Car reviews - Ford - Puma - ST-Line
Dynamics, rorty engine, styling, transmission, fuel economy, character
Room for improvement
Value, rear passenger space, no cover for optional moonroof
After the dismally slow-selling EcoSport, the new Ford Puma has a big task ahead
10 Mar 2021
ON PAPER, small SUVs look to be a hard sell; they’re usually several thousand dollars (at least) dearer than their hatch alternatives while not offering all that much more space and in theory at least, inferior dynamics.
And yet the segment continues to boom with an ever-growing number of brands jumping on the bandwagon of what has quickly become one of the most crucial markets within the industry.
Ford’s first effort, the EcoSport, wasn’t much cop and it failed dismally on the sales charts.
Now however, the Blue Oval has had a rethink and tried again, and we’re thrilled to say the results are much more promising, if a little on the pricey side.
Based on the Fiesta city car, the Puma entered the Australian market towards the middle of last year armed with just one engine choice and a three-variant line-up determined to make amends for the EcoSport’s failures.
To find out if it’s up to the job, we spent some time in the mid-range ST-Line and, spoiler alert, it turned out to be one of the most likeable and charismatic little cars we’ve driven recently.
The first thing anybody says when they see the new Puma is how much they either love or hate the styling with seemingly no in-between.
To our eye at least it looks great, especially with the sportier ST-Line body kit which just adds to the sense of chunkiness exuded by this genuinely little car.
For the extra $2350 over the base Puma ($32,340 vs $29,990), the ST-Line adds a few extra goodies inside like a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and some paddle shifters, but the bulk of the premium goes towards its sporty makeover.
On top of the aforementioned body kit, the ST-Line also scores a lower ride height and stiffer suspension tune, flat-bottomed leather-clad steering wheel, ST-Line sports seats, red interior stitching and metallic sports pedals.
Our test car also came fitted with the optional panoramic roof ($2000) and $1500 ‘Park Package’ which adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go and lane centring, active park assist with front, side and rear sensors, front parking sensors and blind-spot detection, the majority of which should all really come as standard given the starting price.
At first glance the Puma range’s pricing may not seem too bad but when compared directly to the competition, i.e. the Mazda CX-3 and new Kia Stonic, the latter of which tops out at $29,990 – exactly where the Puma range opens – the value difference becomes clearer.
The Puma does carry a power advantage however with its turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine churning out 92kW of power and 170Nm of torque, all of which is sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Boosted three-cylinders are quickly becoming the norm in this segment, especially at the upper ends of ranges and the one in the Puma is a joy, offering plenty of low-end torque for pulling away and pottering around town with plenty of pep up high for when faster progress is needed.
Not only does it pull strongly right across the rev range, it also sounds fantastic, especially in Sport mode when the engine noise is piped artificially into the cabin through the speakers.
We’d stop short of calling the note feisty, but there is a certain rortiness to it that you can’t help but enjoy – it gives the Puma a very likeable sense of attitude and character, like it’s trying to be a scaled-up Fiesta ST.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) is paired well with the powerplant with no real indication it’s a DCT save for a slight hesitation when pulling away.
Gear changes are crisp and smooth and we especially like the way it allows the engine to utilise its torque and lean on the turbocharger when needed rather than shuffle back through the gears and rev out.
Manual changes are quick and concise with the paddles really coming into their own on the open road when the rev-happy nature of Sport mode needs to be reeled back in and that 170Nm can be fully deployed.
Around town there is more than enough power and torque to keep pace with the traffic and even have some fun and it’s a similar story out of town and in the hills, however overtaking manoeuvres need to be carefully judged as while the mill is engaging and characterful, it isn’t fast.
It is however quite frugal – Ford claims all Pumas will drink 6.6 litres per 100km on the combined cycle – with our test car returning an indicated 5.8L/100km after a decent mix of urban, highway and spirited driving.
Just like the engine, the ride of the Puma ST-Line gives you the impression it’s aspiring to be a hot hatch, albeit a high-riding one.
Those hoping for a soft and cushy SUV should look elsewhere – the Puma ST-Line is for drivers who want a sporty bent to their high-riding hatchback and that is exactly what it delivers.
The ride around town is definitely firm but never uncomfortable which translates into a genuinely engaging experience around the suburbs when paired with that peppy little engine.
Unlike other urban-minded vehicles however, particularly compact ones, the Puma ST maintains this sense of fun and engagement when the road gets twisty and the speed limit rises.
This is compact SUV with genuine warm hatch, near-on hot hatch levels of cornering prowess with the added bonus of some extra ride height.
The extra clearance was put to good use during our time with the car as a summer storm had left all manner of debris on the road ahead of a convoy run from Ballingup to Nannup, arguably one of WA’s most demanding roads.
Whereas other vehicles in the group had to slow down and avoid the debris, the Puma was able to simply straddle it and carry on.
In terms of practicality and amenities, all Pumas offer a competitive 410 litres of boot space while the split-folding seats expand that figure to 1170L.
As is often the way in this segment, rear occupant space is a little tight for adults and while we wouldn’t want to spend a great deal of time in the back, it’s fine for across-town trips and for kids.
Save for the value factor, our biggest gripe with the Puma is actually aimed at the optional moonroof and more specifically, the sunshade.
Rather than fit a retractable piece of roof trim under the glass, Ford in all its wisdom has fitted a layer of what can only be described as black fabric, which is so thin the sun can still shine through and leave the occupants sunburned on a warm day.
Ultimately the Puma ST-Line is a genuinely fun and engaging compact SUV that’s dripping with character, however it fails to stack up against some of its rivals as a value proposition, including those from Europe.
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