Proper driving enthusiasts aren’t meant to like crossovers. Sure, the car-buying masses love them but for those who remember the age before SUV ride heights the whiff of style over content, the compromises in dynamics and visibility and the inevitable fashion tax tend to inspire snootiness from those who still consider themselves into cars. Thankfully a good number of the latter seem to work at Ford Performance and they’ve taken the already impressive basis of the Ford Puma and turned it into a proper little hooligan with all the spirit of the Fiesta ST from which it takes its foundations.
You can tell quite a lot about a car from the people who created it and, in the case of Ford Performance Manager Stefan Muenzinger, expectations the Puma ST won’t drive like your typical crossover are raised. The last time we met he was enthusing about the Shelby GT350 he’d bought while on secondment to Detroit and brought back to Germany with him. This time the discussion is – inevitably – online rather than in person but involves much geekery about damping rates, steering racks and their decision to do a chunk of the sign-off work here in the UK, specifically on the brutally choppy moorland roads outside Manchester. By a stroke of luck that’s exactly where we end up driving the ST too.
On the basis you’re probably familiar with the basics of the Puma let’s look at the changes Stefan and his team have made. The Fiesta ST’s 200PS (147kW) 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine and manual gearbox are carried over, albeit with a shorter final drive and torque raised from 290Nm (214lb ft) to 320Nm (236lb ft) to offset the bigger wheels and extra 75kg the Puma carries. With the Performance Pack it gets the same Quaife torque-biasing diff (a proprietary mechanical limited-slip diff, to all intents and purposes), launch control and other goodies. Suspension remains twist-beam at the back, albeit a whole 40 per cent burlier than the Fiesta while the same directionally wound ‘force-vectoring’ springs keep it laterally stiff too. The Ferrari-fast 11.4:1 steering rack is even quicker than that on the Fiesta and, the more you hear from Stefan, the more you appreciate this is way more serious than anything else in its class.
More good news comes when it turns out the £1,900 price hike triggered by post-Brexit uncertainties has been successfully addressed by carefully scrutinising rules of origin in the supply chain. That thankfully narrows the gap between the £26,700 you’d pay for a five-door Fiesta ST-3 and the £29,455 for the Puma with the essential £950 Performance Pack.