For years hot hatches have been the affordable performance car of choice for younger drivers. But what if you need more practicality but aren’t ready to move up the ladder to more expensive performance crossovers like the Cupra Formentor, VW T-Roc R or Audi SQ2? Your options are pretty limited. Or were until Ford decided to give its already sporty little Puma crossover the full ST treatment, based on the engine and other bits from the brilliant Fiesta ST. In the process we think it might just have reinvented the hot hatch as we know it – here are five reasons why…
1 - It looks cool
The Puma operates in a style-conscious crossover sector. Some rivals look sporty but, for now, only the Puma really delivers, the ST version combining compact size with a pumped-up appearance every bit as assertive as much more expensive rivals. For the ST Ford has made the optional 19-inch wheels standard. It’s also blacked out the grille and added black mirror caps, roof and spoiler. Finishing touch? The optional Mean Green paint, which is exclusive to the ST and means nobody will mistake yours for a regular Puma. £500 well spent, we reckon.
2 – It's built for our roads
British roads are uniquely challenging and cars developed on smoother ones often suffer with the lumps, bumps, potholes and speed humps we deal with every day. The engineers designing the Puma ST used race tracks like the Nürburgring in Germany to make sure the steering and suspension were up to the job. But they also sent a team to a Ford dealership outside Manchester to test the Puma’s set-up on the bumpy moorland roads in the area and make sure it could cope with our uniquely challenging tarmac. Having driven it on exactly the same roads it would seem it paid off, the ST’s firm ride around town making more sense when you let it off the leash on a twisty B-road
3 - It feels even faster than it is
Ford benchmarked the Puma ST against bigger performance crossovers like the Mini Countryman JCW, this and rivals like the Cupra Formentor, VW T-Roc R and Audi SQ2 all using engines with over 300 horsepower and all-wheel drive to put it to the road. With only 200 horsepower and two driven wheels the Puma ST is quite a bit slower off the line than these cars. But it’s lighter and feels a lot more agile, the super quick steering and turbocharged engine encouraging you to use every last horsepower, especially with the clever differential you get with the optional Performance Pack. It’s certainly a lively little thing, and pretty raw for such a mainstream product. It might even be a bit too much for some people. But if you’re coming from a hot hatch like the Fiesta ST it has much of the same spirit.
4 - It’s just as practical as any crossover
Hot hatches work because they’re just as practical as any supermini, just more fun. The Puma ST does the same for crossovers. Although it’s based on the Fiesta it has a longer wheelbase, meaning more space in the cabin for passengers. The taller stance means it feels a lot bigger on the road and it’s also easier to load the kids into the back seats. And the boot is massive, and includes Ford’s nifty Megabox watertight compartment under the boot floor. You don’t have to use it to carry goldfish like Rory did in his test of the regular Puma. But for everything from muddy wellies to tall objects like plants or golf bags it’s like a hot hatch, just more practical.
5 - It’s built by enthusiasts
Ford has a long history of making cracking performance versions of its regular cars, stretching all the way back to the Escorts and Cortinas of a previous motoring age. One of the reasons they are so successful is that the people building them are car nuts in their spare time as well as their day jobs. The guy in charge of the Puma ST is just one example, having personally imported a special US-market Mustang back home after a spell working in Detroit. All the folk we’ve met at Ford Performance are the same and even a mainstream model like the Puma has that petrolhead passion at its core.
Suffice to say, we loved the Puma ST. But does Rory Reid beg to differ? Check out the video for his counterpoint…
Rory asks ‘Have they ruined the Puma?’