Our favourite Light SUV versus our favourite Small SUV… But is the Ford Puma or Skoda Kamiq is the best mainstream compact SUV overall?
However, it’s no coincidence that Ford has made a positive start to 2021 (SUV sales up 8 per cent) while Skoda has bolted out of the gate (SUV sales up 106 per cent). Each launched a new compact SUV in late 2020.
The Ford Puma arrived first, in October, replacing the unloved EcoSport imported from India, with the Skoda Kamiq touching down a couple of months later.
And it’s the model that takes its name after Monaco’s ultra-glamorous port city and casino haven that we’re pitting against the range-topping Puma, the ST-Line V.
Although according to industry VFACTS the Ford Puma is a Light SUV and the Skoda Kamiq a Small SUV, the oddity of this classification is highlighted by the models’ similarity in size and price. (You could also suggest the Puma’s body style is more of a high-riding ‘crossover’ hatchback than a true SUV.)
The Puma is 4207mm long; the Kamiq is 4241mm long. The Ford Puma ST-Line V is currently available for $36,490 driveaway (for an MY20-plate model); the Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo is priced at $36,990 with no more to pay.
Pricing and Equipment
Ford’s Puma starts from $29,900 before on-road costs, making it one of the highest entry points for any compact crossover/SUV.
Most key rivals start from $27,990, which includes the Kamiq if comparing auto models. Buyers have the option of a Kamiq 85TSI manual for $26,990.
Ford Australia seems to have abandoned the sharper driveaway pricing that accompanied the Puma’s launch, which had the model starting from $31,990 all in. Unless you’re happy with an MY20-plate model, that’s now $33,804.
For the flagship ST-Line V, the MY21 driveaway price is $39,522 – up from the $36,990 launch driveaway price as well as the MY20-plate offer of $36,490.
Comparing 2021 models only, that gives the Kamiq Monte Carlo a decent price advantage. And the standard equipment battle is a bit of a stalemate.
In the Puma ST-Line V’s favour, it outsmarts the Skoda with leather upholstery, speed-sign recognition, front parking sensors, paddle-shift levers and a B&O (Bang & Olufsen) Play audio.
But the Kamiq Monte Carlo comes standard with a glass panoramic roof (fixed), adaptive dampers, dual-zone climate control, rear vents and adaptive cruise control.
A panoramic roof for the Puma costs $2000 (though opens electrically), and Ford charges $1500 for a Park Pack that adds adaptive cruise as well as blind-spot monitoring and assistance systems for parking, lane-centring and swerve-and-avoid scenarios.
Tick Skoda’s $4300 Travel Pack option box and a range of additions for the Monte Carlo include paddle-shift levers, a higher-end, Skoda-branded audio, heated seats front and rear, blind-spot detection, semi-auto parking, plus a larger infotainment touchscreen with navigation.
Key shared features include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights, foglights, digital instrument clusters, wireless phone charging, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, sports pedals, sports seats, fatigue monitoring, tyre pressure warning, and full keyless entry and start.
Our test cars featured all available options, plus optional paint – resulting in total driveaway prices of $43,795 for the Puma ST-Line V and $41,840 for the Kamiq Monte Carlo.
The value win has to fall in the Skoda’s favour, especially as the Skoda also features a bigger and more powerful engine: a 110kW four-cylinder turbo petrol versus the Ford’s 92kW three-cylinder turbo.
(For buyers interested in the Kamiq, it’s worth noting there is a Limited Edition available for now for the same $36,990 driveaway as the Monte Carlo. It misses out on some of the Monte’s sportier features but includes several of the items from the Travel Pack as well as leather/suedia seats and electric driver’s seat.)
|2021 Ford Puma ST-Line V||2021 Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo|
|Engine||1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol||1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||92kW @ 6000rpm, 170Nm @ 1500-4500rpm||110kW @ 6000rpm, 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.3L/100km||5.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||6.7L/100km||6.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2019)||5 stars (tested 2019)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, Skoda Kamiq, VW T-Cross||Ford Puma, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, VW T-Cross|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$39,040||$41,290 (driveaway)|
Infotainment and Technology
The base Kamiq’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is a good display and interface, though it’s easy to appreciate the extra screen size of the 9.2-inch version that comes with the Monte Carlo’s optional Travel Pack.
This provides more space for the menu’s colourful image tiles, as well as a larger nav map.
The home screen can be customised to feature the owner’s most-used functions, there are shortcut digital buttons to increase ease of use, and the touchscreen’s response is immediate. Pages can be swiped using gesture control, though we still find this more of a gimmick than a genuinely useful feature.
