2021 Ford Puma review
Our independent 2020 Ford Puma ST-Line and ST-Line V review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
Hey, remember the Ford EcoSport? No, of course you didn’t unless you’re one of the very small handful of people who bought one. Ford’s first attempt at the light SUV slipped beneath the waves last year after a valiant half-decade or so on sale. It did its best but it got swamped by more compelling products from Europe and Japan, struggling to find its place. Ford just never quite knew where it belonged or how to price or market it attractively.
It’s 2020 and in the madness of our heaving world, Ford has chucked a new compact SUV over the COVID-safe wall using the name of a car we’ve never had here (shakes fist at the sky) but also harking back to its styling. Built on the guts of one of the best cars on sale today – the Fiesta ST – the new Puma goes into battle rather better armed and prepared than the EcoSport.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
You can have a Puma, Puma ST-Line, or ST-Line V.
Starting – for the moment – at $31,990 drive away, the base Puma comes with 17-inch alloys, a seven-speaker stereo, sat nav, cloth trim, leather wheel and shifter, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, cruise control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, heated folding mirrors, remote central locking, keyless start tyre pressure sensors, wireless charging and a space-saver spare.
Stepping up to the ST-Line, you pay $33,990 and Ford expects most of you to choose this one. In addition to the entry level car you score a sportier look in the front end, fully digital dashboard, different 17-inch alloys, sports suspension and some red-stitching in the interior.
And right up at $36,990 driveaway is the ST-Line V (V is for Vignale rather than Vendetta. I know, I was disappointed too. That movie was hopeless). That scores you a B&O-branded 10-speaker stereo, keyless entry, leather interior, automatic climate control and electric tailgate (optional on the other two).
You can stump up another $2000 for the panoramic sunroof, $250 for black roof rails, $750 for the powered tailgate and $500 for a black roof. Prestige paint adds $650 and the only free colours are Blazer Blue, Race Red and Frozen White.
The $1500 Park Pack brings adaptive cruise Control with stop and go, evasive steer assistance, lane centering, auto parking, front parking sensors and blind spot detection. Seems like more of a Safety Pack to me, but I’m not in marketing so what the hell would I know?
You also get FordPass which means you can remotely start your Puma, find it when you’ve lost it and lock and unlock the doors.
It doesn’t look like fabulous value on the face of it, but once you see how much stuff you get and how much anything like this quality costs, it’s competitive. Not cheap, no, but it’s not trying to punch on with the Audi Q2 like Mazda is with the CX-30.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO OWN?
Ford’s competitive 5-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty comes with a four-year/60,000km fixed-price service package. Each of the first four services (up to four years) is $299 and you’ll need to drop it in once every 12 months or 15,000km.
Ford will sling you a loan car if you’ve remembered to book one and the unusual 2nd Car Program lets you “borrow” another Ford for up to two weeks for a $500 fee. That means you can get two weeks of a Transit or a Mustang. If the pricing is the same as EcoSport, you’ll pay another $150 when you book.
WHAT’S THE EXTERIOR LIKE?
As the Puma name suggests, this is a muscular, lithe looking thing (and you’re going to read that everywhere). It stands out from the compact SUV crowd with its chunky curves, funky lights and cool surfacing. All of these things were a hallmark of the original Puma, which was a much-loved Euro sports coupe.
There are some cute tricks, too – the puddle lights are huge prowling pumas and the digital dashboard flashes one at you when you start up. It’s not even slightly naff and looks fine on both 17s and 18s. The ST-Line pair do look better with the deeper front bumper and grille treatment.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
The interior is very Fiesta, which is to be expected and, largely, applauded. Front seat passengers get a good deal even when there’s a sunroof fitted, but really tall folks will need to mess around a bit to get comfortable. I was fine, obviously, and the seats were comfortable in both ST-Line and ST-Line V. I preferred the cloth for what it’s worth.
The back seats are, as the Fiesta underpinnings suggest, tight. As the roof heads down to meet the tailgate, if you’re my modest height of 180cm, your knees will be against the front seatback (not uncomfortably) but your head will brush the ceiling if you have a sunroof. I’m assuming that without the glass, there’s more headroom for over six-footers, but like the CX-3 and C-HR, you’re not lounging luxury. But it’s comfortable enough.
HOW SAFE IS THE PUMA?
Scoring the maximum five stars via ANCAP’s arrangement with EuroNCAP, the Puma has a good basic safety package. You get six airbags, the usual braking and stability assists, forward AEB (low-speed) with pedestrian detection, reversing camera, forward collision warning, auto high beam, speed sign recognition and road sign recognition.
You also get three top tether points and two ISOFIX anchors.
Pretty decent start. The Park Pack adds lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring as well as front parking sensors. It also throws in evasive steer assist which steers the car harder around danger if it thinks you’re not committed enough.
WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?
