How do you make a car such as the Ford Fiesta appeal to a wider audience? After all, it’s a consistent frontrunner in the monthly sales charts, outpacing key rivals when it comes to sheer overwhelming popularity, writes Jack Evans.
The Fiesta is a core part of British motoring, as applicable to families and couples as it is to first-time drivers and everyone in between.
But the thing is, hatches aren’t hot property. Oh no, the big deal is crossovers – which is why we’ve seen manufacturers from Mercedes to Mazda introducing their own not-quite-an-SUV-not-quite-a-hatchback models to enthral the vast swathes of people who find the idea of sitting up a little higher quite appealing.
And would you believe it, Ford has cottoned on to it. Which brings us to the Puma you see here. Yes, I know, it’s not a coupe-esque sports car like the one first introduced back in 1997, but rather an upright, happy-looking kind of thing. I quite enjoy the styling of the Puma if I’m honest. It always looks like it’s pleased to see you.
Yet underneath this rather quirky exterior beats a platform that is near-identical to the one you’ll find underpinning the Fiesta. The Puma feels bigger in the metal than the little hatch, but that’s largely thanks to increased overhangs. The Fiesta measures 4,040mm in length, whereas the Puma comes in at 4,207mm. So there’s not a lot of difference, really.
But it’s taller, and that’s where the crossover appeal really hits. It stands more upright than the Fiesta too and, from behind the wheel, it does feel a little more on its tiptoes. You can see what Ford is getting at with the Puma; don’t make it so large that it’s a real pain to park, but bump up the seat height a nudge so it’s got a slightly clearer view of the road ahead. It’s clever stuff.
But one of the Puma’s magic tricks is in the boot. You see, it features something Ford calls a ‘MegaBox’. It’s housed underneath the conventional boot floor and, once accessed, gives you an extra 80 litres of space.
It’s also lined with waterproof material and even features a drain, so you can put grubby wellies and boots in there should you want to. Heck, you can even hose them down in the box itself and all the waste water simply empties out of the bottom. I didn’t think I’d get this excited about a box in the boot but honestly, it’s a bit like witchcraft.
Waterproof boxes aside, what’s it like? As we’ve seen in a lot of recent Ford models, the Puma is very good to drive. Spirited and involving without being wearing, it’s a car that can easily inject a bit of fun into any dreary drive. The steering is somewhat rubbery, but the peppy little 1.0-litre turbocharged engine thrums away ahead of you and gives the whole operation plenty of thrust. In fact, the mild-hybrid powertrain is punchy enough to get you from 0-60mph in just 8.7 seconds, which seems pretty impressive for a ‘normal’ type of car.
But of course, efficiency is the name of the game here and the Puma does well in that respect. Combined, it should return just over 51mpg while emitting 126g/km CO2. It does mean the Puma will be cheap to run and cheap to tax, too.
The interior is a nice place to be as well. It’s not bejewelled or overladen with technology, but everything that’s been fitted has been fitted well. It’s also got Ford’s latest SYNC infotainment system, which is by far the best we’ve seen, operating smoothly and easily. The cabin is light and airy, while there’s a decent amount of space in the back as well. In short, it’s an ideal not-too-big family car.
There’s also an ST version of the Puma on the way, which uses the same 1.5-litre turbocharged engine as – you guessed it – the Fiesta ST. And although the heightened performance that the ST variant brings will likely appeal to many a petrolhead, it’s safe to say that this regular Puma pulls no punches in making ordinary drives interesting.
You could mourn the increased attention that crossovers are getting – after all, they’re one more niche to deal with – but cars such as the Puma show there’s a compromise to be struck. Though it’s slightly more practical than the Fiesta with which it shares so much, Ford has ensured it’s no less easy to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
It’s why I reckon the Puma will be so popular. In fact, I’d say that’s already the case – I’ve seen plenty on the roads already, grinning cheerily towards me. I wouldn’t blame their owners to be grinning just as widely either, as the Puma really is a rather accomplished crossover and one well worth taking a closer look at.
Price (as tested): £22,895
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol mild-hybrid
Max speed: 124mph
0-60mph: 8.7 seconds
MPG (combined): 51.4
More Road Test of the Year 2020 here…