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.
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.