From £20,7106
New dual-clutch gearbox isn’t the greatest addition to an otherwise very commendable car and range-topping Vignale trim is best avoided, too

What is it?

This is the Ford Puma crossover hatchback in its latest extra-ritzy trim level and fitted with a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Both things add variety to a derivative range that remains a little bit short of it, at least until the Puma ST arrives in a few weeks.

Previously, Ford had offered this car with a 1.0-litre Ecoboost turbo three-pot petrol engine and in mild-hybridised 123bhp or 153bhp guises, both with a six-speed manual gearbox; or in 123bhp 1.0-litre manual guise and without the 48V hybrid assistance but only on lower-grade cars. As of now, though, you can have an unhybridised 123bhp 1.0-litre Puma with a seven-speed two-pedal gearbox if you prefer. And that’s the whole shooting match.

Why can’t you combine a mild-hybrid engine with an automatic gearbox? It does seem odd. I suspect it’s for boring mechanical reasons to do with exactly how the car’s engine, gearboxes and its mild-hybrid systems all marry together.

Opting for a two-pedal Puma might actually feel a bit like ordering an automatic hatchback used to feel about 20 years ago. You’ll get the slowest-accelerating, highest-emitting, least economical and most expensive engine derivative in the price list. Tempting, isn’t it? That will likely be disregarded entirely by drivers who just don’t want to have to remember to change ratios themselves, of course, but it’s also unlikely to make two-pedal Pumas particularly popular as fleet cars in the way that certain automatic BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens have become so.

Meanwhile, if you really want to probe the outer limits of how much you might be able to pay for a Puma, there is our test car’s equally new and range-topping ST-Line X Vignale trim level. As has become typical of these glammed-up Fords, it doesn’t come with any particular mechanical revisions but does bring some bumper, grille and alloy wheel styling changes, as well as interior trim and equipment upgrades.

What's it like?

Like a Puma with some TOWIE-style ‘jazzle dazzle’. "Innit laahrrvely", et cetera. There’s chrome on the bodyside, on the grille and on both bumpers that doesn’t feature on ‘lesser’ Pumas – but because this Vignale uses the car’s next best and quite sporty ST-Line X trim level as its basis, you also get 18in wheels, enlarged sculpted air intakes, body-coloured wheel arches and sills, and a rear valance with a mock twin exhaust. To these eyes, the chrome makes the car look a bit antiquated, but it’s a personal thing. If you like it, you'll totes like it.

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That there aren’t any slightly naff Vignale badges on the car is something of a development. You may remember how earnestly Ford insisted that it had launched a genuine pseudo-premium Vignale sub-brand just a few years ago; and how prominently the first generation of Vignale models – the Mondeo, S-Max, Edge, Focus and Kuga among them – wore those crests on bootlid and front wing. Well, not the Puma. It may be too early to suggest that some back-pedalling has occurred because the recently facelifted Kuga still wears its Vignale badges just as proudly, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a strategic rethink in progress – and I, for one, don’t think that would be the worst idea.

The Puma Vignale’s cabin gets heated leather seats, a stitched leather dash-top and door panels, and quite a lot of equipment as standard. It’s still unlikely to strike you as classy or upmarket, though. Immediately apparent build quality is good enough. None of our test car’s fixtures and fittings seemed to wobble, rattle or flex unflatteringly. The decorative patterned grey dashboard trim could almost be carbonfibre, but you’d need to squint a fair bit when looking at it. It’s simply that the balance of the car’s mouldings that havent been upgraded, and most of its switches and controls, are just a bit plain and unlovely.

That’s what someone who could just as easily be running around in a fairly high-end Audi Q2 or Mini Countryman would be most likely to observe first about the Puma, I’ll wager. They’d be happy enough about passenger space, which is at least passable for the overgrown supermini class. Ford’s Megabox underfloor boot storage area does remain a neat practicality score for the car, in which you could just as easily transport muddy wellies or a Yukka plant. Both, even, if you didn’t fancy paying for the Yukka.

The Puma’s got digital instruments and a wireless smartphone charging as standard (although you needn’t buy a Vignale to get either) and so it feels pretty up to date for cabin technology. For some reason, the analogue speedometer only has speeds marked at 0mph and 160mph. There’s a digital speedo in the middle of it, but you do wonder a little why they bothered with the dial. In any case, the digital instrument screen is bright and clear and is fairly configurable for display content.

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Driving the car does occasionally bring to mind what driving small cars with small engines and two-pedal gearboxes used to feel like, before turbochargers and clever gearbox tuning came along. The 123bhp turbo triple does a credible job at pottering speeds on middling throttle, and its 148lb ft of torque sounds like it should be enough for any auto ’box to work with. But in practice, the dual-clutch unit can be a notable dampener on both performance and drivability.