Ford’s blue/white duotone display can’t match the Skoda’s visuals, including resolution, but is its equal for responsiveness and intuitiveness. More…
Blue is also the dominant colour for the Puma’s 12-inch digital driver display, which adds a high-tech element to the cabin. It’s almost literally a digital representation of a traditional instrument cluster, though, where the Skoda’s version offers a good level of customisation.
The driver can choose from a range of layouts, including the ability to feature a route-guidance map predominantly.
B&O versus Skoda may sound like an unfair audio fight, yet our testers found it difficult to split the sound quality of the Puma’s fancier-brand system and the Kamiq’s own-brand sound unit. Both are very good, with the B&O Play deemed to sound better in its Stereo rather than Surround mode.
Ford Pass Connect uses an embedded modem to give owners access to some app-based features, including remote cabin heating/cooling (based on last climate setting), fuel-level check, car locator, lock/unlock, vehicle locator and live traffic updates for the nav.
It’s surprising that both models make blind-spot monitoring an option when it’s standard on many cheaper cars, and adaptive cruise should be standard on the flagship Puma.
Those points aside, the Puma and Kamiq are otherwise kitted out with plenty of driver assistance systems.
The Ford’s speed-sign recognition is also useful at helping remind the driver of the prevailing speed limit, even if it’s not a foolproof guide. As with other such systems, it will indicate a 40km/h limit even when a school zone is not in operation.
Sporty interior themes are the order of the day here. The Puma ST-Line V is first accessed by hopping across an ‘ST-Line’ treadplate before occupants are presented with a flatter-bottomed steering wheel, metallic pedals, artificial carbon fibre trim inserts, and an abundance of red stitching.
It’s even comparable to the cabin of the Fiesta ST hot-hatch, as the Puma is based on Ford’s city car.
The ST’s steering wheel is a bit chunkier, though, and its (cloth) seats more vice-like.
Across in the Skoda, the Monte Carlo effect also brings contrast (white) stitching aplenty, a dimpled, flat-bottom steering wheel, and black/red fabric sports seats that offer tighter (carbon fibre-patterned) bolstering than the Puma’s leather seats. (The mid-spec ST-Line’s cloth sports seats are better in this respect.)
Cabin-construction materials are similar in quality, with marshmallowy upper dashes common but also plenty of hard plastics.
Subjectively, our two testers thought the Kamiq had the slightly smarter presentation overall, helped by some thoughtful textures used for stiffer plastics as well as nice details as the floating-effect door handles.
The Kamiq also provides grab handles upfront, unlike the Puma.
Front occupants will appreciate storage options in both small SUVs.
The Puma’s door pockets aren’t particularly wide but they will take an average-size drink bottle and their length allows them to hold plenty of items, such as wallets and sunglasses cases. There’s also a generously sized glovebox helped by the owner’s manual getting a separate slot to keep it out of the way.
The centre console then includes a lidded cubby with tray, a little slot that’s useful for storing the key fob and a cupholder section that can two normal-sized cups or a little piccolo cup.
Skoda opts for the same cupholder set-up and also has a well-sized glovebox (with an owner’s manual much slimmer than the average). The door pockets are deep, take 1.5-litre bottles and are longer than they appear as they run behind the lower door panel, there’s a dash-storage area to the right of the driver, and the front armrest also doubles as a lidded storage bin.
As per Skoda tradition, an umbrella can also be found inside a door – the driver’s in the Kamiq’s case.
If there’s little to split this duo in the front halves of the cabin, rear accommodate creates a big difference.
With a noticeably longer wheelbase – 2651mm v 2588mm – the Kamiq serves up rear-seat space that’s more generous than you’ll find in some small hatchbacks. Tall occupants have plenty of legroom even if similarly-sized adults are sat upfront, and there’s no shortage of headroom even with the pano-roof.
Bench comfort is also excellent, with a seatback rake and cushion angle that allow passengers to sit ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ the seats. They’re also treated to air vents, useful door pockets and two USB-C ports. And heating with the Travel Pack.
The only obvious omission is a centre armrest, while the forward view is also just obscured slightly by the Monte Carlo’s chunky front sports seats.
The Monte Carlo is almost worth the upgrade for its sunroof alone, though. The properly panoramic glass section spans almost the entire length and width of the roof, providing an expansive view of the sky. Adults and kids alike should love it, even it doesn’t actually open.
Ford’s optional sunroof also covers most of the length of the Puma’s roof and the front portion opens and closes electrically with a single touch of an overhead button. The sky-view isn’t as good as the Kamiq’s, though, as it’s divided by a central bar, with separate blinds front and rear.
