With the growth of small crossovers showing no sign of slowing, Ford has moved to get more competitive with the resurrection of an old nameplate
On the road
On the road
The UK’s dominant manufacturer is finally getting competitive in the big growth area of the market.
The Ecosport model that has until now been Ford’s only representation has never been any more than a quirky and slightly left-field alternative to the better and bigger-selling small crossovers such as the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur, but the new Puma is a very different story.
Ignoring what could be seen as a slightly odd choice of name, given it was previously used on a small coupe, Ford is keen for the car to be seen as more than an SUV version of a Fiesta: the Puma is 54mm higher, 146mm longer and 71mm wider. It also has a boot that’s 164 litres larger, and also much, much cleverer in design, which we will come to later.
Ford has also ensured the Puma has its own styling, rather than sitting too closely to its regular hatchback sibling, a criticism that can be levelled at one or two B-SUV crossover models. The looks work much better in the metal than in pictures, and the protruding front wings in particular add an air of individuality, although the gaping front grille is a little too wide on such a small car, and draws comparisons with Kia’s Sportage rather than other members of the Ford family. In fact, the individual styling compared to the rest of Ford’s range makes the Puma less identifiable as one of the brand’s cars; indeed, it’s possible to draw comparisons with Alfa Romeo among others, which is probably more compliment than criticism. Overall it’s a smart-looking little car that brings something new to the segment, although brighter colours seem to work better than the Grey Matter shade of our test car.
Ford has stuck to a pretty simple launch line-up, with the car only starting in a Titanium specification level that has traditionally been towards the top of the range. The trims then run through ST-Line to ST-Line X, although there will be a top ST-Line X Vignale spec coming later, the first time the sporty ST-Line and plush Vignale approaches have been blended on a single vehicle.
That high-spec approach is why the Puma doesn’t even kick off until you’re over the £20,000 mark, but all cars are well kitted-out, with even the so-called entry Titanium trim getting 17-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, wireless phone charging, climate control and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as satellite-navigation and the Ford Pass Connect system.
But visually it definitely benefits from the step up to ST-Line trim, which adds sporting visual adornments including the ST-Line bodykit and interior red stitching, as well as the 12.3-inch digital dashboard, although it’s worth noting that despite the £950 step up in list price, the ST-Line loses the climate control system that’s fitted to the cheaper Titanium model.
The top ST-Line X costs up to another £1100 depending on engine, and brings 18-inch alloys, part-leather trim and privacy glass, as well as restoring climate control. There are also more expensive short-term First Edition models of all three trims with a range of additional kit.
Although a diesel and an automatic will soon be added to the range, currently there are three engine alternatives, all coming from Ford’s 1.0-litre Ecoboost. The most powerful is the 155hp version, which costs a minimum of £700 more than the 125hp version. Both these cars are early beneficiaries of Ford’s new mild hybrid system, and the brand is also offering a 125hp car without the mild hybrid tech. It’s £300 cheaper, but loses the small amount of electrical assisted performance – adding 0.2sec to the 9.8-second 0-62mph acceleration time and coming in 2.7mpg less efficient, having a 7g/km and one BiK band effect on the CO2 emissions figure.
Although the extra power of the 155hp model is nice, the 125hp mild hybrid Puma offers plenty of pace, so the reduced cost and slight efficiency benefit make it the best choice.
The cabin earns similar opinions to those in the Fiesta and Focus models launched in the past couple of years, where it’s generally well laid out and has some nice material quality, but is let down in places you see and regularly touch by poorer-quality plastics, especially the lower half of the dashboard and the door panels. The cabin doesn’t look as characterful as most rivals’, although the red stitching of the ST-Line models makes a big difference. Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system works well, unless you plug a phone into a USB port, at which point you seem to lose all ability to use anything other than Apple CarPlay (and presumably Android Auto). Even if you want to use the car’s navigation system, it’s beyond the wit of the system to cope with that command, which is a regular Ford complaint. The steering wheel is also cluttered with small buttons – 18 of them in total – but the seats are pleasantly comfortable.
The rear seats are just about OK for legroom, and headroom is adequate, apart from the fact that the rear passengers’ eyeline is level with the door pillar rather than the window. It’s also a shame that the rear seats don’t slide to create either more rear legroom or additional bootspace, although the boot is clever enough in a series of other ways to let that one slide.
Ford is pleased enough with its luggage area innovation to give it the emphatic name of MegaBox. Under the boot floor is a deep 80-litre strengthened plastic area large enough to sit two golf bags upright in the boot. It’s also got a plug in the bottom, so can be hosed off once it has housed muddy boots or other messy items. It’s one of those clever innovations that leaves you questioning why it’s only now been implemented, although the modern status of cars not having a spare wheel certainly plays a large part in being able to implement such an innovation.
