The first thing that Ford set out to achieve when designing the Puma ST was parity with the little sister. The Puma is a weighty 90kg-plus heavier than the Fiesta, so while the power outputs from the 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine they share are the same (200PS, 147kW), the Puma has been handed a torque boost, lifting it to 320Nm (326lb ft). The point? To make sure they hit 62mph at the same time – both will make the race in 6.7 seconds. Both share the same front-wheel-drive layout, the same six-speed manual gearbox and the option of a performance pack (for an actually quite reasonable £900) to add a Quaife limited-slip diff.
But, the Puma isn’t actually just a high-riding Fiesta. So there are some more modifications that have had to be made over the standard Puma, rather than just grafting in the guts of the Fiesta. The Puma has been handed torque vectoring ability, to send power to the wheel which needs it most at the front. It’s also got new anti-roll bars, a stiffer rear twist beam and force vectoring springs, which help to increase stiffness further.
Even with all those changes, there is more roll than a Fiesta – in order to make the Puma as flat as the Fiesta it’d probably have to have been given stiff enough springs to launch it into orbit, so you can forgive them leaving some roll. That roll actually adds some character to the car, and defines the Puma nicely as its own machine. The steering is nicely weighted, but incredibly quick, to the point of being a little darty when you’re just driving along a country lane. But that means it’s sharp when you want it, the rack being fast and able to move the nose of the Puma quickly, helping to counteract some of the extra movement. When you do pitch the front in, you’ll find it’s not quite as sharp to turn as it’s sister, but much more eager than anything else around in the class. You can also feel when the diff kicks in, it really is worth your 900 quid. Send the nose in off throttle and the back will give you just the gentlest of slides, which is all quickly gathered up with a hit of throttle.
The throttle response is good, and that engine is still an absolute peach, just as it was in the Fiesta. It sounds keen and excited through the little burbly sports exhaust and provides more than enough shove to get the Puma going in a lively manner. We will probably have to wait for the Hyundai Kona N to arrive to really assess how good the Puma is, but currently nothing else is as eager or fun to drive in the segment.