The Blue Oval has taken huge strides in the light – or compact – SUV segment with its all-new 2020 Ford Puma.
As a replacement for the unloved Ford EcoSport, the Puma hasn’t exactly got big boots to fill. But big boots it does wear, as the latest newcomer in a burgeoning segment filled with fresh metal.
It’ll need to do well for Ford, too. The Puma is the tacit and de facto replacement for its previously popular Fiesta city car, which has all but disappeared from dealerships, bar the performance-focussed ST variant.
Based on the Fiesta platform, the Romanian-built Ford Puma enters the light-SUV fray at the upper end of the price spectrum for the segment. Euro design and build come at a price, it seems.
Our test car is the entry-level Ford Puma, no added numbers, letters, or suffixes to denote the variant, coming in at $29,990 plus on-road costs, or currently $31,490 drive-away.
Next rung up the Puma ladder is the ST-Line at $32,430 (or $33,490 drive-away), while the top-spec Puma ST-Line V asks for $35,540 plus on-roads, but can currently be had for $36,490 drive-away, all offers valid until the end of December.
Our tester came fitted with the $1500 optional Park Pack, bringing the as-tested price to $31,490 plus on-road costs.
Even at base level, the Puma has positioned itself at the pricier end of the light-SUV spectrum, with main rivals like the Mazda CX-3 (from $22,710), Hyundai Venue (from $20,190), Nissan Juke (from $27,990) and Volkswagen T-Cross (from $27,990), all coming in under the Ford’s tip-in point.
Needs to be good, then, to make a compelling case. And the good news is, it is.
|2020 Ford Puma|
|Engine||1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||92kW at 6000rpm, 170Nm at 1500–4500rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.1L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||410L / 1170L|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (2019)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen T-Cross, Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Venue|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$31,490|
Even at the entry level, the Puma comes equipped with enough goodies to make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
Standard equipment highlights include satellite navigation, wireless phone charging, auto high beam, rain-sensing wipers, and LED ambient interior lighting.
There are 17-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen running Ford’s SYNC 3 operating system, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB+ radio, automatic climate control, and powered and heated rear-view mirrors with some pretty snappy puddle lamps projecting a puma logo... The big cat, that is, not the car.
It’s a well-equipped package, even at this base level, although does miss out on some advanced safety tech, despite coming standard with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, lane-keep assist and a 180-degree reverse camera.
However, to score more advanced technologies such as adaptive cruise control, lane centring and blind-spot monitoring, you’ll need to stump up an extra $1500 for the optional Park Pack, which also adds front parking sensors and semi-automated self-parking. It’s a box worth ticking.
Inside, the Puma presents a youthful aesthetic. The cloth seats are finished in a very funky denim-like material with a lovely texture. The front seats are supportive, well-bolstered and feature a massage function as standard, if that’s your thing.
An analogue instrument cluster is complemented by a 4.2-inch TFT driver display nestled between the tacho and speedo, providing a host of information including speed sign recognition, fuel consumption and a digital speedo. It all works well enough and is intuitive to use and scroll through.
Storage options abound, including a large central bin with two layers that also houses a contemporary USB-C point to complement the regular USB outlet located next to the gear lever. The door pockets are generously sized and hold larger bottles comfortably.
The 8.0-inch colour touchscreen might not be stylishly integrated into the dash, but its functionality and ease of use are a boon. The mapping is simple and clear, while the myriad menus are easily accessed and intuitive to use. And for those who prefer smartphone mirroring, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the range.
The second row is, at best, adequate, both in terms of space and convenience. There are no air vents back there, nor any charging options. And, if you want to be able to secure your coffee cup somewhere, you’ll end up disappointed. The door pockets do cater to bottles, though.
Roominess is at a premium, too. Even behind my 173cm driving position, there is only just enough knee and leg room to be comfortable, while head room is again merely adequate. Anyone taller will struggle to get comfortable.
Boot space is good at 410L with the back seats in play. That expands to a decent 1170L with the second row stowed away in 60:40 split-fold fashion. Ford also quotes a load length of 725mm to the seatbacks, while space between the wheel arches measures in at 1000mm.
A clever feature of the boot space is a plastic-lined storage tub under the floor, which is great for tossing in those muddy hiking boots or a wetsuit, for example. The space is impinged on a little by the space-saver spare that shares the space, but it remains a useful solution for saving the carpeted floor in the boot.
The entire Puma range is powered by a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels. And straight off the bat, it’s a peachy combination.
Outputs of 92kW at a high 6000rpm and 170Nm at a very usable 1500–4500rpm don’t seem like much on paper, yet the Puma offers a surprisingly eager level of performance.
Take-off from standstill is brisk, the little three-cylinder happily and gruffly plying on the power and torque to get things moving. It feels light, partially because it is, tipping the scales at 1288kg (kerb). That’s on par with its main rivals.
That very usable torque band is beneficial around town, the Puma responding nicely to throttle response and eagerly adding speed in a predictable and linear manner.
The seven-speed dual-clutch auto works away nicely. Although, it can be very occasionally caught out on the downshift when asking for a burst of speed for an overtake or motorway merge. Not a deal-breaker, though.
The Puma’s road manners are decent, too; a nice marriage between comfort and handling. It’s no sports car, of course, but there is a solidity to the suspension set-up that allows for some playful fun when the situation warrants.
The base Puma does without the sport suspension of high-grade variants. The steering is nice and direct – well-weighted for the Puma’s intended purpose without feeling overly twirly or light.
Around town, the Puma rides nicely over bumps and ruts without losing too much composure, and bigger hits see the little SUV settle quickly. The cabin remains quiet, too, allowing you to revel in the gruff little three-pot that happily growls away under the bonnet.
Freeway running doesn’t overly stretch the Puma either. Whereas some vehicles in this segment can feel like they’re working hard at 110km/h, the Puma motors along in what feels like an easy lope.
Equally, throw the little SUV at some curves and its sporty nature comes to the fore. There’s an urgency from the 1.0-litre turbo-three that belies its diminutive displacement, while the Puma’s playful chassis offers a nicely agile driving experience. It is, in a word, fun.
Ford claims a frugal fuel-use figure of 5.3L/100km of regular unleaded, which we couldn’t match, as our week with the Puma returned an indicated 7.1L/100km. Still, some of that consumption can be attributed to the Puma’s fun nature, which begs to be driven just that little bit harder than you might normally. The Puma’s fuel tank measures in at 42L.
ANCAP awarded the Ford Puma a five-star safety rating in 2019, the little SUV scoring 94 per cent for adult occupant protection and 86 per cent for child occupant protection. Vulnerable road-user protection came in at 77 per cent, while safety-assist systems were scored at 74 per cent.
Ford covers the Puma with its standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and asks that you return to the workshop every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first.
Servicing costs are good, with the first four annual trips asking for $299 each, while the fifth will set you back a slightly higher $320. The total over five years/75,000km is a not unreasonable $1516.
Ford is hedging its bets that the light-SUV segment will continue to grow against the gradual decline of the sales of passenger cars. Dropping the entire Fiesta range, bar the performance-focussed ST-Line, leaves the Puma as the Blue Oval’s de facto city car offering.
Yes, the larger Ford Focus can be had for less money, but buyers are demonstrating the desire for high-riding crossovers is worth a premium.
The good news for Ford is the Puma's a worthy addition to the segment, combining a willing drivetrain with a playful and agile chassis. Better yet, its youthful and fun interior ticks all the boxes, both in terms of comfort and technology, while its somewhat exuberant exterior styling sets it apart from an increasingly homogenised segment.