Adults will also find less room for both their craniums and lower limbs. A six-foot passenger’s knees are just millimetres from the front seatback with a 5ft 8in driver, for example.
The Puma also lacks rear vents and a centre armrest.
The Puma’s back seat is perfectly suitable for small families, though, as younger kids in forward-facing child seats have decent space. The ST-Line V’s leather seats would also be easier to clean than the Monte Carlo’s fabric.
In the small-SUV segment, there’s a wide spectrum of boot sizes – ranging from poor to excellent. The Puma and Kamiq luggage compartments, quoted at 410 and 400 litres respectively, are in the upper category.
By the tape measure (and visually), the Puma’s boot is longer – by 76cm to 72cm – while widths are similar, at about 99/99.5cm.
The Kamiq’s aperture is slightly bigger, though the Puma cleverly attaches its cargo blind to the tailgate so it’s always out of the way when the boot is open. The Skoda requires the parcel shelf to be removed to load bigger items.
Both boots are practical beyond their useful size and standard automatic tailgates.
The Kamiq features no less than four storage nets – on the floor, side, seatback and under the parcel shelf. There are also two large hooks, two mini hooks, two small, partitioned side areas, plus a removable LED torch.
While the Puma’s boot can only answer with a fixed light, two hooks and a 12-volt socket, it offers clever versatility with dual floor heights.
In the higher position, the Puma provides a large amount of hidden storage and the ability to have a flat cargo area when the rear seatbacks are folded down. Slot the floor into its lower position and you have a deeper boot.
An extra feature is a storage tub, which allows for more underfloor storage – and genuinely helpful when a family weekend’s worth of gear needs to be stuffed in. When the floor is lifted up, it can also be cleverly clicked into place against the seatbacks.
Beneath the plastic floor of the tub is a space-saver spare, which is particularly to Australia. In markets such as the UK and Europe, the tub is 80 litres in size, called a Megabox, and can be hosed own thanks to a drain plug.
Upgrading from the base Kamiq to the Monte Carlo brings a notable change under the bonnet – swapping the 85TSI’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo for a 110TSI 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo.
This increases power from 85kW to 110kW and boosts torque from 200Nm to 250Nm. That extra torque is also produced across a wider range, from 1500 to 3500rpm. As likeable as the three-cylinder is, there’s no doubt on the road that the Monte Carlo delivers more punch.
According to Skoda, the 110TSI Monte Carlo will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 8.4 seconds compared with 10.0 seconds for the 85TSI.
There’s just a single drivetrain for the Ford Puma, regardless of variant. It means the ST-Line V has a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo that is more aligned with the base Kamiq. Its numbers are 92kW and 170Nm.
Ford doesn’t publish performance figures, but we recorded a 9.6-second figure for the Puma’s launch review.
It’s also obvious from behind the wheel that the Puma can’t match the Kamiq Monte Carlo for mid-range grunt.
Yet there’s more to the driveability story here because the Puma proves to be better around town thanks to the best combination of three-cylinder turbo and dual-clutch gearbox in the mainstream compact SUV segment.
The Puma’s performance is terrifically perky, with throttle response that is more immediate than the Kamiq’s. There’s a lovely surge of acceleration from low revs, too, which is accompanied by a characterful warble from the three-cylinder.
The Kamiq feels livelier if its Sport mode is selected, though can then feel over-eager at times at lower speeds so this is best left for country roads. The Puma also has a Sport mode but there’s never a need for it around town.
In the Ford’s favour, too, is the ability to get off the line more smartly than the Skoda. While there can still be the occasional slight delay – a common characteristic of computer-controlled dual-clutch transmissions that both models use – it’s more pronounced in the Kamiq.
The Puma’s stop-start system is also quicker to re-engage the engine and more consistent in when it chooses to turn off. During our urban testing, it was a lottery as to whether the Kamiq would switch off its engine or not when coming to a standstill (with no adjustments made to the air-con).
Official combined fuel consumption is quoted at 5.3 litres per 100km for the Puma and 5.6L/100km for the Kamiq 110TSI. Our testing suggests real-world figures are likely to be in the mid to high 6.0Ls, provided mixed driving scenarios are part of your regular motoring, as figures will spike with urban-only running.
(The Kamiq 85TSI has also proven to be more economical than both, with indicated consumption of just under 5.0L/100km.)
Both engines require 95 RON premium unleaded as a minimum.
On the Road
The 110TSI Monte Carlo is likely to be the sportiest Kamiq you’ll be able to buy unless Skoda chooses to build an RS version down the track (as it did – somewhat surprisingly – with its seven-seater Kodiaq SUV).
