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

Diesel engines may also join the Puma line-up, but no official decision has yet been made - given the UK market's declining interest in diesel engines in smaller cars, it's far from guaranteed to happen. A choice of either manual or seven-speed dual-cltch 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, two with mild hybrid (mHEV) 48-volt electric assistance, one without. Ford says that the mHEV engines offers 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.

So is the mHEV tech worth the extra? Mild-hybrid 48 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 power an electric motor to supplement 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 would if you were coasting. You’ll also often notice the engine cutting out similar to a normal start/stop system, but in the Puma this can take place when the clutch is depressed and the car is still moving - all mHEVs have six-speed manual gearboxes.

The entry level engine has 125hp and feels more than adequate for town driving, with a decent amount of poke when pulling onto faster roads like dual carriageways and motorways. With 200Nm 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 (a seven-speed auto will follow), 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. They make 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. At higher engine speeds there is a larger turbocharger for more boost, too.

In ‘normal’ mode, the mild-hybrid system focuses on a balance of performance and economy, although if you press the throttle hard it’ll still pull hard.

If you want more power though you need only press the toggle switch to cycle through the Puma’s driving modes through Slippery, Trail, Eco and finally Sport, whereupon the 12.3-inch screen glows red and the Puma becomes much more responsive.

What is the Puma like to drive?

  • Strong basis in 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. This car is only 60kg heavier than the hatchback but 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.

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.

Sport optimises the engine for more punchy performance and also adds weight to the steering, making it feel more positive and confidence inspiring. In any case it’s a very fast 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 ramped up the fun levels considerably, but it's tautness might not appeal to all given the undulated, potholed state of many UK roads.