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In-depth reviews

Ford Puma ST SUV review

"The Ford Puma ST is great to drive, has a brilliant engine and offers all the practicality of an SUV with hot hatch thrills"

Carbuyer Rating

4.2 out of 5

Owners Rating
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Pros

  • Great to drive
  • Good value
  • Impressive practicality

Cons

  • Automatic ST is less powerful
  • Steering can be oversensitive
  • Jiggly ride at low speeds

Verdict - Is the Ford Puma ST a good car?

Like the regular Puma, the ST is a competent family car but one that’s also a very capable performance car too. If you want an SUV that’s thrilling to drive, then the Ford Puma ST could be a brilliant buy. While it’s not quite as fast or exciting, the Powershift automatic version is still fun and should cost a bit less to run.

Ford Puma ST models, specs and alternatives

As SUVs continue to dominate the UK sales charts, the demand for performance versions like the Ford Puma ST has steadily increased. It’s based on the regular Puma, which is both practical and great to drive, but gets more power, a sportier chassis and a range of other upgrades. Now that the Fiesta ST is out of production, Ford is hoping the Puma will also attract buyers looking to trade in their hot superminis.

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While the Puma ST is aimed at buyers who want a performance car with enough space for a family, it has few direct competitors. Alternatives include the Volkswagen T-Roc R, Audi SQ2 and the new Hyundai Kona N, although all three are far more powerful than the Ford and more expensive. Don’t, however, assume that these on-paper figures automatically make them more fun or better to drive.

Combining a crossover with hot hatch performance was a relatively easy task for Ford, as the Puma ST shares most of its underpinnings with the now-retired Fiesta ST hot hatchback. Power comes from the same 1.5-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It produces 197bhp and 320Nm of torque, the same as in the supermini, and there’s a six-speed manual gearbox, bigger brakes, plus stiffer and lower suspension.

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That’s unless you go for the ‘Powershift’ version of the Puma ST instead. Seemingly timed to coincide with the Fiesta’s retirement, it effectively broadens the Puma ST into a two-version range instead of a single model. It’s fitted with a 1.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol with an automatic gearbox with 168bhp, so it’s 0.7 seconds slower from 0-62mph. More importantly, it’s also easier to drive in traffic and returns up to 44.8mpg.

Best hot hatchbacksTop 10 best hot hatchbacks 2024

Because it’s larger and heavier than the Fiesta ST, the Puma does drive slightly differently and the extra ride height results in more body lean in corners. The trade-off is that the car is more practical and a little easier to live with than a hot supermini like the Hyundai i20N.

On the road, the Puma ST feels very agile, with nicely weighted, accurate steering. While the body lean in corners is noticeable, the car always feels secure and the plentiful grip on offer helps to make it very entertaining to drive on twisting B-roads. While it’s slightly slower and not quite as sharp as the Hyundai i20N, it’s still great fun to drive. The Puma ST’s sporty engine note and synthetic pops and bangs from the exhaust only add to the experience.

MPG, running costs & CO2

Far from the most efficient version of the Puma, but not bad for a performance car

From its launch, the Puma ST used just a three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine, which actually makes it fairly economical for a performance car. Don’t set your expectations too high, though, as the ST isn’t as frugal as the regular versions of the Puma. That’s even the case if you go for the new Puma ST Powershift, with a smaller mild hybrid petrol engine.

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Official figures suggest that the Puma ST will return up to 42.8mpg and emit 148-151g/km of CO2, which is better than the Audi SQ2’s 34mpg and the VW T-Roc R’s 33mpg. While those are all figures from official tests rather than real-world driving, during our test the Puma ST managed around 35mpg overall, a fairly decent figure for this type of car.

The Powershift version doesn’t just add an automatic gearbox, but an entirely different powertrain that broadens the Puma ST’s remit – handy considering the Ford Fiesta has been retired. This means it also gains mild hybrid hardware, but all these changes only add up to an official figure 2mpg higher than the manual Puma ST, which is a little disappointing considering the significant changes under the skin. CO2 emissions are also reduced to 144g/km, for a first-year VED (road tax) reduction of around £400.

The Puma makes more sense than either of those models to buy; it’s around £10,000 cheaper than the Audi or Volkswagen, depending on specification, yet is more fun to drive than either of them. The forthcoming Hyundai Kona N is likely to be more closely matched in the dynamics department but it’s still expected to be more expensive to buy.

