Pity the new Ford Puma ST. Got a bloody tough job on its hands, this one. And that’s without having any decent rivals to speak of. There’s no VW T-Cross GTI, no such thing as a Cupra Arona, and Hyundai hasn’t quite got around to sprinkling the ‘N’ magic over a Kona yet.
Save for this new Ford, it’s pretty barren on the small hot crossover scene right now. Note to self – we need a better collective noun for these things.
No, the Puma ST’s problem is the enemy within. The Puma is, when all’s said and done, a Ford Fiesta wearing a puffer jacket and standing on tiptoes. That means this new 197bhp ultimate version is based on the greatest small hot hatch money can buy: the splendiferous Fiesta ST.
On the face of it, this 100kg heavier roly-poly offshoot stands to sully the ST bloodline like a chap turning up to have his Bullingdon Club photo taken dressed as the mascot for Queens Park Rangers.
‘Aha,’ says Ford, ‘we’ve thought of that.’ That’s why the Puma ST has a bespoke chassis set-up. The rear twist-beam is a massive 40 per cent stiffer than a Fiesta ST’s (and 50 per cent firmer than a regular Puma’s) to counteract its loftier mountings, while the dampers and anti-roll bars have all been tuned to keep the Fiesta’s famously chuckable handling intact at higher altitude.
Curiously, Ford says this has been achieved with no compromise to ride quality, which means we can expect a press release announcing the Ford Motor Company has officially trademarked magic any day now.
Other upgrades include bigger brakes, faster steering, and a £950 performance pack which lobs a limited-slip front diff between the front wheels. 19-inch wheels, natch, wrapped in stickier rubber. Clearly the budget’s been spent by the engineering department and not the styling haus – hardly the gnarliest-looking fast Ford ever, is it?
Behind the guppy-face grille lives an un-altered Fiesta ST engine. It’s a 1.5-litre triple-cylinder effort, delivering 197bhp and 320Nm to the front wheels. But, it’s bolted in with cushier engine mounts. The exhaust is 1dB quieter than a Fiesta ST at a cruise.
Perhaps the Puma ST isn’t trying to be quite the hooligan its little brother is. It’s grown up, learned some manners, and has a family in mind. There’s even a cylinder deactivation feature that shuts off fuelling to one cylinder when the car’s just pootling along. In fairness, the Fiesta ST does that too, but we’re always having far too much fun to activate it.
So, this 220kph two-storey hot hatch can hit 100kph in a rapid 6.7 seconds, but Ford also reckons you’ll get almost 6.9 litres/100km and emit 155g/km, which is less than a Mini JCW.
Inside, your backside is greeted by Recaro seats, while your hands grip an ST-spec, red-stitched steering wheel and gearknob. Manual shifting only here. Your eyes gaze upon a 12.3-inch digital instrument display with sportier graphics. And there’s a new Sport button, for cycling through the modes. What, you thought a new hot hatch was going to arrive in the year 2020 and not have modes?
The Puma ST offers Normal, Eco (told you it was sensible), Sport and Track settings, with the latter backing off the stability control, adding heft to the steering and turning up the exhaust backchat. It’s a Fisher-Price, lower price Porsche Macan, yours for £28,495.
It’s based on the best in the business. But the question remains: is this really the future shape of hot hatches?