Like a postponed birthday party, this Puma is worth the wait

Excellent drive: the new Ford Puma Compact Crossover

Eddie Cunningham

Motoring at the moment is a bit like a birthday party that has been postponed at the last minute. All the fuss and anticipation is undermined when fate intervenes and confines the celebrant to bed.

Ford must have a particularly nasty case of the birthday blues considering the high hopes they had for their new small crossover, the Puma. God knows we've waited long enough for a decent compact SUV from them. I won't say much about the dreadful option they've had until now, the EcoSport. It still clings to a rung in the range, but the phrase "chalk and cheese" doesn't do justice to the difference between that model and the Puma. I've been driving Fords, on and off, since the early 70s and even my old petrol-addict Cortinas had more going for them than the EcoSport.

It must be all the more galling for Ford to have the new Puma and have nobody able to buy one as things stand. It's a tasty piece of quality, though not without its blemishes.

My drive in the review car for the week was short-lived as I deemed it far more important that it go to frontline staff fighting the coronavirus. I was lucky to have driven different models of it at the Irish launch and extensively abroad.

I don't have to tell you how popular these little SUVs/crossovers have grown to be. More than 20 different models adorn the segment; nearly every carmaker has one. Models include the Hyundai Kona, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Volkswagen T-Cross and so on.

If a brand doesn't have one, it stands to miss out on a large chunk of business. By the same token, many motorists feel if they don't have one, they are missing something too. It is one of the most virulent cases of 'copycars' I've seen for a long time.

The Puma is a bit different than most, though. For starters it looks especially sharp; important in a segment that mixes cars of creative styling with those of dull disposition.

It is not, however, as imaginative inside as some of its opponents. That said, the large dash doesn't overwhelm and I was grateful for the substantial and clear instrumentation. The cabin materials' plastics were of a decent, consistent standard.

Driving it conveyed that great, involving, enjoyable, want-to-drive-again-soon sense of being at the wheel of something that benefits from a new steering system, tweaked shocks and retuned suspension. You can further tweak response via several driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Slippery and Trail (gravel) - all standard. A note of caution, however: wheel choice is important. The 18ins on the test car in Dublin didn't suit that well for ride comfort.

The Puma is not blessed with capacious rear-seat room, especially for those of you 6ft or more. I get the odd complaint asking why I criticise sparse rear-room when the seats are most likely to be occupied by children. There are two main reasons: you need a bit of room if fitting a child into a car-seat and lots of occupants are young six-footers.

But I don't want to dwell on the negatives. I'd like to emphasise how good it was to drive and be in. It packs a lot into its not-quite 4.2m-long body. Based on the Fiesta, it is 54mm higher, 146mm longer and 71mm wider than the supermini hatch.

The 1-litre petrol model was lively and responded well but I can guarantee you, it won't do the 5.4-litres/100km they claim it can achieve. These small turbo petrols are great around town; but they rev highly on the open road and consumption can fade significantly.

There's a mild-hybrid system; people think that makes it a hybrid. It's nothing more than a 48v battery being used to boost the engine and cater for air con while adding pulling power etc.

Then there is the boot. Not just any boot, but one with a MegaBox. As its name implies, this is a large 'box' under the normal boot floor that contributes to a total luggage area of 402 litres, which will extend to 456 litres in future models.

Finally, there is a Local Hazard system as standard. This warns of unseen dangers ahead such as an accident around the corner or spillage from a lorry. It's a wonderful idea and reduces the likelihood of an accident.

So would I buy a Puma? I would for sure. But it's not my birthday. Yet.

Facts & Figures

Ford Puma Crossover:

From €24,465; 1-litre 3cyl 125PS mild-hybrid petrol, 6spd manual, 127g/km, €270 tax. Entry-level Titanium spec adds Local Hazard system, pre-collision assist, 17in alloys, electronic a/c, cruise control, auto high beam, 8in SYNC, wireless charging. ST-Line adds 12.3in digital cluster, exhaust/body kit. ST-Line X adds SYNC Gen 3 (8in t/screen), 18in alloys, part leather sport trim.