Following on from the impressive standard model, the Ford Puma ST adds some performance spice to the compact crossover segment. Borrowing its engine from the phenomenally good Fiesta ST, Ford's latest crossover hopes to replicate the magic of its junior hot hatch sibling.
In the metal
The Ford Puma has quite a distinctive look, especially when looking at it head-on, and even with the performance addenda that the ST designation brings, it's hard not to miss that cute face staring at you. Turbo hisses and wastegate whistles never looked so adorable.
You could already have a sporty looking Puma ST-Line, but this full-fat performance model gains added visual tweaks. The lower front bumper inserts have a gloss black finish around the fog lights to add to the car's perceptive width and, naturally, there's a large ST badge on the somewhat open honeycomb grille. A splitter with Ford Performance branding juts out from the front bumper to give the Puma a sportier chin, too.
The Puma ST sits on 19-inch alloy wheels, the largest standard wheel on any Puma, wrapped in effective Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. The red brake calipers that peek out from behind the Y-shaped spokes serve as another sign of this five-door's sporty nature. It gets better around the back where, like the Fiesta ST, there is a dual exhaust setup that sounds as purposeful as it looks.
Along with a bespoke rear diffuser, the roof and matching rear spoiler get a contrasting black finish. Other design touches include an ST projection from the door mirrors when you unlock the car at night and the LED signature headlights.
Greeting you as you open the door is a Ford Performance kick plate on the sill, but that's nothing compared to the firm figure-hugging Recaro sports seats in the front. If you're of a larger frame, you may want to try before you buy, as the side bolstering and firm base don't prioritise comfort.
Aside from those seats, the rest of the cabin is as you will find in the ST-Line models, save for an extra ST badge on the flat-bottomed steering wheel, which also includes handy shortcut buttons for the drive modes. A free-standing touchscreen display is within easy reach, and there's a USB-A port on the base of the centre console.
The flurry of revs and burble from the exhaust after you thumb the engine-start button serves as a reminder that this Puma is ready for fun. The turbocharged three-cylinder engine under the bonnet produces the same 200hp as in the Fiesta ST. A variation of the Fiesta's chassis underpins the Puma, but a lot of work has gone into making this 'feel' more like an ST model.
To that end, Ford's engineers have added substantially stiffer anti-roll bars to rein in the body roll that a high-riding crossover would typically have. In fairness, the standard Puma drives pretty sweetly, whereas the Puma ST is laterally far stiffer, almost to the point of being detrimental to the ride comfort. It's a confusing thing because the Puma is jacked up compared to the Fiesta and then is lowered back down for this ST version. Firmer springs and twin-tube frequency-reactive dampers from Hitachi feel a smidge too track-focused for the road.
The Quaife mechanical limited-slip differential that Ford offers for the Puma ST as part of the ST Performance Pack option helps exploit the engine's power. It makes the Puma ST somewhat unique in that no other crossover on the market currently offers such an option. Another part of that pack is launch control. This allows you to get the best possible getaway. Once activated through the menu system, it is always ready to detect a standing start scenario - no complicated button pressing routine required. It provides a simple indicator of the ST logo that 'fills up' as the revs reach their optimum level, and then it's a case of dumping the clutch and enjoying the Michelins scrabbling for traction as the Ford surges off the line. Your tyre life may diminish, but it's good fun!
The keener driver may want to switch to the Race Track mode in the right circumstances, as this automatically disengages the traction control. The stability control remains active but has broader slip parameters, and you can switch this off entirely through the menu system. The gear shift indicator along the top of the 12.3-inch display is a neat touch, so it's a pity that this only appears in this one mode.
As with the Fiesta ST, there is a lovely precise action to the six-speed manual gearbox. The combination of a sporty-sounding rev-happy engine and compact pedal arrangement making heel-and-toe shifts easy means you tend to play with the engine and transmission just for the sake of it.
While the larger 19-inch wheels that Ford fits as standard do fill up the arches nicely and look very smart, they will have you gripping the steering wheel a little more tightly, too, as it tends to snap back to dead centre far more vigorously than in other fast Fords. A quicker steering rack adds to the front end's rather pointed feel and, when attacking any winding road with a degree of surface undulation, will keep you busy wrestling with the thick-rimmed steering wheel.
It's in this scenario that the upper sides of your outer thighs begin to appreciate and understand why those Recaros are designed the way they are. The Puma ST does, at times, feel ragged. It behaves in a way that demands the entirety of your attention. This type of setup is what many say is lacking from the latest crop of hot hatches.
However, in this instance, Ford has overstepped the mark ever so slightly in my opinion. The Fiesta ST is a phenomenal car and as near to hot hatch perfection as we've come in the modern era. It's thoroughly engaging, the type of car that you never want to stop driving. Sadly, that hasn't translated across to the Puma ST to quite the same degree. It's fast and fun, sure, but just not as involving.
What you get for your money
There is only one specification grade for the Ford Puma ST, priced at €42,472. That is quite a jump from the other Puma models that start at €26,069. Chassis, engine and suspension tweaks aside, it does come with a lot of standard equipment. The Puma ST gets 19-inch alloy wheels, and there are two no-cost paint options. The Grey Matter colour of our test car costs €340, with other paint finishes ranging from €596 - to €1,277 for the Mean Green.
Standard features include keyless entry, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and front parking sensors. An optional Performance Pack (€1,191) adds the limited-slip differential, launch control function and shift light indicator. The Driver Assistance Pack costs €1,624 and adds autonomous emergency braking and a reversing camera.
Starting from what was already an engaging and sweet driving experience in the regular Ford Puma, the performance enhancements applied to the Puma ST are close to going too far in trying to make it deliver hot hatch thrills in a crossover body. Had Ford dialled it back a notch or two, this could be a better car, but as is the Puma ST is just that bit too firm for family life. Fast Ford enthusiasts that fancy a crossover, however, might like what they see.