Ford Puma ST

Ford Puma ST – Wild Cat

If you must have an SUV, then this is one of the best around at any price point. The fact it won’t break the bank is a major bonus.

Ever since I can remember, I have been in love with the automobile. The speed, the performance, the engines, the power, the design, the romance … Everything, really.

The need to drive cars, buy cars, fix cars, talk about cars, write about cars is a permanent fixture in my life and, if you would eliminate them from my daily routine, I would be lost. It’s not just a job, it’s a passion.

Consequently, I love motor racing. Formula 1, rallying, the Dakar, the Le Mans 24 Hours, DTM, WTCR, Indycars – I watch everything. And when a car has any connection to racing, well, it’s already a winner in my book.

Ford Puma ST

This week’s car is just that: the Ford Puma ST, a distant road version of the Ford Puma Rally1 that races in the World Rally Championship, yes, but still, there is a connection – and that is good enough for me.

The idea of driving the rival to my own Toyota GR Yaris was very appealing, but I confess to being a little apprehensive about the Puma ST before driving it. The reason is quite simple: it’s an SUV and not only am I not the world’s biggest SUV fan (nor I come second or third in that ranking) but, mainly, an SUV can never be as good as a similarly powerful sports car, saloon or hatchback.

Another problem that was making me cynical about the Puma was the fact that I am a mega Fiesta ST fan, and I didn’t want people going for the crossover ST instead of the hatchback ST.

Ford Puma ST

But then I drove the thing. And you can probably guess the rest. The Puma ST is amazing. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. But maybe not in the way you think. You see, the Puma is not the best car in the world, it’s not the fastest, not the ‘est’ anything. It’s just a normal car, a bit faster than the average hatchback or compact crossover, that has a three-cylinder engine powering the front wheels, a regular six-speed gearbox and a mechanical slip-differential.

It’s the way the engineers at Ford Performance cooked the recipe that makes the Puma so unbelievable. The 1.5 litre Ecoboost engine from the Fiesta ST gets a bespoke air intake and new engine mounts and produces the same 200 horsepower. You need to specify the slip-diff (included in the Performance Pack) to get the best out of the Puma in the tighter corners, but I guarantee you will not regret doing so. The chassis too is so good it can cope with everything you throw at it.

Because the centre of gravity is higher than in the Fiesta, Ford have given the car a stiffer rear axle by 50%. Add the torque vectoring system, a 25% faster steering ratio and you have something really agile and capable in your hands. Another secret was the option of going for Hitachi twin-tube frequency-reactive dampers – and, boy, does the Puma ST find a balance between comfort and staying flat through the corners! The quality of the shift is definitely worthy of mention – it’s an absolute pleasure just going through the gears. Brakes are also very good and full of feel.

Ford Puma ST

As the horsepower race finds new highs every week, it is incredible what a ‘mere’ 200 horsepower can do. In terms of fun, not many cars compare, no matter how powerful. Among those with up to 200 ponies, well, only the Fiesta ST can actually compare and maybe one or two Abarth 500. I hear the Hyundai i20N is also pretty handy, but I have not driven it yet.

Still, this is a crossover in theory and a high-riding hatchback in reality, so it should not be this good. But it really is. I loved every minute at the wheel in every kind of road. Even the school run was fun at 30 to 40km/h.

Because the rally car is built around a spaceframe chassis (and not a monocoque like the road version), there is actually very little to connect them both, but that doesn’t stop the Puma ST’s driver from summoning his inner racing driver at times. The Ford is so good, it feels it has earned the right to be compared to the racing Puma competing in the World Rally Championship.

It’s not a very beautiful car, but it is aggressive, purposeful and the low ride height gives it a ‘in-your-face’ stance that adds a welcome air of sportiness. It should definitely be specified in a bright colour, like green, red or blue – this is not a car to go by unnoticed after all.

Inside, I have to emphasize the wonderful seats and the excellent driving position, which is more sports car than SUV. Materials are what you expect, and Ford’s infotainment is getting better and getting more intuitive and easy to use.

Prices start at €36,338, but I know Ford may give you back some change if you haggle a little bit. Use it on petrol and enjoy the Puma ST while such cars can be enjoyed.

By Guilherme Marques