In ST form, Ford's Puma unlocks its playful side. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Having made the standard version of its small Puma crossover pretty sporty to drive, Ford couldn't resist releasing this top ST version, complete with the livelier 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbo engine from the fiendish Fiesta ST hot hatch. In this case, what's delivered is a car the family driving enthusiast will find easier to justify. Few small SUVs could keep it in sight on a twisty road.
For Ford, 'ST' is an evocative badge - and one that enthusiasts have flocked to for decades with fast Fiesta and Focus hit hatches. But does it belong on an SUV? Well it belongs on this one. The Puma was always developed with this quick variant in mind and in ST form, the Ford Performance team have done a really thorough job in further evolving what were already very impressive drive dynamics. It doesn't just go faster than the standard model either. You can get the power down more easily too, thanks to a whole range of handling and suspension changes. Sounds promising. Small SUVs haven't to date been very engaging to drive. But we think that this one might just buck the trend.
Properly sporty versions of supermini-based small SUVs are surprising rare, especially when they're engineered as well as this one. As you'd expect, this car borrows much from its Fiesta ST showroom stablemate, including its lively 200PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbo engine, though that unit's been tweaked here for extra torque, so as to compensate for this little crossover's extra 100kgs of weight. As a result, this top Puma is able to match the Fiesta ST's 0-62mph time of 6.7s (which is just a second behind a Focus ST). The top speed is 137mph and active exhaust valve technology amplifies the naturally sporty three-cylinder engine sound too. Lots of other Ford Performance engineering changes feature here in a bid to give this fast Puma some real handling credibility. An optimised chassis features bespoke twist-beam, anti-roll bar and damper configurations. Plus steering response is 25% faster and the brakes are 17% larger than the standard Puma. Specially-developed Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres also help deliver the most agile Ford SUV driving experience yet, plus thick front and rear anti-roll bars add to cornering stability. If you want to go further, you can specify an extra cost 'Performance Pack' which gives you a unique-in-segment limited-slip differential to help get the power down out of tight corners. Whatever your final choice of spec, you'll immediately notice how firmly this car rides the bumps - inevitably as the rear suspension has been stiffened by 50% - but you could live with it on the commute and at cruising speeds, this ST feels much like any normal Puma. Like any ordinary variant in this model line, the ST version features selectable Drive Modes, including a 'Sport' setting (accessible via this bespoke steering wheel button) and a special 'Race Track' option.
The Puma's sporty styling - including a sloping roof line silhouette and pronounced wheel arches - lends itself to the more extreme design of this ST variant. A Ford Performance-embossed splitter is integrated into the front bumper to increase front end downforce by almost 80% for greater stability and traction. The large rear roof spoiler also supports optimised aerodynamics, with a distinctive diffuser incorporated into the rear bumper. Signature ST upper and lower grilles are designed to deliver increased engine cooling capability. The interior is equally charismatic; even before entering, standard power-foldable door mirrors project the ST logo onto the ground when unlocking. Inside, heated, bolstered Recaro sports seats - embossed with the ST logo and finished in grippy Miko Dinamica material - hold driver and front passenger firmly in place. Ford Performance skid plates, a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel and an ST gear knob also feature. Otherwise, it's just as in any other Puma. Which means you get a digital instrument cluster screen and the usual SYNC 3 centre stack infotainment screen with 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' compatibility and an incorporated premium B&O sound system. Out back, there's a reasonably comfortable space for a couple adults. And you get a decent 456-litre boot, with an 80-litre recessed well beneath the floor (the Ford 'MegaBox').
Puma ST pricing starts at around £28,500 - and enthusiastic drivers are going to want to allow £900 more for the optional 'Performance Pack' which includes a limited-slip differential. At least you get plenty of kit for that, with 19-inch alloy wheels, Recaro sports seats and a bespoke ST interior, including a premium B&O sound system. Standard FordPass Connect modem technology allows Puma ST owners to remotely control a selection of vehicle features - including Door Lock Unlock and Vehicle Locator - via the FordPass mobile app. The modem also enables cloud-connected Local Hazard Information, which can inform drivers of a hazardous situation on the road ahead, even if the incident is not visible due to a bend in the road or other vehicles. Further available but sadly optional driver assistance technologies include Pre-Collision Assist with Active Braking, Active Park Assist, Cross Traffic Alert with Active Braking and Intelligent Speed Limiter. The Puma ST offers Magnetite or machined metal finishes for the standard 19-inch alloy wheels. And six available exterior body colours, which include Agate Black, Desert Island Blue, Fantastic Red, Frozen White, Magnetic and bold, ST-exclusive Mean Green. A gloss black finish for the roof, grille surrounds, side spears, door mirror caps and rear roof spoiler are all standard, making the model even easier to identify.
Industry-first innovation enables the 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine to be as sensible as it is sporty. It doesn't feature the electrified mild hybrid tech you get with the Puma's smaller 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit, but it does share that lesser three cylinder powerplant's clever cylinder deactivation system. You might be familiar with this sort of thing from larger engines but if you're not, we'll tell you that at less than 50% throttle and between 1,500 and 4,500rpm, one cylinder is shut off, improving fuel consumption (so Ford says) by as much as 6%. The system can disengage or re-engage the cylinder in question (the middle one) in just 14 milliseconds - 20 times faster than the blink of an eye - and the transition either way is so seamless you won't feel or hear it: we couldn't anyway. All of this contributes to impressive WLTP-rated efficiency figures, given the performance figures being served up here. There's a combined cycle 41.5mpg reading and a 155g/km CO2 emissions figure. A rapid light-off gas particulate filter also reduces soot emissions.
Denied the chance to develop an RS version of the Focus, the Ford Performance engineers have instead thrown themselves with a will into the task of making this hot Puma more than just a sporty-looking SUV. There's real dynamic substance here - a rare thing to find in a compact Crossover. Of course you've to pay fairly handsomely for the privilege - but the asking fee could easily be replicated by a far less capable rival fitted out with a few luxury bells and whistles. Here, you get a car that could really deliver hot hatch thrills on the right road on the right day. Yet for the rest of the year, function as unassuming family transport. And deliver an affordable set of daily running costs. If that sounds an attractive combination, you'll know what to do next.
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