SOME might say the timing is unfortunate.
Just as the racy Ford Puma ST hits showrooms, Toyota has given us the closest thing to a rally car for the road — at a similar price, with more power and four-wheel drive. It’s also less green.
I’ll tell you all about the GR Yaris in Sunday’s paper.
But ask someone at Ford and they’ll say they are not rivals because the Puma ST has some family appeal: four doors, proper boot space and a modern interior.
So, as good as it is — and it is very good — it is mostly going to be bought by mums and dads who want a frisson of fun rather than full attack.
The GR Yaris is a true enthusiast’s car.
I should say at this point that sporty crossovers confuse me.
They’re hatchbacks that have been raised to create a sort of SUV — then lowered again to improve handling.
But if anyone was going to make a good one, you knew it’d be Ford.
Right, let’s continue. We have much to discuss.
Put a Puma ST in an X-ray machine and you’ll find it has the same bones as a Fiesta ST; same all-aluminium 1.5-litre engine banging out 200hp, same sweet six-speed manual, and same Quaife limited-slip differential, if you pay for it.
An excellent starting point, then.
But to counterbalance the higher centre of gravity, Ford’s handling gods have worked their usual magic on the suspension to increase lateral stiffness, body control and cornering stability.
In other words, it’s a willing dance partner.
After testing this car at Cadwell Park and surrounding B-roads, I’m absolutely convinced this will be Ford’s next rally weapon.
My iPhone notes when I stopped for a breather were as follows: Boisterous. Beautiful steering. Peachy chassis. WRC? There you go, I’ve summed it up for you in six words.
It’s a lot of fun to drive in a hurry, extremely well engineered and worthy of the ST badge. If just a leeetle pricey.
Now let’s talk about looks.
As well as the Hulk green paint, designers have dialled up the sportiness by adding a Ford Performance front splitter, blobs of gloss back, 19in alloys and heated Recaro seats. Bonus.
I was a little disappointed looking forward from the driver’s seat.
No red stripe at dead centre on the steering wheel?
Or even better, rpm lights? I thought it needed some theatrics.
But then I engaged launch control — via Track mode — and the digital instrument cluster lit up with green, orange and red shift lights as the car charged towards the horizon.
So all was forgiven.
It feels faster than the official figures suggest.
The Puma ST has all the kit you need in today’s world, including a simple 8in touchscreen that syncs with your phone, wireless charging pad, B&O sound system, cruise control and so on.
But it’s also like a mini Tardis in the back.
The brilliant Megabox — in place of a spare wheel — is deep enough to stand two golf bags upright, or you can use it as an ice box for picnics, or to store dirty wellies, or to keep the dog happy, or whatever else you can think of.
There’s a plughole in the bottom to wash it out.
So, there you have it.
The Puma ST is a high-rise Fiesta ST in a puffa jacket with big pockets.
Which makes it a highly useful, highly entertaining car.
Key facts: Ford Puma ST
Engine: 1.5-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
Power: 200hp, 320Nm
0-62mph: 6.7 secs
Top speed: 137mph
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