It's no secret that the fast SUV is a lucrative new arena for car makers, though the very smallest sector still isn't bursting with choice - this despite the first Juke NISMO having been launched in 2013. There isn't a Cupra Arona, an HR-V Type R or a Crossland X GSI, for example. But there is now, after much testing and teasing, a Puma ST. So don't be surprised to see many more follow Ford into the sector in the coming months - starting with Hyundai's Kona N, of course...
As for the Ford, much is as we'd anticipated in that lots of the Fiesta ST's good bits have been carried over. The Puma uses the same 200hp, 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo as found in the hatch, as well as the six-speed manual. There's even the same option of the Performance Pack, bringing the Quaife LSD and launch control, for £950. Actual performance has taken a hit though, given the Puma's inevitable (but also unpublished) weight gain over the Fiesta: 0-62mph takes 6.7 seconds (two tenths from the hatch) and the top speed is 137mph, against 144mph from before.
There are further commonalities between Fiesta and Puma elsewhere, the new car carrying over Ford's patented force vectoring springs, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and twin-tube, frequency reactive dampers. Naturally, however, a few tweaks have been made to accommodate for the Puma's differences, including bespoke bump stops and a rear twist beam that's 40 per cent stiffer than even the one in a Fiesta ST. There's a 28mm rear anti roll bar, and a 24mm one up front, as well as an 11.4:1 steering ratio - almost 25 per cent faster than the standard Puma. Ford describes the ST's turn-in response as "exceptional", which is a bold claim; if anything, some recent fast Fords have felt too immediate off the straight ahead, so we'll see how that characteristic manifests itself in a taller, heavier car. Braking is by 325mm front discs, 271mm at the rear.
For the first time in a Ford Performance vehicle, the Puma ST features an 'Eco' driving mode, alongside the usual Normal, Sport and Track. Similarly, the ESC features fully on, "wide slip mode with limited intervention" and fully off. A fast Ford fondness for oversteer is well known, so let's hope that tradition continues into the Puma.
Like the Fiesta (again), the Puma gets a recognisable ST makeover inside and out. Note the 19-inch wheels, ST-specific front splitter, chunky rear spoiler and new diffuser. Naturally, badges abound, and the Mean Green paint is unique to this mode; Agate Black, Magnetic, Frozen White, Fantastic Red and Desert Island Blue are also offered. Inside the trademark heavily bolstered seats are there for driver and passenger, along with ST steering wheel and gearknob.
Given the success of both the Fiesta ST and the standard Puma, a lot is expected of this car - whether you're fully behind the concept or not. Ford suggests it is "practical and refined with head turning SUV proportions, but able to deliver hot hatchback thrills." The Puma ST costs £28,495, which looks a lot given the Fiesta launched at £18,995 little more than two years ago. Still, who'd bet against the Puma ST proving popular with those growing out of a Fiesta? Expect them on the road soon.
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