Once in a while a new car comes along that creates an instant buzz. The distinctive all-new Ford Puma is one such vehicle.
Winner of a ‘car of the year’ award (What Car?) before the first customer cars have even been delivered, it should not be confused with the dinky sports coupe of the same name from the late 1990s.
The 2020 Puma has morphed into a compact SUV, battling it out with the likes of the Nissan Juke, Toyota CH-R, Volkswagen T-Cross and Skoda Kamiq.
This is one of the most hotly-contested sectors, so the Puma has to shine. The good news is that it does just that on so many levels.
Not only does it dare to be different, it’s well equipped, offers a dynamic drive and boasts plenty of space.
Though it’s based on the best-selling Fiesta hatchback, the five-door crossover is 46mm longer, 54mm higher and 71mm wider, while its wheelbase is 95mm longer, meaning it ends up about the same size as an Audi Q2.
Perhaps the only vaguely controversial thing about the Puma is its front-end design, which is a challenge for some. Ford reckons it has a happy face, while the headlights are said to be inspired by the GT supercar, but some critics have described them as “bulging”. We’ll let you make up your own mind on that one. One thing is for sure, it sports soft curves, muscular haunches, deep bumpers and a pert rear.
At launch, there are some plush First Edition models. After then, the range will feature Titanium, ST-Line and ST-Line X trim levels, with other variants to follow. Prices start at £20,845, climbing to £27,345 for the range-topping models.
Standard equipment on Titanium includes sat nav, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, automatic wipers and lights, climate control and wireless phone charging. ST-Line adds a sportier, colour-coded body kit and interior tweaks, plus a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, while the ST-Line X gets part-leather upholstery, privacy glass and a B&O audio system.
Generous standard safety kit includes a lane-keeping aid, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), plus pedestrian and cyclist detection, helping it achieve a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.
At launch, two versions of varying outputs are offered of Ford’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine – both featuring mild-hybrid technology to save fuel, boost performance and reduce turbo lag.
It should be noted that unlike full or self-charging hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius and Honda CR-V, the Puma’s 48-volt battery pack is too small to allow electric-only motoring.
The 123bhp engine can accelerate from 0-62mph in 9.8 seconds, reach 119mph and return up to 51.4mpg, with CO2 emissions of 96-99g/km. The more powerful 153bhp version manages the 0-62mph dash in 9.0 seconds, a top speed of 124mph and is capable of 50.4mpg with C02 emissions of 99-101g/km.
The punchy EcoBoost is a fab little engine, delivering surprising amounts of power. Obviously the 153bhp is more fun, but the 123bhp offers enough oomph for everyday driving. It’s particularly refined in the Puma, only making itself known under serious acceleration, and a special mention for the stop-start system which is incredibly unobtrusive.
You won’t be disappointed whichever engine you go for, but if money is no object, go for the more powerful option.
Paired with a slick six-speed manual gearbox (an option for a seven-speed auto is coming), overall it feels more sprightly than the official sprint figures suggest.
As this is a sporty crossover, the driving position is loftier than a standard Fiesta, but not as high as some rivals.
The ride is on the firm side, but that means it corners exceptionally well with little in the way of body lean. It’s agile by SUV standards, while the steering is sharp and light for city driving.
There are five drive modes available (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Trail). Clearly, Sport is the most dynamic, but Normal and Eco will do just fine for cruising. We tried Trail over a loose surface and it definitely seemed to give more traction over Normal mode.
Inside, the Puma is spacious with space for five adults. Legroom is good in the back, though taller rear seat passengers might struggle if you opt for the full-length sunroof which takes up some of the headroom.
Now we come to one of the biggest talking points of the Puma – the “MegaBox”. The easy-access boot is already sizeable with multi-level partitions and a clever, slimline boot-shelf which is hinged to the hatch and so doesn’t get in the way.
However, there’s an extra cubby below the boot floor which adds 80 litres of capacity (making an impressive 456 litres in total), allowing you to transport higher items such as plants and golf clubs. What’s more, it’s made of strong polypropylene and comes with a plug in the bottom, so it can be washed out if you use it to carry muddy boots, for instance. Great idea.
Otherwise, the interior is much like a Fiesta, which is no bad thing. There are soft-touch surfaces higher up in the cabin, the centre console is dominated by the clear infotainment touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity), it’s well laid out and lumbar massage is available as an option for the already comfortable front seats.
Verdict: Ford has stuck the boot into the compact SUV sector with the impressive new Puma. Refreshingly different, entertaining to drive, refined, economical, well-equipped and cleverly packaged, the all-new Ford Puma goes straight to the top of the class.
Review in association with www.automotiveblog.co.uk