► The Puma crossover gets the ST treatment
► Fiesta ST-matching 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds
► Is it worthy of the ST badge?
The RS nameplate might have the allure, but Ford Performance’s finest work wears the ST logo. A sweet-spot of practicality, budget and all-out performance, the ST badge has spawned the relentlessly-rounded Focus ST and Fiesta ST – the latter being one of the most tactile superminis you can buy in 2020.
Now it’s the Puma crossover’s turn to go ST. Based on the Fiesta platform, but pumped-up to fit in a small family with ease, the Puma ST could have the Fiesta’s fizz – or end a bit flat. It starts off badly; the Puma might share DNA with the Fiesta, but it doesn’t have the universal appeal of the inoffensive-looking hatchback.
Bug-eyed from the front but smart from the rear, the Puma's mismatched looks betray its ‘Fiesta-on-stilts’ skeleton. Of course, there are ST-specific add-ons: there’s a diffuser at the rear, Pilot Sport-wrapped 19-inch alloys and extra dollops of extra gloss black – but to my eyes at least, this is a lipstick and pig situation.
However, the hotter Puma’s cabin provides the first signs of ST magic. It starts with Recaro seats carried over from the Fiesta, that lock your lower torso into position – suggesting this Puma can pull some Gs without massively understeering.
But the control weights and driving position are only half the equation; the powertrain and chassis carried over from the Fiesta ST have been tweaked perfectly for the crossover’s extra heft.
How has the powertrain changed?
The 1.5-litre turbo from the Fiesta is back and power is unchanged at 197bhp to the front wheels – albeit 46bhp more than the next most powerful Puma – but Ford has squeezed more torque from the three-cylinder. It’s up from 214lbft to 236lb ft, and it helps the Puma ST match the Fiesta’s 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds – not bad for a car nigh on 100kg heavier. For reference, that’s just one second behind a Focus ST...
Get the Puma ST on some twisty roads, and crucially there’s very little compromise there either. Thanks to tweaks by Ford engineers, the Puma ST does a good job of masking its extra weight from the driver in every phase of the corner.
The Puma ST wears discs 17% larger than the standard car to cope with the extra speed, and they allow a decent amount of modulation, too.
Steering is quick and direct thanks to a rack 25% faster than standard the Puma’s and it makes the Puma ST far easier to tuck to the line you want. Add 50% stiffer rear twist beams coupled with new anti-roll bars, and the Puma ST is surprisingly flat in the corners. And because all these solutions are passive and mechanical, their response is incredibly predictably and intuitive.
After you adjust your line with the tactile steering rack, the Puma can drag itself out the other side, with a mechanical LSD and torque-vectoring removing any torque steer from the equation.
Working in parallel to this is the Puma ST’s six-speed manual box. Slightly notchier than the Fiesta ST’s but arguably more reassuring to use, it’s more than up to the job. Of course, there’s no rev-matching here like the Focus ST, but pedal placement makes heel-and-toeing possible should you see fit.
Of course, the Puma ST does take a more mature and decisively softer approach in some areas. Regardless of the driving mode you’re in, softer springs make cruising speeds more comfortable, whilst still providing ample feedback on the road surface. It’s arguably a straight improvement over the Fiesta ST’s skateboard-like chassis.
The extra weight and higher CofG doesn’t just disappear; it’s noticeable when you put the car on more extreme loads – but the Puma ST isn’t about defying physics Bentley-style – more giving you intuitive, mechanical tools to cope with it.
The market is awash with SUV coupes and sporty crossovers, so it’s easy to be skeptical of the Puma ST. The use of the Puma name is still questionable, but the ST badge is certainly not.
By carrying over a working formula – and making a few key changes – Ford has largely recreated the magic of one of its most highly acclaimed superminis – in a 100kg heavier crossover.
The whole car feels just as pliable and adjustable as the supermini on which its based; from the seating position which simply feels a little higher than the Fiesta’s – to the powertrain, which actually improves on the superminis. The result is an unlikely all-rounder.