Engines, drive & performance

One of the best-handling SUVs you can buy

Fast Fords are consistently excellent to drive and the Puma ST is no exception – in fact, we’d argue that it’s the most fun you can have in any small SUV.

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At lower speeds, the ride quality can be a little fidgety due to the larger wheels and sporty suspension setup. Once you're up to speed, however, the Puma ST is more refined and feels at home on twisty country roads. Its composure in corners is largely down to the excellent suspension setup, which helps make the car feel agile and adjustable.

The steering is sharp and precise, giving you confidence to turn into corners quickly. The grip generated by the front tyres helps make the Puma capable of rapid changes of direction, something we’re familiar with from the Fiesta ST. In fact, the sharpness with which the car turns can occasionally be disconcerting; it’s fine once you’re not used to it, but at first the steering can feel slightly oversensitive.

Straight-line performance is very good too: the manual Puma ST goes from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds, which is more than quick enough for UK roads. Unlike some even faster performance SUVs, the Puma is fun to drive without needing to keep a watchful eye on speed limits. While it’s slightly slower than the smaller Fiesta ST, it closely matches it for driving thrills; outright straight-line speed is not what this car is primarily about.

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Go for the Powershift automatic version instead, and under its stubby bonnet sits a 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine with 168bhp. This adds 0.7 seconds to its acceleration benchmark figure, so it doesn’t feel quite as quick. Ford has done a good job of using the mild hybrid hardware to mimic the larger engine, though, and it also delivers a rather throaty soundtrack. It works best at low to medium revs, because the engine tails off somewhat at higher revs, but there’s still enough pace to take advantage of the Puma ST’s chassis.

The rest of the driving experience is great too; the manual six-speed gearbox is fun to use with a precise and positive feel to the gearchanges, the pedals are nicely placed and the brakes are powerful, delivering plenty of feedback through the pedal as well. While the Powershift automatic isn’t as interactive as the manual, it offers quick changes, especially via the steering wheel-mounted paddles – it’s just a shame these are so small and feel cheap. The automatic is actually at its worst at low manoeuvring speeds, where it can be a bit jerky at times.

Interior & comfort

Not the most comfortable Puma but comfortable seats make a difference

In the Puma ST you get sports seats as standard, which help to keep you in place when cornering. Larger drivers might find they’re a bit tight.

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The ST also comes with a flat-bottomed steering wheel with ST badging, some new pedals and a different gearknob. You also get wireless charging for your smartphone, parking sensors, a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display and an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with Ford's SYNC 3 software, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

This makes the Puma ST one of the best-equipped models in the Puma range and while the interior does have some cheaper-looking plastics, the level of technology means it feels modern and pleasant inside.

There aren’t a huge number of options to choose from, but some can change the car quite significantly. For example, the ST Performance Pack (around £1,000) adds launch control, a shift light to warn you when to change gear and a mechanical limited-slip differential to improve traction. Meanwhile, a panoramic sunroof (£1,000), hands-free powered tailgate (£400) and detachable towbar (£600) are also available.

Practicality & boot space

The Puma ST is just as practical as the standard version

All of the regular Puma’s neat practical touches are still present in the ST model, which is great to see. The fantastic ‘Mega Box’ is present in the boot – this is a huge 80-litre storage compartment under the floor that’s big enough for a whole family shop.

The boot itself is excellent at 456 litres, and the plastic floor means you can even hose it out – there’s a plug at the bottom of the Mega Box that lets water drain away.

Inside the Puma you’ll find a good amount of passenger space, though adults in the back might start to feel cramped on a longer trip. 

Reliability & safety

High-performance Puma will match normal version for safety

The Puma ST takes the same Euro NCAP safety rating as the normal car - that being a five-star score with an excellent rating for adult protection. Thanks to autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control, it’s packed with safety kit.

Ford came in 28th place in this year’s Driver Power survey, which was disappointing as it’s near the bottom of the list of 32 brands. It indicates that, on average, the ownership experience isn’t as good as it is for many other brands, and owners' scores ranked Ford 25th for reliability and 29th for its interiors. On a more positive note, only 21% of respondents reported a fault in the first year, which is a smaller proportion than many rivals.

The Puma itself ranked better, coming 33rd out of the top 75 models included in Driver Power. Owners rated its infotainment highly, placing it 21st in this category, while it was scored 55th for reliability.

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Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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