But the boot is clever in other ways too, with the floor switching between two levels as well as sitting upright against the rear seats to access the MegaBox. It’s not an unwieldy movement, and can be undertaken one-handed, where some competitors require too much time and effort, due to their clumsy layouts and the design of their heavier moveable floors.
The parcel shelf is also different, being a flexible canvas arrangement fixed to the tailgate, which means it’s right out of the way for reaching into the boot, especially useful for transporting larger loads with the rear seats down, but it still covers luggage from prying eyes.
Ford’s reputation for fine-handling cars remains intact with the Puma, which stands out in a class hitherto devoid of a car that’s truly enjoyable to drive. It feels more sprightly and nimble than its main competitors, helped by slick gearchange feel and the chunky steering wheel of the ST-Line trim level. Ride quality suffers a very small amount on the ST-Line’s standard sports suspension, but it’s certainly nothing to complain about and is well worth the payoff for the sharper handling. The hybrid gauge on the dashboard is also a handy little tool to emphasise what this relatively new technology is doing to help efficiency.
Ford has largely nailed its real entry into this popular and massively growing small crossover segment, and the Puma is light years ahead of the frankly poor Ecosport. The new model is very efficient, has great residual values, looks good, is well-equipped, drives nicely and has clever innovations, such as the MegaBox feature that drivers will find plenty of different uses for to suit their lifestyles.
It all adds up to a resounding success of a new car that satisfies head, heart and balance sheet.
Ford has previous for this sort of name recycling, and the Puma nameplate will be familiar to lovers of handy-handling Ford coupes of the late 1990s (pictured). The first resurrection was with the Cougar/Kuga, which morphed from coupe to SUV, albeit with different spelling.
But now the Ford Puma is back as a baby crossover, sitting below the Kuga and alongside the Ecosport, for the “foreseeable future”.
Unlike the Ecosport, the Puma is aimed right at the heart of the B-SUV segment, a competitive crossover that the brand expects will slot into its range behind the huge-selling Fiesta and Focus models in volume terms, and somewhere close to the Kuga, which is itself shortly to be replaced by an all-new third-generation model.
Ford is yet to confirm any electrification of its new small crossover above its mild-hybrid tech, with plug-in developments for the Ford brand focused on the PHEV version of the Kuga and LCV and passenger versions of the Transit Custom, plus the Mustang Mach-e electric vehicle coming in early 2021.
Ford is targeting the Nissan Juke and Volkswagen T-Cross as core rivals in what is an increasingly crowded sector flooded with new arrivals.
What they said
What They Said
“Fleets are welcoming Puma’s style, dynamic strength and efficiency, plus interior practicality – all unleashed into the fastest growing sector of the car market.
Puma blends practicality with pace and fuel-efficiency.
Driver-assistance technologies such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist, and Evasive-Steering Assist are reassuring, while massage seats, B&O sounds and Ford Pass Connect modem delight their drivers.
All marvel at the 456-litre “MegaBox” boot with plug hole – ideal for dirty boots and dogs, or to use as a mobile ice bucket come the summer!"
Neil Wilson, fleet director, Ford of Britain
Need to know
Three things we like...
The clever MegaBox boot gives real flexibility to the load area…
…while the two-level boot floor itself is more user-friendly than most
Distinctive look with pronounced wings works well, although the grille is big
...And one we don't
You can’t charge a phone and use the sat-nav at the same time - it switches to CarPlay
The Puma is another successful example of Ford’s ability to produce cars that are among the finest-handling in their sector.
Great efficiency and economy, thanks to the mild hybrid system, but even the unassisted car beats rivals’ best figures.
The clever boot adds an extra air of practicality, while the boot floor is easily adjusted between positions. Rear passenger space is adequate, as is cabin stowage.
Starting with the Titanium trim level means that equipment is pretty good. The move up to ST-Line is mainly cosmetic.
The little crossover is distinctive enough to turn heads, and the protruding arches look good. The grille is a touch big though.
Comfort and refinement 7/10
The ride is on the harder side thanks to the ST-Line level’s sports suspension, but not bad given the agility. Refinement is fine most of the time, but it becomes loud if you push on.
There’s a mixed bag with harder plastics evident on the bottom half of the interior. The cabin isn’t as characterful as some rivals’, although the red stitching is nice.
It’s odd that Ford’s system won’t let you use the car’s own nav if a phone is plugged in. It’s otherwise fine, rather than outstanding.
Whole life costs 9/10
Great efficiency and a very decent RV make for a good basis.
CCT opinion 9/10
In an open sector, Ford has pushed itself up with the best.
No matter what you think of the name, or to some extent the looks, the Puma is a great little car underneath - fine-handling, practical and very efficient.