Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
As we mentioned earlier, under the bonnet of the Puma ST lies the same 197bhp 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder engine as the Ford Fiesta ST, but with torque boosted from 214lb ft to 236lb ft. Ford claims that this extra grunt allows the Puma to match the Fiesta’s 0-62mph time of 6.7sec, and we’ve no reason to doubt it. The engine is pleasingly muscular from low revs and develops power in a nice linear fashion.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox, which has a short shift action and well-chosen gear ratios, helps you get the very best out of the characterful engine and adds an extra layer of interaction that’s missing from larger and more expensive rivals such as the Cupra Formentor and Volkswagen T-Roc R with their dual-clutch automatic gearboxes.
But the real highlight of the Puma ST is its handling. To help counteract the Puma’s higher centre of gravity compared with the Fiesta, its steering response has been made 25% quicker than the regular Puma’s and its suspension has been stiffened. Ford’s engineers certainly know what they’re doing, because the Puma ST is more agile and adjustable mid-corner than any SUV has the right to be.
Like the smaller Fiesta, it will pivot progressively around its front wheels if you back off the accelerator pedal mid-bend, allowing you to position it perfectly for corner exit. And while the steering isn’t brimming with feel filtering up from the front tyres, it’s weighty, precise and allows you to place the front end exactly where you want it on the road. All in all, it’s far more entertaining than the Cupra Ateca, T-Roc R and most other pricier rivals.
We’d also suggest you spring for the optional Performance Pack (an entirely reasonable £950) as you’ll also benefit from super sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and a Quaife limited-slip differential – this clever bit of kit gives you extra traction on the way out of corners, and that’s handy when you have nearly 200bhp at your disposal. Unusually for a Sports SUV, four-wheel drive isn’t even an option, although you’ll only miss that should you decide to venture off the beaten track.
As for usability, despite its improved athleticism, the Puma ST is not a particularly demanding car to drive. You can feel the optional limited-slip differential working away to drag the nose into apexes, but there’s none of the skittishness under power that requires you to hold on tight like quick Fords of old. And while it’s rather firm, never quite settling down around town, once you get some speed into the car the suspension starts to breathe with the road.
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