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First drive: Ford Puma. Image by Ford.

First drive: Ford Puma
The Ford Puma is back after a long break, this time rendered as a crossover. Is it any good?

 



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Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV

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Ford's Fiesta-based Puma returns for a second outing, fully 19 years after the first car (also based on the then-contemporary Fiesta) to bear this moniker disappeared from view. Obviously, there is some furore about the fact that this time around, the Puma is a crossover instead of a small coupe with a tenuous link to Steve McQueen, but really, in both instances Ford is (was) simply responding to the prevailing customer demand for affordable, stylish products. So here's the good news: of all the multitudinous B-segment crossovers that are out there, the new Puma is clearly one of the very best.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV
Pricing: Puma range from 20,545; 155 ST-Line X from 23,645 as tested
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol with 48-volt mild-hybrid electrical system
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 127g/km (VED Band 111-130 Alternative Fuel Cars: 160 first 12 months, then 135 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 50.4mpg
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 9.0 seconds
Power: 155hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 190Nm at 1,900-5,500rpm in steady-state driving, 220Nm at 3,000rpm on overboost, 240Nm at 2,500rpm on MHEV-assisted overboost in Sport mode
Boot space: 401-1,161 litres (non-MHEV models 456-1,216 litres)

What's this?

Right, we've said our piece on the old Puma. Frankly, even though we loved it (in either 1.7-litre guise or as the blister-arched, panel-gapped Ford Racing Puma; the 1.4 and 1.6 versions were less convincing) as much as anyone, losing your bonce over the fact that the nameplate has been resurrected on a crossover for 2020 seems utterly counter-productive and slightly bizarre to boot. For starters, the Puma Mk1 never really shifted out of showrooms as well as you might think it did, hence why it was only on sale for a mere four years (1997-2001). Two, used examples of the Puma seem to rust almost as badly as the 1970s Lancia Beta once so infamously did. And finally, how many car companies actually make compact two-door coupes any longer? Hmm?

Postulate even further and you'll realise Ford has previous in appropriating coupe names for crossovers/SUVs, as is its wont. The 'New Edge' Cougar of 1998-2002 became, with a somewhat mangled re-spelling, the first-gen Kuga in 2008. And the rootin'-tootin', 5.0-litre V8 Mustang, a nameplate with a more than 50-year-long heritage, is going to begat an electrified coupe-SUV-type-thingy called the Mach-E in the coming months. So, honestly, we (and we suspect a lot of Ford's intended customer base for this particular product) couldn't give two hoots about the Puma badge being appropriated for a crossover.

Ford's timing could have been better, though. As in, this machine should've arrived about four years ago; the Blue Oval is a bit late to the party. Ford is a marque we love here at CE, mainly because it has churned out some fantastic chassis over the years, but its crossover/SUV line-up has been largely lacklustre so far. The aforementioned Kuga isn't among the class leaders in the C-segment, although a Mk3 is due later this year which might remedy that situation, and the larger Edge has been killed off in Europe due to slow sales. Presumably, this is why Ford tries to distract us from the mediocrity of its high-riding vehicles with crossover-inspired cars like the Fiesta Active and Focus Active.

The real duffer for Ford in this particular arena, however, is neither the Kuga nor the 'Fedge', but the lamentable EcoSport. Ever since it first appeared in 2013, it has never been right, and a couple of hastily enacted, notably comprehensive updates in the interim haven't masked the inescapable truth that the EcoSport is miles off its leading rivals in the B-segment crossover class. The Puma aims to change all of that, although - weirdly - its arrival doesn't kill off the EcoSport... well, not just yet, at any rate.

Like the Puma of 'yore' (sorry, we'll stop mentioning it now), the current Fiesta's floorpan has been appropriated for the new model, although there are significant changes to the underpinnings to accommodate its taller, longer, heavier body. In a shell 71mm wider than a Fiesta, the track widths are beefed up by 58mm to a Focus-rivalling 1,562mm, while the twist-beam rear suspension is stiffer than on the Fiesta. The Puma also gains larger shock absorbers, firmer suspension bushes and optimised suspension top mounts to better aid its handling prowess.

Ford UK will launch the Puma in three trims - Titanium, ST-Line and ST-Line X - with a fourth, the ST-Line X Vignale, only revealed to onlookers during these first overseas test drives of the crossover. All models announced so far are front-wheel drive and equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, and all Pumas also get the MegaBox; this is an 80-litre underfloor stowage compartment in the boot which has a drainage plug and a rubberised finish. It allows you to put messy items in there without your boot carpet being soiled, or alternatively you can stash really tall items (up to 1,143mm, so a bag of golf clubs or similar) in there if you stand the boot floor up behind the rear seats, as Ford has cleverly engineered it to. Net result is a maximum boot space of 456 litres in a Puma with all five chairs in play, although the mild-hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) models (as we shall come to see in a moment) lose 55 litres of that number due to the placement of the lithium-ion battery. There's also a fancy parcel shelf, which is mounted on the bootlid and not into the C-pillars; a fuss-free arrangement on which Ford has taken out a patent.

