Having loved a regular Puma, our man fancies a go in the new performance version
Why we’re running it: To learn if a sporty crossover can ever be as rewarding to own as a hot hatch
Life with a Puma ST: Month 1
Welcoming the Puma ST to the fleet – 30 March 2022
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in a Ford Performance planning meeting.
“Shall we do a ULEZ-compliant 284bhp sports pick-up?”
“Sure, why not?”
“A snarling souped-up Mustang to pay tribute to a 1960s film?”
“Let’s do it.”
“A V6 supercar channelling the spirit of a Le Mans legend?”
Honestly, the Ford Puma ST must have been met with a sigh of relief from the exasperated accountants. Here’s a sporting proposition that actually meets the basic requirements of a mass-market car: accessibly priced, sensibly sized, pokey and none too thirsty. It looks almost staid parked up next to its sporting stablemates.
Well, perhaps not the limited-run Gold Edition that we’re running for the next few months. You don’t get many sub-£150,000 cars with racing stripes in the post-Max Power era, and much fewer still fitted with gold wheels and a fruity sports exhaust.
Take the Puma ST to dinner at your nan’s house at your own risk. Once she’s done fawning over its boy-racer looks, your uncle will want a briefing on the differences over the standard Ford Puma and your little cousins a few laps of the block. Ask me how I know.
The hot crossover is a category of car that we’ve come to know very well very quickly as manufacturers strive to appease dog-walking, school-running driving enthusiasts.
It’s not a concept that will appeal to staunch traditionalists, granted, but as far as high-rise hot hatchbacks go, you could do a lot worse than this.
For starters, the Puma ST is based on one of our favourite crossovers currently on sale and shares much of its drivetrain with one of the most universally adored affordable driver’s cars around, the giant-killing Ford Fiesta ST. That means 197bhp and 236lb ft from a peppy and purposeful three-cylinder turbo petrol engine that sends its reserves to the front axle via a short-throw six-speed manual gearbox and – fitted as standard on the Gold Edition – a Quaife limited-slip differential. An enticing concoction, you must surely agree.
Plus, because it weighs just 50kg more than the Fiesta ST and is connected to the road by shorter, stiffer springs, beefier anti-roll bars and bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, it’s not far off in terms of outright driver appeal.
The keener chassis set-up and lower ride height abate most of the roll that blots the dynamic verve of the regular Puma, which, together with hyperactive steering, means you can maintain much of your easily won pace beyond the end of the straights and well into tight bends.
Having spent a few very happy months in 2020 living with a regular Puma, I am well placed to judge the Puma ST on its own merits as a novel take on the hot hatchback formula. Obviously, it will still need to ferry me from A to B on a daily basis to make good on its promise of accessible performance, but I already know the Puma is a charismatic, comfortable and capacious runaround, so I’m not expecting much in the way of annoyances in that regard.
In fact, I wasn’t even thinking when I lifted up the boot floor yesterday to stow my recycling in the much-ballyhooed 80-litre Megabox; it was just muscle memory.
And I wasn’t at all surprised to see the economy readout tick past 41mpg on a recent motorway schlep; despite its extra 500cc and 43bhp over the standard Puma, the Ecoboost three-pot remains one of the smallest and most efficient engines fitted to a dedicated performance car today.
But somewhat paradoxically, it’s this overt and undeniably welcome emphasis on daily usability that most jars about the Puma ST’s overall conception: if you’re buying a car for the fun of driving, would you not buy something smaller, lower and less compromised? And if you need something frugal with a big boot, there are much quieter, softer and less luridly styled cars on the table, and some of them aren’t half bad to drive (the standard Puma, for one).
Yes, it’s a question that you could ask of any prospective hot hatch or super-saloon buyer, but it’s especially prevalent in this case, because the Fiesta ST is undeniably the better driver’s car yet barely diminished in terms of its functionality as a daily driver and, you could certainly argue, more likely to be taken seriously.
So is this a case of Ford being overly liberal with its deployment of the hallowed ST moniker? Can the Puma ST at once win us over on the grounds of its liveability while stacking up comfortably against its universally acclaimed range-mates in terms of performance?
First impressions leave little to be desired in terms of real-world dynamism (although I’m not yet sold on the slightly snappy steering and firm ride), or in outright punch, but I know just how quickly an overenthusiastic chassis and energetic motor can grate over the course of a few months’ daily drudgery.
A heavily varied few thousand miles beckon for Gold Edition number 4 of 999 over the coming months. I’m looking forward to seeing if I will come to the end of them pining for the refinement of something more subdued.
More than 275,000 votes were cast on social media to help create this model, but with just 350 examples destined for the UK, only a few Ford fans will ever see one. At least it’s hard to miss. The stripes and ST badge can be like a red rag to a bull among easily triggered drivers when overtaking on motorways.
Ford Puma ST Gold Edition specification
Specs: Price New £32,595 Price as tested £33,195 Options Driver assistance pack £600
Test Data: Engine 3 cyls inline, 1497cc, turbocharged petrol Power 197bhp at 6000rpm Torque 236lb ft at 2500-3500rpm Kerb weight 1283kg Top speed 137mph 0-62mph 6.7sec Fuel economy 41.5mpg CO2 155g/km Faults None Expenses None
Source: Autocar RSS Feed Read More