Goodwood Test: 2021 Ford Puma ST Review
The Ford Puma is no longer a small, four-seater coupe. It’s now a small, five-seat, five-door, crossover. A cute looking thing, but not quite the small sportscar that it once was. Like everything that is made in Dagenham (because the Puma is a lot more Dagenham than Dearborn) it was inevitable that someone at Ford was going to want to make a faster version of the Puma from the moment that it arrived. And so arrived the Puma ST. So much like a slightly higher riding Fiesta ST that it even apes the smaller hatch’s 0-62mph times.
The Puma raises a few questions. Can a high-riding car be a hot hatch? Will it besmirch the ST name with wobbly roll? Is this actually the future of the hot hatch? We’re pretty sure the answers to one and three are “probably” and the middle one “no” but we better find out.
- As quick as a Fiesta ST
- Manages to feel agile despite riding higher
- The boot is spectacularly large
We don't like
- Might still look a bit too cute
- Costs a lot
- Just isn’t the Fiesta ST
Let’s be honest, the Puma is very cute, at least as cute as a crossover can be. It also looks a little bit like a desert rain frog, that of the famous “very angry frog” clip from a BBC nature documentary. That comparison is only heightened in the vivid shade of “Mean Green” our test car was kitted out in.
All that having been said, it’s cute in a good way – the Puma is a good looking thing. In a segment that can result in slightly awkward styling – sort of halfway between hatchback and SUV – Ford has done well to make the design work. The changes for the ST version are pretty minimal, like it’s smaller sister. There’s a bigger bumper, a small spoiler, some more aggressive arches, bigger wheels and a faux diffuser at the back. I do think they could have done more, and maybe, just maybe, we can hope that one day there might be an RS that does go the whole hog. Unlikely, but we can live in hope.
Performance and Handling
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.
Thankfully Ford nailed its inner Changing Rooms with the current line-up of cars. Before the current Fiesta/Focus, being in a Ford was a bit like being in a house that hadn’t been redecorated since 2007, perfectly fine, but just a bit behind the times. Now the look is very good. The infotainment sits slightly proud of the dash, but is intuitive and easy to use – it’s been designed to feel simple while providing everything you need. The seats, sports models, are very hugging and ideal if you like good support, but anyone of a larger thigh might start to feel a little enclosed. The wheel is good and the most interesting feature I found was the matte carbon-fibre effect in the dash, which works. I hate carbon-fibre in cars, but making it matte and just dumbing it down a bit feels excellent, a slightly higher class look, which is good, considering this Puma will cost you £31k.
Technology and Features
The ST comes with cruise control (adaptive cruise control is not available on the ST), climate control (single-zone), 19-inch Magnetite alloys, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers and auto high beam as standard. It also has wireless charging as standard in a very nicely integrated fashion, that for once actually holds your phone in place, where many cars let it slide from the mat, cancelling charge without your realising. There’s also keyless entry, heated steering wheel and front seats, Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment including Navigation, 10 Bang and Olufsen speakers and powered folding mirrors. Our test car also had the added electric boot and Driver Assistance pack – which would add the ACC if this wasn’t an ST, but does add safety systems like active braking, evasive steering and parking assistance including a rear-view camera.
It’s really harsh to keep comparing the Puma ST to the Fiesta, which to our mind is one of the finest cars on sale today. But Ford has pitched the Puma so close to the littler hatch that it’s hard not to. On its own the Puma is a brilliant little car, full of character, capable of little fun skids and guaranteed to bring a smile to your face on almost any journey. It’s hard to really think of a proper rival. The SQ2 and T-Roc R don’t really come close to the same driving engagement, and then there’s just not a lot of other hot crossovers around until the aforementioned Kona N arrives.
Until then, comparisons with hot hatches will be unavoidable and Ford should be commended for making the Puma feel so like the Fiesta. At the end of the day the Fiesta is the better car, but dig a little deeper and the Puma has its own distinct driving style, with perhaps a little more leeway from absolute performance than the Fiesta, which will turn like almost nothing around. The biggest issue we have with the Puma is that it remains around £10,000 more than the Fiesta. At that point even the massive boot doesn’t really make up for the extra price over two so similar cars.
This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.
|Engine||1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol|
|Power||200PS (147kW) @ 6,000rpm|
|Torque||320Nm (237lb ft) @ 2,500rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive|
|Price||£29,445 (£31,445 as tested)|
Reviewed by Ben Miles