On the outside, overall the Puma looks pretty decent, but the front-end styling is not to our taste. It appears vaguely gormless, what with its high-set headlights and 'optimistic grille', although we will say the side and rear views of the Ford are much better. Titanium cars have black plastic wheel-arch extensions and 17-inch wheels, while sportier ST-Line variants enjoy 18s as standard and more body-coloured styling. Inside, the cabin looks much like that you'd find in a Fiesta but this is not a bad thing, as the Fiesta has a nice, high-quality interior and therefore so does the Puma. Again, the ST-Line benefits from more sculpted seats, which make you feel like you're sitting lower in the car than the perches in the Titanium, but perhaps the bigger reason to go ST-Line is because it's the level at which the lovely 12.3-inch Digital Cluster is standard-fit. Titanium cars in the UK will make do with analogue dials unless cost-option boxes are ticked, but the digi-dash in the Puma goes a good way to lifting the cabin ambience even further, as does the ST-Line's faux-carbon (but rather attractive) trim finishing. One final note: high-spec First Edition models of each Puma grade will be available for a short time after the crossover's launch, which bundle in a couple of grand's worth of optional extra kit for a modest premium.

How does it drive?

With a 120hp EcoBlue turbodiesel variant, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and an ST range-topper with the mechanicals from the mighty Fiesta hot hatch all (seemingly) inevitable before 2020 is out, for now Puma buyers have a choice of just 'three' engines, all centred around the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost petrol lump. Put simply, you can have a non-MHEV 125hp variant, an MHEV-boosted 125hp and then an MHEV-only 155hp version. All three drivetrains are available on Titanium and ST-Line Pumas, but ST-Line X customers may only choose from the MHEVs - prices start at a reasonable 20,545 for a plain-petrol Titanium and rise to a still-reasonable 23,645 for a 155hp ST-Line X, which is what we've tried here.

The MHEV tech is interesting, as an 11.5kWh belt-integrated starter generator (BISG) is powered by a 10Ah, 48-volt lithium-ion battery. It provides torque infill and supplementation, boosting the Puma's maximum torque outputs (see Tech Spec) to varying degrees at different moments of engine load and in different drive modes, so that both low-revs flexibility and high-revs performance are improved. It also trims fuel economy and emissions, obviously, with even the 155hp model dipping below 130g/km for CO2 on the WLTP cycle; NEDC-adjusted, all MHEV Pumas would be in the super-clean 96-101g/km bracket.

It serves to make the drivetrain a big part of the Puma's appeal. Having sampled the 125hp Titanium version as well, we can report that there's no real hardship in going for the lesser-outputted MHEV, but even so we'd definitely be ordering up the 155hp engine with this ST-Line trim. It has that usual appealing purr of a triple, which becomes notably vocal and appealing at higher revs, but whereas other three-cylinder petrols start to run out of puff at about 5,000rpm, the Puma goes hard at its redline. This makes it feel pretty rapid, all told, while the six-speed manual gearbox is a slick-shifting, sweetly geared delight of a companion for the motor.

Using the Fiesta as a basis also leads to handling which is better than any other B-segment crossover we can think of, save for the SEAT Arona and maybe the Honda HR-V Sport, at a push. For a high-riding machine based on a supermini, the Puma doesn't half move around on the throttle. Particularly in low-grip scenarios, like on a gravel track in Trail or on dusty roads in Sport, it turns out the Puma loves a cheeky bit of easily controllable oversteer. It also, at the other end of the car, resists understeer gamely, so there's plenty of grip to play with, although needlessly forceful self-centring to the steering and the odd sensations of the MHEV-boosted torque tugging the leading axle this way and that do slightly blunt the dynamic experience. Nevertheless, the ST-Line Puma is great fun to drive, and if the rumoured 200hp ST is definitely on the cards then we could be in for a real Ford Performance treat.

Luckily, as people don't buy B-segment crossovers to go haring up mountain roads, gabbling excitedly about lift-off oversteer, heel-and-toe braking and steering feel, the Puma also works beautifully as a serene daily conveyance. The ride is very good - even on optional 19-inch alloys and the ST-Line's stiffer suspension - while suppression of low-frequency engine sounds, tyre roar and wind noise is all up there with the best-in-class alternatives. With great visibility out of the cockpit in all directions, plus a wealth of driver assist features available either as standard or as options, driving the Puma smoothly and comfortably is a piece of cake. So, aside from its goofy face, its occasionally torque-deviated, springy steering and maybe the merely above average rear-seat legroom, the Ford is a remarkably strong contender in all departments.

Verdict

The Puma perfectly exemplifies what a half-baked idea it was for the American giant to pluck the EcoSport from one of its global factories, give it the merest sprinkling of re-engineering nous, and then try and pass it off as suitable for exacting European tastes as a result. Where the EcoSport was always way off the pace in the B-segment crossover marketplace, the Puma is right up there at the front of the pack, jostling with the finest competitor products in this fashionable sector for a slice of the lucrative sales pie. On this showing, the excellent Ford Puma deserves to take the lion's share of those sales... if you'll forgive us closing with such a cumbersome and conflated big-cat idiom.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 16 Jan 2020









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2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.

2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Puma 155 ST-Line X MHEV. Image by Ford.








 

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