First Drive: Ford Puma

Remember the sporty Ford Puma coupe, so beloved of driving enthusiasts and still enjoying a substantial following more than 20 years on from its introduction? Well, this isn’t a replacement for it.

That said, while the new Puma has morphed into an on-trend SUV, Ford has worked hard to ensure that it drives with the verve you would expect from something bearing the Puma name.

But still, it’s an SUV and they’ve been done to death recently. There’s little that is new, with iterative improvements from one model to the next. At least until the Puma tuned up with its party trick; an innovation that will make a real difference to real people in their real lives.

It’s a box.

There’s a little more to it than that, but Ford has cut a hole in the boot floor of the Puma, slotted a plastic box in there, and called it the Megabox. It adds 80 litres of luggage capacity to the boot, but it’s what that luggage can be that sets it apart; it’s so deep that you can stand a couple of bags of golf clubs upright, or some plants or very small trees. You could throw muddy boots and clothes in there after a country walk. And if the dog is muddy, throw them in there, too – it’s waterproof and has a plug, so you can wash Fido down without getting anything else mucky,

But yes, it’s still just a box.

Ford Puma boot box Megabox

Let’s ignore the box and take a look at the rest of the car. As with many small SUVs, the design could be described as divisive. It works for me, but others have been unkind about the front end. Still, few people had anything kind to say about the original Nissan Juke and that went on to sell by the boatload. I have a suspicion that Ford can look forward to even greater sales success…

There’s a little 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine under that high bonnet, with a very mild-hybrid system bolted on to it. That results in 155hp on this ST-Line X model, but there’s also a cheaper 125hp option to choose from. Each promises around 50mpg, and each offers lower than 140g/km of CO2 emissions, so preferences should come down to cost and performance – the 0-62mph time of 9.0 seconds for the 155hp model isn’t too shabby, but you only give away another 0.8 seconds by opting for the cheaper version.

Ford Puma rear

Venture to the wilderness and the SUV part of the car is left wanting – there’s no four-wheel drive, no off-road modes, and no all-weather tyres. This is a car for the road then, and all the better for it; Ford’s engineers have managed to pick up the Firsta’s keen handling, a car on which the Puma is based, and kept much of the fun despite the raised ride height. It turns in well, controls body roll well, stops sharply, and reacts as you would expect.

There are Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres fitted that offer astonishing grip in the dry, but on a very cold and damp road, the Puma can give an unwelcome surprise as the rear can slide wide if you back off the throttle sharply. While fun in a controlled environment, it’s not ideal on public roads. Fortunately, the computers soon gather it all up and return you to the straight and narrow.

Ford Puma dashboard

There’s usually a penalty paid in ride quality for such handling prowess, but the Puma is comfortable enough. Yes, it’s a little stiffly sprung, and the low-profile tyres and 18-inch wheels certainly impact it marginally, but nobody will feel it’s too hard. The smaller-wheeled Titanium model is marginally softer, but there’s not much in it.

Driving dynamics just about hold up to the Puma name then, but what about the SUV side of things? A bulky box of a car, even if the Puma is just 14cm longer than a Fiesta, needs to be a practical machine. Fortunately, the Puma’s got that covered.

The cabin itself is spacious enough, if functional rather than exciting, with a suitable amount of elbow, leg, knee and headroom. That is until you get a panoramic sunroof, as that cuts into the height available enough to upset a six-footer.

Equipment levels are high, although that’s because Ford is starting the range at the high-spec Titanium level, but it leaves very little to choose from the options list. It’s even fitted a long list of safety gear to the car as well, with a reassuring five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.

Ford Puma

Ford has gone to great lengths to banish thoughts of the old Puma and succeeded in doing so – at least until I just raised it again. Despite a handful of niggles, such as it’s slightly alarming oversteer tendency, the Puma races straight to the top of its class. It’s not head and shoulders above, but is at least an even match for rivals such as the Nissan Juke, SEAT Arona and even Renault Captur.

But the Puma surpasses them all with an invigorating drive and, more importantly, a large empty box. It’s odd to get excited about what amounts to a hollow plastic cube in the boot, but useful innovations are few and far between these days. The Puma is good enough to have not needed a talking point, but you’re still going to want to show everybody your box.

Model tested: Ford Puma ST-Line X 1.0L EcoBoost mHEV 155PS

Price£24,820Monthly PCP*£339
Range£22,040-£29,445Official economy49.6 mpg
Top speed122 mphRoad test economyN/A
0-62 mph9.0 secsCO2 emissions128 g/km
Power155 hpCar tax£150
Torque240 NmBIK28%
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36-month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.

Phil is a part-time car hoarder and full-time automotive writer for print and web. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and an MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, Which? and Regit Cars.