Ford Puma ST: Performance Puma ready to pounce
THE burgeoning ranks of small SUVs got a notable newcomer this year when Ford launched its Puma.
Essentially a jacked-up Fiesta, the Puma immediately sprang to the front of the class as one of the best of the current crossover crop.
Ford doesn't just know its way around family cars, of course. It also has a knack for sparkling hot hatches.
A fast Puma was an inevitability, then, not least because the hot Fiesta - called the ST - is one of the best pound-for-pound performance cars on sale today.
And here it is - the Puma ST. It should be a strong proposition - the agility and speed of a Fiesta ST with the extra space and higher driving position of the Puma.
The Puma ST uses the same three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine found in its Fiesta ST counterpart.
It produces 197bhp and 236lb ft, though feels even brawnier. This translates to a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed potential of 137mph.
A sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox is your only choice - no hardship - and the ST is front-wheel-drive. A limited-slip differential can be added as an optional extra for enhanced cornering ability.
Ford says the car will do 40.9mpg on the combined cycle, while CO2 emissions are rated at 155g/km.
Even though the Puma has been designed to be a little higher than the Fiesta, in outright terms it's not one of the taller crossovers.
Regular Puma models are very nice to drive and provide a strong platform for the performance version.
Ford has revised the ST's suspension, meaning it corners keenly and manages its performance extremely well, going around bends with tenacity and enthusiasm; the trade-off is a ride that is a touch on the firm side at lower speeds.
The Puma is already a handsome little thing, and wears its sporty ST styling treatment well.
A new grille, beefier arches and a twin-outlet exhaust at the back signify the car's performance intent.
It's subtle enough, unless you specify the ST-only Kermit the Frog green paint which is, erm, head-turning. More restrained shades are available...
Ford has revised the Puma ST's suspension, meaning it corners keenly and manages its performance extremely well, going around bends with tenacity and enthusiasm; the trade-off is a ride that is a touch on the firm side at lower speeds
Inside, in true fast Ford tradition, are large and comfy Recaro bucket seats and a steering wheel with shortcut buttons to your favoured drive modes.
It's obviously a small enough car - space in the back isn’t palatial - but children won't have anything much to complain about.
The Puma's 'MegaBox' remains in the boot, though. It's a deep well of additional storage under the boot floor, and because it's lined with waterproof material and incorporates a drain, can it be used to store things like muddy wellies without messing up the rest of the boot. There's no spare wheel, though.
All Puma ST models boast a good level of standard equipment. It comes with Ford's latest infotainment system which incorporates satellite and media functions, as well as Apple CarPlay for enhanced smartphone connectivity.
The ST also benefits from a new digital display ahead of the driver, replacing the traditional dials.
It's configurable too, while a new sport mode transforms the screen into a red hive of activity, further highlighting the ST's dynamic intent.
And whereas the Fiesta is available with a series of alloy wheel size choices, with the Puma there are just one - 19 inches, which is large for a car of this size.
A performance crossover might not be the enthusiast's first choice, but there's no doubt they are here to stay.
But if you must have a high-riding junior performance car, the Puma ST won't disappoint.
As a slightly more practical family-friendly option, the Puma ST will likely appeal to those who want a bit of performance as they face their daily duties. It isn't the cheapest, though - prices start at £28,495.
But the Puma is a well-resolved proposition, and shows Ford is maintaining its commitment to the ST badge by ensuring that the Puma steers, drives and performs as a true ST should. It's another fast Ford hit.