First Drive: Ford Puma
Ford has had a big year in 2023, celebrating its 100th anniversary in South Africa and announcing their long list of exciting new arrivals for 2024 and 2025, which will broaden its portfolio, one that has been questioned recently for its lack of variety. The Puma, however, is the first of the new arrivals.
The Puma is a small SUV that is filling the void left by the EcoSport. There are two variations on offer from launch, starting with the Titanium, which comes with cloth seats, an analogue driver display, an 8-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple Car Play, wireless charging, and an all-around comfortable space.
The ST-Line Vignale is the top model. Do not confuse it with the ST badge of old, though, since this is purely a trim level and has no notable performance changes. The ST-Line gives the Puma a technological bump with a stunning driver display, leather massaging seats, a 10-speaker B&O sound system, a sportier steering wheel, and a panoramic sunroof. Outside, it gets sportier bumpers, sports-tuned suspension, a bigger boot spoiler, and 18-inch alloys over the 17-inch wheels shipped with the Titanium.
As a side note, Ford has included a feature to better utilise the Puma's somewhat compact cargo area. There's a concealed storage box that opens up for any further bits and bobs if you remove the spare wheel. Certainly a neat function, especially considering you can fit two sets of golf clubs...
What about the engine? The Puma sports the same, albeit old, award-winning 1.0-litre turbocharged engine that powered the EcoSport and the Ford Fiesta. The unit produces 92kW and 170Nm of torque and is mated to a 7-speed DCT gearbox that, for the most part, proved to be smooth and predictable. Although the power figures are decent, it does require some coaxing to reach highway speeds. Considering that it is an SUV, the Puma's modest size makes it surprisingly agile in turns and smooth on the highway.
When it comes to price, the Ford Puma is a little pricey when you consider that production of the Puma started in 2019. The ST-Line Vignale costs R613,900, while the Titanium starts at R569,900. Still, the Puma is well equipped for the price, while Ford positions it to compete with the likes of the VW T-Roc. Despite having comparable pricing, the T-Roc is slightly larger while offering a roomier feel. The T-Roc 1.4 TSI from VW costs R605,100 and gains a meagre 36mm in height and 29mm in length compared to the Puma, making Ford's latest crossover a good middle-of-the-road choice between where the VW Taigo lives and where the T-Roc is positioned.
The Puma is a spirited SUV; it doesn’t have the most interior space, particularly for rear passengers, but it has a lot of character. On the safety side, the Puma comes standard with driver assist features like lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and your typical ABS and traction control features. It looks great and has good power, especially at the low end for city driving. Although the locally available Puma is well equipped, I believe that a lower-priced version with fewer nice-to-haves would prove to be a good choice and would be a strong competitor for the Taigo, especially when considering that the Puma is a slightly larger crossover.