Leave the car in Normal mode and that gearbox is quick to shift up even in town, making the car initially sluggish at urban speeds. It’s also reluctant to kick down, needing a big prod of pedal before it’ll do so assuredly – no doubt a result of the impact such tuning has on the car’s WLTP lab test result.

Choose Sport mode instead and, although the car’s general drivability and responsiveness improve, it then becomes a little over-eager to kick down under greater loads, hunting for a lower ratio when it ought to just pull through the mid-range. ‘Manual’ mode isn’t blameless, either. Electing to time your gearchanges yourself makes the powertrain more predictable and controllable up to a point, but because Ford hasn’t fitted a kickdown switch at the bottom of the accelerator pedal’s travel, the gearbox won’t hold on to your chosen ratio under full power. Curiously annoying, that.

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The Puma’s outright performance level is respectable although not particularly eager or keen feeling. It’s striking how much less endearing the Ecoboost engine seems when you’re not deciding for yourself when to rev it out or timing each gearchange manually, but refinement is decent and real-world fuel economy likewise.

Ride comfort is a bit of a drawback. The Puma has flatter, crisper and more agile handling than the average crossover hatchback, and unmistakably so. It’d be a tidy-handling car in almost any hatchback class you dropped it into, and it’s a grippy and enthusiastically handling prospect when the surface it’s operating on suits it.

But the lowered, firmed-up sport suspension and 18in alloy wheels that come with ST-Line X Vignale trim do adversely affect the car’s dynamic appeal. They make it come up short on ride compliance and fluency around town and on uneven country roads, and cause it to fidget and thump over motorway expansion joints. Unlike better-sorted performance Fords, where high damper rates can be made to pay off by granting better vertical body control at greater speeds when you really need it, the Puma Vignale’s just make it ride in tetchy, restive and slightly wooden fashion when the road surface gives the car a proper examination.

Should I buy one?

This isn’t the way we’d spend a generous budget on a car that might otherwise regularly paint a broader smile on the face of its driver than you’d imagine any crossover hatchback would.

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The salesman will probably look at you with that bemused expression usually reserved for the apprentice who keeps getting his tea order wrong. Nevertheless, our experience suggests that less is more when it comes to Puma trim levels.

Go for a Titanium-spec car (without the lowered, stiffened springs and 18in rims) with a 153bhp 1.0-litre mild-hybrid engine and a manual gearbox; add Ford’s optional Technology and Driver Assistance packs; and you’ll end up with a much more refined and dynamically rounded car that also has all the right interior bells and whistles. It will also cost you less than a Vignale - and you'll enjoy driving it quite a lot more.

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cambuster 17 October 2020

So ironic, that a US manufacturer, Ford,............

.........knows so little about automatic transmissions. In Europe it goes back to the 1960s when a family friend bought a 1.1 Escort automatic which was so lethargic (especially when cold) that it drove as if it's handbrake was stuck on. Then the dire Durashift which Ford salepersons sold as an automtic, but wasn't.  Installing Aisin-Warner's slushmatic was a good move, as much as the 1.6 engine made it thirsty, but was soon abandoned.  As ever with Ford the dual clutch "Durashift" was enticing as they could cheaply build it themselves in their manual gearbox plants but, known by Ford to have serious faults before, during, and after launch led to their being sued in class actions, including fraud, in the US, Canada, and Australia. Then knee jerk to an EIGHT speed slushmatic in the Focus, and now back to the tainted Powershift dual clutch - which from this review is wholly unacceptable. Mind you manuals in the US are no better, a class action now underway re the failing manual Getrag gearboxes in the Mustang!   

Sulphur Man 15 October 2020

no auto 'hybrid'

It's not 'boring' to wonder of the reasons why the Fiesta MHEV is manual only. It's actually humiliating for Ford. 

Toyota and Honda managed to bring both manual and automatic hybrids to the market in the last millenium. 

Here, in 2020, Ford can engineer an auto hybrid out of its most popular model. But then it is a 'mild' hybrid - a manual petrol car with an fat alternator, small capacitor power storage and some belts to get it all working together. In hybrid technology terms, its a steam engine. Compared to the latest Jazz and Yaris hybrids (auto only), its utterly pathetic. 

Couple this to the Kuga PHEV recall disaster, and it's obvious Ford are in deep trouble making viable, affordable cars that comply  with emissions targets. 

Cobnapint 15 October 2020

@Will86

Spot on about gearboxes. Dual clutch ones are for the track. In normal use and with the latest technology and engineering, a standard slush box is better.

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