All Pumas have the same 8.0-inch screen with Ford’s SYNC3 media system. That means you also get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via USB along with a wireless charging pad that is a perfect fit for the larger-size phones even with a cover on.
The seven-speakers are fine but don’t expect excitement even from the 10-speaker system in the ST-Line V with the B&O branded speakers. My tinnitus-ey ears didn’t detect any significant differences.
SYNC3 is pretty easy to use and the hardware is quite snappy so you’re not struggling to make things happen. In addition to the usual AM/FM, you also get DAB.
WHAT IS THE STORAGE LIKE?
It’s not bad for such a small car. The boot is a huge 456 litres when you add together all of the space. The boot floor lifts to reveal a really big secondary…I’m going to call it a chamber, because it’s huge – and the spare is under the base of that. It’s simple but effective, some carmakers jack up the hatch platform but don’t use the extra height to deliver more boot space.
Otherwise you get a handy phone spot at the base of the centre stack, two cupholders and door pockets. Moving to the rear, you get small door pockets to put some small things.
WHAT ENGINES ARE AVAILABLE?
Just the one, a ready-to-rumble turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder. Power only goes to the front wheels through a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.
The engine delivers 92kW at 6000rpm and 172Nm between 1500rpm and 4500rpm.
WHAT ABOUT FUEL ECONOMY?
It’s an impressively high-tech engine, which is unusual in the class. Along with the turbo-charging it has cylinder deactivation to save fuel on the highway. The official combined cycle figure of 5.3L/100km seems almost achievable when I managed 6.1L/100km and 6.2L/100km in the ST-Line and ST-Line V.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Given I’ve already mentioned its underpinnings in the Fiesta platform, I was expecting good things from the Puma. Every European Ford I’ve driven over the past few years has been a superb thing to drive, whether it’s a performance ST version or an entry-level machine. The exception that proved the rule was the Focus Vignale, which we don’t get here, but that’s a story for another day.
And the Puma ST-Line continues the trend. Riding on the 17-inch wheels and with sportier suspension than the base car (which I haven’t yet driven), the expected best-seller is a lovely thing to drive around. Once you’re over the initial hesitation of the transmission, the 1.0-litre triple spins up good power to get you moving.
Once on the move, the wide torque band means you’re rarely in the wrong gear and it’s just perky enough in town. I was impressed by its motorway pulling power, too – I guess all those gears means it stays in the torque band – but it’s also really quiet.
The steering is really light but has enough feel to let you know what’s going on.
The ride is really supple on the ST-Line’s 17-inch wheels, with well-controlled body roll but plenty of grip. It’s no Fiesta ST (and Ford is telling us the Puma ST isn’t coming here – boo!) but like the ST-Line Focus, it’s fun without being hard to get on with.
The only real difference in the ST-Line V are the larger wheels. They do deliver a hit to the ride quality, making the Puma a bit fidgety on some surfaces, but no extra noise.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Starting at the bottom of the heap (but at or near the top of the sales charts) is the Mitsubishi ASX. Older than Methuselah but fond of facelifts, the Mitsubishi is bigger, cheaper, and feels like what it is – a car from another age. Lumpy ride and a terrible engine and gearbox combo, its saving grace is huge interior space and a low price of entry. It’s not very good, though.
Mazda’s CX-3 is ageing well but is getting older, spurned a bit in favour of the larger, pricier CX-30. It’s still a good car – light, nimble and attractive, you can also get it in FWD or AWD.
Nissan’s new Juke is greatly improved over the old one, retaining the same sort of funky, unique look but with much nicer technology and a roomier interior, but the drivetrain is a little ho-hum.
Toyota’s C-HR is a fine-looking thing but achingly slow in all its forms, turbo petrol or hybrid. The interior is cool but badly let down by the interior tech although it finally has Apple CarPlay.
VW’s T-Cross is new on the scene and very much worthy of your attention, but I’ve not (yet) driven it. It looks good and given VW sets the standard across most the segments it appears in, you’d have to give it a crack.
Kia’s all-conquering Seltos is bigger, has a longer warranty and an attractive starting price and ownership proposition. It’s a brilliant car for the money, even if the drivetrains are a bit ho-hum, especially the CVT-equipped FWD versions.
The Hyundai Kona is about to be facelifted, but the current car starts cheaper and winds all the way up to a $60,000 EV. Also a fine car like its Seltos sister, it’s closer in size to the Puma with a fairly individual vibe.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The new Puma is a vastly better compact SUV than the EcoSport. The Blue Oval learnt from it and has delivered a car much more in tune with what the world wants.
Ford has a problem, though – its cars are so good but the brand struggles to cut through with cars like the Focus. The new name and new attitude should attract a lot of attention and with a truckload of gear and – for now – sharp pricing to punch on with the mid-tier competition, we should see a few more Pumas than we did EcoSports. And rightly so.