Its suspension sits 15mm lower compared with the base Kamiq, and the Monte Carlo’s dampers can be stiffened via the Sport mode.
Ford of Europe has actually created a Puma ST model as a crossover twin to the Fiesta ST hot-hatch, though disappointingly it’s not currently being considered for Australia.
That leaves Puma ST-Line models as the most fun-focused variants – featuring a Sports suspension over the base model, with springs and (fixed) dampers tuned for enhanced handling. Like the Monte Carlo, it wears 18-inch wheels.
The result is the driver’s pick of the mainstream light/small SUV segment because the Puma is an absolute joy to drive whether you’re travelling around the suburbs or negotiating a winding country road.
Roundabouts or hairpins, the Puma turns into and through corners with a directness and enthusiasm that’s rare for a vehicle without ‘hot-hatch’ classification (and the Ford is definitely more hatchback than SUV, not just in the way it looks but in the way it feels from the driver’s seat).
The steering is also perfectly (mid) weighted if a touch rubbery around the straight-ahead.
The Puma’s suspension also manages to be both disciplined in terms of body control yet also amply compliant to keep occupants comfortable over gnarly urban roads.
Skoda’s base Kamiq, the 85TSI, is possibly the most comfortable-riding compact SUV available in Australian showrooms right now.
More bumps are felt in the Monte Carlo, however – its firmer, lower suspension the chief culprit as all Kamiq models share the same wheels/tyres (215/45R18).
While not unbearably busy around the suburbs, it’s just a shame the adaptive suspension can’t deliver on the promise of the best of both worlds: the remarkable smoothness of the base model in Comfort and a sportier feel in Sport mode for the countryside.
At least it provides the latter, and the accuracy and consistency of the steering remain positives – even if a heavier weighting would be welcome for the sportier Monte Carlo.
The Skoda has the best front seats here, too – befitting of a hot-hatch with their excellent bolstering (and motorsport-inspired harness holes in the seatbacks).
Five-year unlimited-kilometre warranties are shared here, as are courtesy cars and roadside assistance. Until the end of March, Ford is offering a free collect/drop service.
Skoda offers three different ways to service the Kamiq, and the costs vary significantly so are worth plenty of consideration.
The usual capped-price servicing approach is relatively expensive, with annual visits (or every 15,000km) charged between $307 and $705.
A monthly subscription plan costs $99 (or more if owners will exceed 15,000km annually), which is the most expensive option though includes replacement items such as brake pads, brake discs, wiper blades and battery.
Or upfront service packs are $800 for three years or $1400 for five years.
Ford servicing is one option, costing $299 per annual (or 15,000km) maintenance visit for the first four years, then between $320 and $370 after that. A $115 brake fluid charge is applied to the third/45,000km interval.
Comparing four years of capped-price servicing, the Skoda Kamiq costs $2319 to the Ford Puma’s $1311.
That makes Skoda’s service packs the best value, for buyers to add them to the purchase price.
Baby SUVs/crossovers are proving to be quite expensive compared with small cars, and the Ford Puma ST-Line V and Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo are no exception.
At a Ford showroom, you could have either a Fiesta ST hot-hatch or a (high-riding) Focus Active for less money than the range-topping Puma. At Skoda, you can have a Scala Monte Carlo for $3000 less driveaway for virtually identical specification.
In the SUV segment where the majority of buyers are, however, this European duo are both relatively well equipped while presenting sporty embellishments inside and out, including stylish 18-inch alloys.
The Puma has a bucketload of character, from its expressive, nicely proportioned styling to its warbly, responsive three-cylinder and fun handling. And while its rear seat is on the tighter side, it’s absolutely fine for kids and the Ford’s boot offers clever practicality.
In the Kamiq Monte Carlo camp, the Skoda offers four-cylinder performance more in keeping with this price range and it’s also a good drive despite being unable to match the ride comfort of the base Kamiq.
But while the 85TSI is our favourite Kamiq, we can understand the temptation of the Monte Carlo’s extra features – especially its fantastically expansive glass sunroof.
The Kamiq Monte Carlo’s interior shines for other reasons, though. On the technology side, it has the pick of the infotainment systems whether it’s the standard or upgraded interface, the Skoda’s digital instrument display provides greater customisation, and its audio has the edge over the Ford’s B&O. There’s also optional wireless Apple CarPlay.
Then for practicality, there’s a usefully sized boot with nets galore and an interior that offers the best seat comfort and feels as though it’s from the next segment up such is the generosity of rear-seat space.
Whichever way buyers go, the Puma and Kamiq are – for our money, at least – the two best new compact mainstream SUVs currently available.