There are few works of automotive design as sensitive to colour, light and angle as the new Ford Puma. A swoopy, wide-stanced urban crossover that sits on an extended Fiesta supermini platform, the Puma takes on the might of the Renault Captur and its ilk. In the right moment it can look truly sleek and lovely, but moments later – and from a minutely different angle – you’ll be reminded of nothing more than the shocked gawp of a freshly clubbed fish.
Divisive styling is no bad thing, though; many people consider the old Nissan Juke (which arguably started this big-selling small SUV class) nothing short of gargoyle-like, yet it’s been a perennial best-seller in the UK.
Regardless of whether you think the styling is stunning or shocking, the Puma has masses going for it in all the areas that count, including efficiency and practicality.
From launch it’s offered only with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder mild-hybrid petrol engine in either 123bhp or 153bhp guises. Don’t worry about this; a mild hybrid has no plugs or cables – you drive this car just like any regular petrol or diesel model.
The system uses what’s effectively a high-tech alternator that harvests excess energy naturally created by the car’s forward momentum when you lift off the accelerator or touch the brakes, storing it in a lithium-ion battery pack. The same alternator can then use this stored power to deliver an extra 50Nm of torque as you pull away from a standstill, reducing strain on the engine.
That’s not all of the Puma’s fuel-saving party tricks, either. This new EcoBoost powertrain will shut off one of its three cylinders when it’s not needed, to further improve fuel efficiency. The result is CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km regardless of which version you go for. The Puma will return up to 51.4mpg – or 50.4mpg with the bigger wheels and more powerful engine.
If that’s still not good enough, a diesel option arrives later this year, as does a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox that will complement the standard six-speed manual on the petrol engine.
Given we are already overflowing with enthusiasm for the way the Fiesta drives, and with misty-eyed fondness for the nineties coupé that is this car’s namesake, we have high hopes for the new Puma.
Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint. We drove the ST-Line X model, which has sports suspension as standard. This includes a stiffer torsion-beam rear axle and tweaked damper settings, as well as 18-inch alloy wheels. But the ride height isn’t altered over the standard models that, sadly, we didn’t have an opportunity to try.
The Puma has a fluid, sure-footed feel that only Ford seems to be able to manage in the mainstream family-car classes, turning in keenly without feeling nervous, and keeping its body neatly tied down. Sport mode ups the throttle response and steering weight, but, honestly, in any setting the Puma is just a real pleasure to drive – it’s more fun than you’d expect of a small SUV. On this evidence, the performance ST model in the pipeline promises to be very good.
The ride is a touch firm, if well controlled, and tyre noise is rather noticeable at high speeds on the 18-inch wheels. But even so, the Puma feels comfortable and composed despite the real flair for entertainment.
Better news is that this Puma’s deftness and sleek silhouette haven’t compromised practicality. You’ll get two lanky teens in the back seats fairly easily, while the 456-litre boot is, for some context, usefully larger than you get in a Ford Focus, if not quite what you’ll find in a Citroen C3 Aircross.
The boot space is versatile, too, with squared-off sides and an adjustable-height floor that hides a deep storage area that’ll easily swallow a cabin bag; as well as a removable plastic lining you can hose out. Simple stuff, but the kind of thing that makes muddy or bag-heavy lives a lot easier.
Up front is an eight-inch touchscreen that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and sat-nav. It’s not the quickest display to respond, but it’s easy to use and there are wireless phone charging and two USB inputs to keep your devices topped up, too.
A decent driving position delivers a happy compromise between a traditional hatchback set-up and a high-set SUV feel, although the raked A-pillars and tapering windowline can make for some big blind spots. The 180-degree reversing camera – fitted to all three First Edition trims, and part of a Driver Assistance pack (£900) that also includes adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist on the standard range – will be handy in a tight spot.
Otherwise, even the entry-level Titanium gets automatic lights and wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a massage seat function, rear parking sensors, lane-keep assist and autonomous emergency braking. However, you have to step up to ST-Line to get the full digital driver’s display and beefier-looking ST styling pack, while top-spec ST-Line X is the only trim to come with climate control and part-leather trim, as well as the sportier suspension set-up.
It’s a shame that LED headlights are only optional on all the standard trim lines, but with prices ranging from just under £21,000 up to £23k, the new Puma is competitive on purchase and running costs.