Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
With only 1.0-litre petrol engines to choose from (and a non-hybrid petrol version and a diesel engine joining the range later in 2020), you’d be forgiven for thinking the Puma is more about parsimonious fuel economy than punchy performance. As it happens, it’s remarkably good at both of those things.
Both of the Puma’s engines feature a 48-volt mild hybrid system (badged mHEV); it shuts the engine off to save fuel when you’re coming to a stop, while keeping the steering and brakes supplied with power. Engage a gear at a standstill and the engine fires itself back into life in the blink of an eye, before a small electric motor lends a hand when pulling away to ease the load on the petrol engine.
On paper, the entry-level 124bhp engine gives the Puma an official 0-62mph time of 9.8sec, and promises better acceleration than rivals such as the Nissan Juke and VW T-Roc 1.0 TSI. That shows in the real world, too; it has plenty of pep and, while you need to rev it towards 3000rpm to make the most of its power, you’ll have no problem joining motorway sliproads or overtaking a tractor on a meandering B-road. Meanwhile, the more powerful engine, badged mHEV 155, hits 60mph from a standstill in just 8.5sec. That makes it as fast as far pricier small SUVs, such as the Audi Q2 35 TFSI. And, while its three-cylinder turbocharged engine loves being revved hard, it’s equally happy pulling from low revs when you’re looking for more relaxed progress, and has noticeably more low-down torque than the 124bhp engine.
Suspension and ride comfort
If ride comfort is a top priority, you’d be better off looking at the T-Roc or Skoda Kamiq. Both of those rivals have softer suspension, which means you feel less of an impact from lumps and bumps as they pass beneath the car.
Mind you, the Puma is far from a bone-shaker. It just follows the contours of the road more closely than many cars in this class, although it’s always well controlled when doing so; there’s no unwanted body bounce along undulating country lanes and the like. The suspension on comfort-oriented Titanium models is firm enough to send a thud through the interior when you hit a pothole, but the overall ride is nothing you’d grow tiresome of on average journey.
ST-Line and ST-Line X models have a rather firmer sports suspension setup that produces more of a thud over sharp bumps. Even this never gets uncomfortable, though; nor do the optional 19in alloy wheels allow things to get too firm or crashy, although we would still recommend sticking with the standard wheels.
If you enjoy driving, the Puma will really win your heart. Whether you choose the Titanium or sportier ST-Line model, it's super nimble by small SUV standards, darting into bends with very little body lean. You’ll notice its agility whether you’re just scooting around a roundabout or flying down a favourite country lane.
Then there’s its steering, which gives you a far better sense of connection with the front wheels than you get from a Juke or even a Kamiq – something you’ll really appreciate no matter how quickly or slowly you’re driving.
Every Puma gives you a selection of driving modes that alter the characteristics of the car. For example, Sport sets the car up with stiffer steering and quicker accelerator response, while Eco encourages the driver to drive more gently, restricting the engine’s power and reducing the air-conditioning's effect to save fuel.
Noise and vibration
If you’re after a peaceful life, there are quieter small SUVs to choose from than the Puma. Its engine’s sporty note is always audible, and there’s also a fair amount of tyre roar at a steady 70mph.
So, if you spend a lot of time on the motorway, a T-Roc or a Kamiq will do a much better job of keeping noises outside the interior. On the other hand, the Puma’s precise, snickety gearshift and feelsome clutch pedal makes it a really easy car to drive smoothly. An automatic gearbox will join the range later in 2020.
The Puma’s stop-start system also goes about its business incredibly unobtrusively – you barely even notice when the engine switches off and on.