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First Drive: Ford Puma

Mild hybrid engines, clever stowage features and neat styling could take the Ford Puma to the top, says Martyn Collins.

SECTOR B-SUV PRICE £20,545-£22,895 FUEL From 51.4mpg CO2: From 96g/km

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It is a sign of the times that the first Puma, from 1997, was a Fiesta-based coupé, yet current market conditions have seen it morph into a small SUV, still Fiesta-based.

Despite much in common with Ford’s supermini, the Puma has grown significantly to suit its sector. So length has increased by 146mm, the wheelbase is 16mm longer, giving more rear space, and it’s 15mm higher.

Generally, the Puma looks sharp. It’s most distinctive from the front, with the large headlights and their individual Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) stand out most, influenced by the GT supercar.

The rest of the design, as you make your way to the rear of the Puma, is more generic, but no less attractive.

Taller and longer it may be, but the Fiesta underpinnings are obvious inside from the dashboard architecture, although the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is new. Puma feels well made, but the variable trim quality disappoints.

The driving position is comfortable and multi-adjustable, but despite the longer wheelbase, rear legroom is only average. Headroom in the back is tight for taller passengers too; the result of the curvy roofline.

The boot offers an impressive 1m loading width, plus the practicality of a clever 80-litre sunken compartment, called the Mega Box. It can take larger items and even has its own drain plug, so can be washed out after use. Other innovative storage features in the Puma include the flexible, boot-mounted parcel shelf. Safety-wise, the Puma has all the safety kit from the Focus squeezed in.

Titanium, ST-Line and ST-Line X trims are available first. All models are well equipped, and include SYNC3 navigation, Electronic Air Temperature control and a wireless charging pack.

Engine line-up sees Ford’s first deployment of mild hybrid versions of the 1.0-litre petrol EcoBoost unit. Called EcoBoost Hybrid, they’re available in two flavours: 125hp and 155hp.

The mild hybrid system works via a belt-driven integrated starter/generator (BISG) on the engine. Its job is to improve the driveability of this Ford, adding recuperated energy stored in the air-cooled battery and used to supplement the engine. As a result, it’s more torquey from low down the rev rev range – we reckon it works too.

A standard 125hp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine and 120hp 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel will arrive later too.

We drove the 155hp EcoBoost Hybrid in ST-Line X trim first. Although it’s noisier and slower off the mark than expected, the low-down torque impresses. On the hilly test route, this engine was happy to pull from as little as 1,000 rpm, even in higher gears. It is well mated to a slick, six-speed manual transmission too.

Next up was the 125hp in entry-level Titanium trim. In our opinion, the lower-powered EcoBoost Hybrid is the sweeter performer, feeling noticeably smoother and the gear change slicker. Plus,  it’s still sprightly enough, without missing those extra horses from the bigger version.

The mild hybrid technology brings other benefits in the form of NEDC Correlated CO2 emissions from 96g/km and 52.3mpg WLTP combined consumption figures. NEDC Correlated emissions for the 155 start from 99g/km, with a 51.4mpg combined WLTP figure.

On the road, the Puma’s steering is precise with plenty of feel. The handling is equally sharp, with the tall body giving a little roll. Still, body control and grip are excellent and the package gels together to make what has to be the best driving small SUV in its class, with prices starting from £20,545.

The Lowdown:

Key Fleet Model: 125 ST-Line

Strengths: Sharp styling, strong mild hybrids, clever stowage solutions

Weaknesses: Price, variable interior trim quality

The Verdict:

Not a cheap option but the Puma is great to drive, should be cheap to run and certainly looks sharp compared to rivals. Could the B-SUV class have a new leader?

FW Rating: 4/5

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.