Ford Motor Company are no stranger to performance having provided winning cars to the sport of rallying for longer than I have been around, they have also stamped their authority across the globe in various touring car championships.
As years have passed, the cars which we see and love in competition, are far removed from their road-legal counterparts which you and I could buy in your local showroom today.
Take the M-Sport Ford World Rally team’s Ford Puma World Rally Car as a prime example. Embracing all that we love about turbocharged petrol engines, and combining it with all-new hybrid technology, the latest generation cars are nothing short of mind-blowing.
Added to what is essentially a space frame chassis, and equipped with ultra-light body panels featuring girth and aero that make an 1980’s Group B car look somewhat normal, they are almost defying the laws of physics.
A few decades ago, we were very fortunate that the road going counterparts to the rally cars were incredibly similar. That changed at the turn of the millennium when it was unrealistic for most manufacturers to create a set number of four-wheel drive road cars, when such chassis simply did not exist.
Since then, with the exception of Toyota’s Yaris GR, performance road cars do nothing more than tip their hat to the motorsport heritage and pedigree of their maker. I’d guess that the Ford Puma ST you see pictured here is only able to share its headlights and taillights with its rally counterpart.
This does not detract, in any way, on what the current crop of road car offers.
Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for ‘Ford Performance’ existing thanks to their global motorsport antics, I wouldn’t even be able to write about this ‘Mean Green’ racing machine. As it simply would not exist.
Priced today from £24,145 a 1.0-litre mild hybrid petrol engined Ford Puma will certainly fulfil the needs of any school run, but it will not excite or engage in the slightest.
For that, you need the ‘ST’ model, which starts from £30,270 and includes key features such as 19-inch alloy wheels, fixed LED signature headlamps and LED rear lamps, power-foldable heated door mirrors with puddle lamps and Puma logo projection and rear privacy glass.
Also featured is a quickclear heated windscreen, unique ST body styling kit including contrast black roof, large rear spoiler and wing mirrors, plus Ford Performance embossed splitter and red brake calipers along with ST specific suspension.
A full digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster features behind the steering wheel and is complemented by a Ford SYNC 3 navigation unit with 8-inch touchscreen, B&O premium audio system, DAB radio, emergency assistance, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 2 x USB & 10 speakers with subwoofer.
Other features include keyless entry, electronic automatic temperature control, Ford Performance seats and partial Sensico with red stitching and lumbar adjust, heated front seats and steering wheel, automatic headlights with auto high beam and rain sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, pre collision assist with autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian / cyclist detection and post collision braking, cruise control and intelligent speed assist, as well as lane keeping aid and lane departure warning.
Summed-up by Ford, “All-new Puma ST delivers heart-pumping thrills and uncompromised practicality.”
I think they hit the nail on the head, having spent a full week with the car pictured.
Powered by a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol EcoBoost engine, the Puma ST produces 200ps which will see it from 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds. The use of launch control is of course a must, and a top speed of 137mph can be expected.
Selectable drive modes keep the Puma ST versatile. From a Track mode that configures the performance SUV for maximum fun-to-drive, to an Eco mode which is offered for the first time on an ST model. Between these you have a Normal mode and a Sport mode, giving you full control as to the cars characteristics and driving mannerisms.
Unless you intend on giving your Puma ST a serious amount of annual track-day abuse, I would avoid the optional Quaife limited-slip differential at all costs as it is simply too angry for normal daily driving.
Don’t get me wrong, when driven in anger, the LSD forces the MICHELIN Pilot Sport 4S tyres to bite harder than I could ever have imagined. But it’s just overkill for a road car.
“Real driving enthusiasts aren’t going to settle for less excitement just because life demands a more ‘sensible’ car, so our number one priority was that the Puma ST had to be as exhilarating and capable as every ST model, without sacrificing any of Puma’s practicality,” said Stefan Muenzinger, Ford Performance manager, Europe. “We believe that we have the best-handling small SUV in its segment. It really does feel connected and has the true ST feel. It is a joy to drive.”
I couldn’t agree more, as the Puma ST is nothing short of an absolute scream to drive on some of our more challenging back roads. There is a confident connection between man, machine and road. This is a quality slowly being dissolved by a sea of electric vehicles.
The Recaro seating inside is super comfortable and mega supportive. Leg and headroom upfront more than adequate, with the rear seating best suited to teenagers, although four adults could travel in reasonable comfort.
The biggest highlight for me was not the speed with which you can carry through a corner, nor getting airborne in places I never thought it possible. Nope, it was a practical feature known as the Ford MegaBox which came into its own when doing a run to the local charity shop.
Best-in-class uncompromised load space in the boot of 456-litres is added to with an 80-litre storage space beneath the floor. The Puma is actually capable of comfortably accommodating to golf bags in an upright position.
Proof that practical performance is a thing. I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this one!
Ford offer 3-year/60,000 mile warranty.
Words and Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY
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