Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4
  • Petrol-only, initially at least
  • Mild hybrid tech boosts efficiency
  • Automatic gearbox from summer 2020

The Puma is currently a petrol-only affair with three versions of its widely admired 1.0-litre EcoBoost on offer, two of them enhanced with mild-hybrid technology to bolster efficiency and improve low-speed performance..

>> We rate the best hybrid SUVs for 2020

Given the UK market's declining interest in diesel engines in smaller cars, it's unlikely to be an addition to the range. A choice of either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions are to be offered, but all Pumas are front-wheel-drive.

Trio of petrol engines

Options here are based on a three-cylinder 1.0-litre motor with two power outputs: 125hp and 155hp. Both come with mild hybrid (mHEV) 48-volt electric assistance if you go for the manual gearbox, but not with the automatic transmission available on the lower-powered version. Ford says that the mHEV engines offer better economy alongside additional performance – giving them the feel of a much larger 1.5-litre unit.

Entry point is the non-hybridised 125hp EcoBoost producing 200Nm of torque. Presently, this engine is only available with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, with a top-speed of 116mph and a 10.2-second 0-62mph time.

This particular variant can struggle with the Puma's weight sometimes. There’s not much going on if you try to build up pace from a standstill, as it can feel like it’s labouring, but it's far more comfortable getting up to higher speeds once on the move. From third gear onwards it effortlessly utilises the mid-range torque available to get you towards the national speed limit on the motorway.

The paddles on the steering help you to manually take over, when you need to quickly shift down a gear, for example, and the changes themselves are smooth most of the time - even if they're not necessarily the quickest.

So is the mHEV tech worth the extra?

Mild-hybrid 48-volt technology is a catch-all for saying the Puma has a battery pack that is charged when the car is slowing down or braking, which can then be used to electrically assist the petrol engine.

This process is quite seamless and requires no input from the driver, although you might feel a stronger-than-normal sensation of engine braking when you take your foot off the gas; slowing the car down sooner than you'd expect with ordinary coasting. The same technology helps the stop-start system function sooner and faster, cutting the engine as soon as you depress the clutch rather than waiting for you to be at a standstill.

The 125hp mild hybrid engine with the manual gearbox feels more capable in everyday driving than the automatic, with a decent amount of poke in town driving and when pulling onto faster roads like dual carriageways and motorways. With 210Nm of torque available, this results in a 9.8-second 0-62mph time and a 119mph top speed.

Needless to say the 155hp version offers more confident acceleration, with a 0-62mph benchmark time of 8.9 seconds. It's particularly punchy low down in the rev range, meaning you don’t have to keep changing gear to make progress.

Not that changing gear is particularly taxing thanks to the positive and mechanical feel to the six-speed manual gearbox, which is actually quite a fun part of the driving process. Top speed on 155hp versions is 124mph.

It’s an exciting engine in either configuration, with a surprising and broad spread of power from one so small. It makes an appealing noise too.

You feel the supplemented shove every time you press the throttle - it makes the tiny engine feel much bigger and more responsive at low revs.

Drive modes available on all models

Fun-to-drive characteristics are further enhanced with Ford’s selectable Drive Mode technology that enables drivers to adjust throttle response, ESC, traction control, plus gearshift timings for automatic models, to match responses and performance to your given driving style. The modes are called Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Trail.

In ‘normal’ mode, the system focuses on a balance of performance and economy, although it’ll still pull hard with ample inputs of the throttle.

If you want sharper responses though, you need only press the toggle switch to cycle through these modes through to Sport, whereupon the 12.3-inch screen glows red and the Puma becomes much more alert, optimising the engine for more punchy performance.

What is the Puma like to drive?

  • Based on the Fiesta
  • More weight higher up, though
  • The best small SUV to drive

The Ford Fiesta is the best small car to drive, so the larger Puma certainly has a strong basis to build upon. However, while this car is only 60kg heavier than the hatchback, it has to deal with a higher centre of gravity, which can have an adverse effect on the way a car handles.

Changes have been made to the Fiesta’s underpinnings to compensate of course – stiffer rear suspension plus larger shock absorbers, and a wider footprint thanks to an elongated track width (effectively the length of the axle) which adds stability while cornering.

It’s worked, thankfully, and the Puma debuts as the best small SUV if you enjoy driving thanks to its ability to corner without the body rolling too much and, in ST-Line X models, a very Fiesta-like feeling of the car rotating around your hips.

Utilise Sport mode again and this also adds weight to the steering, making it feel more positive and confidence inspiring. In any case it’s a very fast steering rack, meaning small movements on the wheel result in big changes of direction at the front end.

Elsewhere, the ST-Line X has sportier suspension, which ramps up the fun levels considerably, but its tautness might not appeal to all given the undulated, potholed state of many UK roads.