Judging how much jostling, agile hot hatchback purpose any particular ‘performance crossover’ may need continues to be a tricky business, and plenty get it wrong. And, because it famously doesn’t do driver’s cars in half measures, Ford Performance was always likely to go large on the dose of sporting flavour that it elected to stir into the Puma ST’s dynamic recipe.

In doing so, it ran the risk of giving us another Nissan Juke Nismo RS (remember that?): a car so dedicated to the possibility of handling dynamism at (relative) altitude that it felt utterly dumb to its own particular reality of it. But where that Nissan so plainly failed, the Ford gives plenty of cause for encouragement.

Puma ST flexes about as much muscle as its front wheels can reasonably handle and entertains a keen driver in corners with its agility and willingness to rotate.

In the weight of its controls, and the feedback coming back through them, the Puma ST does performance feel in quite an understated way – making it easy to drive around town for the most part, although some of the car’s steering behaviour takes a little getting used to.

As for the pace of that steering, and the rate of response of the car’s chassis in particular, the Puma ST thrusts itself forward a little more forcibly. It has quite a lot of the rapid-fire cornering agility, and the propensity to turn in and then rotate underneath you, of a Focus ST or Fiesta ST. If you’re trading in either of those hot hatchbacks for this car, the Puma ST has an incisive appetite for direction change that you will recognise instantly and that, on everyday trips, shouldn’t disappoint.

Then, in terms of outright vertical damping at greater speed, the car can occasionally assert its performance credentials just a little more sternly. The Hitachi dampers have plenty to do in order to keep the chassis level and composed on an uneven road – but they have the reserves to do it.

They don’t produce the tautness that a lower, leaner ST might have, although there’s more than an echo of it. The Puma’s fast back-road ride is vertically animated and occasionally grabby, the car’s mass generally controlled but in slightly Machiavellian fashion at times, with a slight lack of progressiveness.

You certainly wouldn’t claim that this car isn’t serious about its mission to entertain, then; nor in so many ways, especially in day-to-day A-to-B motoring, does it fall short of its target.

Track notes

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The Puma ST has the outright grip, torque and body control to go very well around Millbrook’s Hill Route, but its Fiesta ST party mask slips just a little as you probe the last couple of tenths of its handling potential.

The car has plenty of bite on turn- in, when the suspension checks body roll cleanly, providing a surprisingly good platform for the fast-paced steering to work with initially.

As it passes the apex, the Puma’s chassis has just a little less mid- corner agility and readiness to rotate than, say, a Focus ST, and it is less sensitive to weight transfer. The Puma’s grip tends to run out before you can adjust its cornering attitude with a trailing throttle, and its diff settings also seem gentler than those in a Focus ST or Fiesta ST so you don’t feel it working as much either under load or on the over-run.

The car’s body control can also struggle slightly during fast direction changes.

Comfort and isolation

The Puma ST’s selectable driving modes give you the option to reduce to some degree the amount of engine noise that reaches the cabin. Some testers might have preferred a ‘custom’ set-up through which you could combine, say, comfort-tuned steering and pedal calibration with a sportier exhaust note.

However, the bottom line is that the car needn’t drone on wearingly on a long journey. It rides comfortably on smoother motorway surfaces, and without too much intrusive surface roar from those 19in wheels. The driving position is straight, comfortable and well supported; and the front seats have base height adjustment, adjustable lumbar support and separately adjustable head restraints and can accommodate taller drivers even without extending cushions.

Cabin sealing is pretty good. This isn’t a car to worry the luxury brands for outright isolation, nor was it intended to be. Its cabin is 3dB noisier at 50mph than that of an Audi SQ2 quattro, even though the Ford puts less rubber on the road than the Audi did when we tested it in 2019. But for those who want a compact crossover made to more of a traditional performance recipe, it certainly won’t seem coarse or unrefined.

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