the car not just to lift-off oversteer, but to do so in a way that never catches you off guard. There’s a wonderful fluidity to the way the Puma gets its FWD drift on.
What’s particularly impressive is how little the handling seems to suffer from the additional ride height. The centre of gravity is some 45mm higher, but it’s not like the Puma ST rolls around excessively, nor does it complain when changing direction quickly. Often these performance SUVs and crossovers quell the roll using horribly stiff chassis setups (cough BMW X3 M cough), but Ford has gone the other way by making the Puma a little softer than its Fiesta cousin.
As such, it flows more pleasantly on rougher bits of tarmac, and if you’re pootling around town tackling potholes and speedbumps, you’ll have a nicer time of it. The Puma is still on the firmer side of the spectrum, but the ride is far from unacceptably rigid.
Up front is a 1.5-litre turbo engine shared with the Fiesta, and although the power is no different at 197bhp, the torque has been boosted from 214 to 236lb ft. That’s close to the limit of what the inline-three can manage while staying within Ford’s tolerances, as nice as it would be for the Puma to get some more power to offset its additional weight.
It’s still plenty fast, with the 0-62mph time dropping by a mere two tenths to 6.7 seconds, but the gap feels bigger than that. The extra ride height can be blamed, as it saps the impression of speed and acceleration.
So, why go for the Puma at all, especially considering it costs several thousand pounds more? Primarily, practicality. The crossover is 54mm taller, 71mm wider and has a wheelbase that’s nearly 100mm longer, which translates to a noticeable increase in cabin space. For people who’ve procreated more than once, that stuff’s important.
You also get a bigger boot, with a cavernous 80-litre under-floor compartment which is brilliantly called ‘Megabox’. This even has a drain plug, so you can stick some muddy hashtag lifestyle gear in there and hose it all down after. Neat!
The Quaife diff is a must-have, so if you’re buying one of these, it ought to be the £31,365 LSD-equipped Performance model. Ours had a few options too (including £500 ‘Mean Green’ paint), bumping that figure to £33,365. That seems like a lot when the fully-loaded, adjustable coilover-equipped Fiesta ST Edition we tried last year was £27,075.
Then again, the Puma ST’s only real rivals, the likes of the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 and Audi S2, are all well over £40,000 with options included, some nudging £50k. Sure, they may all have all-wheel drive and around 100bhp more to play with, but none are as entertaining as the Puma. I’d go so far as describing the BMW X2 M35i Ford benchmarked the ST against as crushingly boring.
The pokier Focus ST can be bought for not much more than the Puma, but it’s simply not as fun. But how about its cheaper sibling? Well, the Puma ST comes close to the brilliance of the Fiesta ST, but at the same time, it’s far enough away that you really have to need the additional practicality to make it worthwhile. If it has to be a crossover, you’ll love the hot Puma ST, a car which does both bits of its name justice. It’s just not quite a no-brainer.