A Puma ST being driven round a race track in England
The Puma ST is blessed with smart handling and a grippy front end

And then there were three. Once the preserve of the Fiesta supermini and Focus hatchback, Ford has added the Puma crossover to its Sport Technologies (ST) portfolio. Purists won’t like the idea but times are changing and if the standard Puma is anything to go by, this version will hold plenty of driver appeal.

PUMA ST: THE LOWDOWN

For those not familiar with the reborn Puma, it is now a high-riding Fiesta-based crossover and not a three-door hatchback styled as a coupe. The really important word in the previous sentence is ‘Fiesta’ because it is a car renowned for its smile-a-mile dynamic qualities. As a starting point then the Puma is on solid ground but Ford is promising this new Puma ST will be “as exhilarating and as capable as every ST model”. As a sign of just how serious the Blue Oval is, the SUV’s mechanics have been drastically changed. It also looks different and, in this ST-exclusive ‘Mean Green’, bears a resemblance to Crazy Frog. Remember it?

JUST HOW DIFFERENT IS IT?

The springs, brakes and steering are the core elements that define a hot hatch and the Puma ST has had all of these either reworked or replaced entirely for new components. The rear axle has a more sophisticated twist-beam anti-roll bar that is 50% stiffer than the regular Puma, brakes that are 17% bigger – 325mm at the front and 271mm at the back – and sharper steering thanks to electrical and hardware modifications. Ford joined forces with Hitachi to develop fresh dampers and worked closely with Michelin to sign off on a compound for the super sticky Pilot Sport 4S tyres. It is probably also worth mentioning the Puma ST can be had with the £950 ‘Performance Pack’; this includes a limited-slip diff at the front for stronger all-weather traction and ‘Torque Vectoring Control’ to dial out pesky understeer. Money well spent, we say.

WHAT ABOUT THE INTERIOR?

The usual ‘ST’ cues can be found as soon as you open the driver’s door, from the tasteful metal scuff plates bearing the ‘Ford Performance’ typeface to the low-set Recaro sport seats. Finished in a ribbed suede cloth, the driver and front passenger’s chairs cocoon and cushion and are wonderfully detailed. Also different is the flat-bottomed steering wheel, metal gear knob and branded floor mats that have been lifted across from the Fiesta ST. You’ll find creature comforts such as an 8-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, digital instruments that show an animated Puma on start-up, and a Bang and Olufsen 8-speaker stereo. Some colour, and some soft plastics, would help to lift an otherwise inoffensive looking dashboard, though.

ANYTHING BUT ‘MEAN GREEN’

If you are not taken by our test car’s colour fear not. You have six other hues, including blue, black or red, and the choice of two 19-inch alloys – a silver machined finish or a smoked ‘Magnetite’ coating. Apart from the obvious ST badges, you won’t mistake this Puma for anything other than the flagship model as it gets a larger grille for improved engine cooling, an aero focussed front bumper with a Ford Performance-embossed lower splitter, pronounced wheel arches, a diffuser-style arrangement for the rear bumper’s lower section, and twin exhaust tips. Other ST-specific cues include the mirror caps, side ‘speers’ on the doors, roof and rear spoiler which are all finished in a deep gloss black. All very tastefully done.

IS IT ANY LESS PRACTICAL? 

Not at all. All of the aspects that ensure this is a useful and roomy runabout are present and correct, including the 80-litre ‘Megabox’ – an extra deep loading compartment in the boot that takes the place of the spare wheel. This comes in particularly handy when carrying taller items, such as golf clubs or plants. It even has a small bung that can be removed to drain water from it should you need to hose it out if it ever gets dirty. Wider and taller than the Fiesta, the Puma has an obvious advantage as far as overall interior packaging is concerned and that ensures all but the biggest adults can expect to sit comfortably in the back. The jacked-up body and wide opening doors ensure access is straightforward as well.

THE BEST BIT: DRIVING 

Given those Fiesta underpinnings, people will naturally compare the supermini to the crossover but that isn’t exactly fair as the Puma is heavier and has a higher centre of gravity. That said, the crossover is no less fun to be at the controls of. Jiggly low-speed ride aside, it doesn’t roll around excessively nor does it resist quick changes of direction. These qualities are all the more remarkable when you consider Ford has actually softened up the springs a tad. The nose is similar to a laser-guided missile in that it goes where you tell it to, the grip from the Michelin tyres allowing you to barrel into corners at silly speeds, helped along by the LSD. Pulling you along is the same thrummy, happy-to-rev three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol nestling under the bonnet of the Fiesta ST with this sent to the front axle via a fluid and perfectly-spaced 6-speed manual gearbox.

PROS & CONS

+ Accessible performance            
+ Punchy, zesty petrol engine     
+ Versatile, roomy boot
Steering has an edgy character                     
Cabin lacks sparkle       
Sub-optimal economy

PERFORMANCE PACK: This £950 option includes Launch Control for “consistently fast standing starts” and is easily accessed via a button on the D-shaped steering wheel. You also benefit from a limited-slip differential and Torque Vectoring which, combined, minimise front wheel spin for a front end that really feels nailed down through corners and around bends even when the weather turns inclement.

INTERIOR: Much of the architecture from the regular Puma is found in the ST, although there are some key differences, from the high winged Recaro sport seats to the faux naked carbon fibre trim pieces. Standard equipment is generous and include a dash-mounted touchscreen incorporating satellite navigation, changeable digital dials, dual zone climate control and a great sounding 8-speaker stereo.

STYLING: Ford’s designers have given the Puma ST enough in the looks department to ensure it offers something different over and above regular models. The changes are subtle but include 19-inch alloys, ST badging on the grille and tail-gate, and gloss black detailing for the mirror caps, roof and spoiler. At the rear, active exhaust valve technology has been tuned to be less raucous than its Fiesta ST sibling.

PRACTICALITY: Despite its sporting credentials the Puma ST is still a hugely practical mode of transport with excellent space for four adults. It is still a reasonably narrow SUV given its Fiesta underpinnings, so a third person sitting on the rear bench means they could all start to feel the pinch on longer journeys.  As for parking, small door mirrors make manoeuvres a little more of a chore than they ought to be.

SPECIFICATION

Price: £31,670 (as tested) 
Engine: 1.5-litre, 3cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque: 197bhp/2361b ft    
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive         
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds    
Top speed: 137mph       
Economy/CO2: 41.5mpg/155g/Km 

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