From £20,710
Two decades later, the Puma returned to our fleet. But this one was a bit different

Why we ran it: To find out if the class-leading crossover is as good to live with as it is to drive

Month 6 - Month 5Month 4Month 3 Month 2Month 1 - Prices and specs

Life with a Ford Puma: Month 6

Did this altogether different Puma earn its name? We call time on the mini-SUV - 31 March 2021

Looking back now, it’s almost laughable how Ford’s decision to bring the lauded Puma name back for a compact crossover seemed so controversial. “A sporty small SUV indeed. As if such a thing was remotely possible,” wrote one of the Autocar website’s commenters. How could a jacked-up supermini possibly compare to the fun little 1990s coupé?

Well, after almost 9000 miles behind the wheel of one, I think the nomenclature makes perfect sense. The old Puma was Fiesta-based, funky to look at and agile to drive. The new one is all of those things, too.

It proved it could live up to its predecessor’s reputation as a dynamic and fun little machine to first custodian James Attwood on a trip to Aston Martin’s new St Athan factory, attacking Welsh country roads with gusto and in a manner more becoming of a hatchback than an SUV. After I had the chance to find out for myself on a job in the Wye Valley, I had to agree: the Puma is comfortably among the best-handling cars in its class.

Yet it also manages to be calm and composed on longer journeys, perfectly practical and impressively economical. As a high-mileage driver, those factors were at the front of my mind when I was handed the keys.

The ‘Hybrid’ badge on the boot gave me some initial confidence, and although a colleague quickly pointed out Ford had neglected to include the all-important ‘mild’ bit, the Puma’s turbo petrol engine wasn’t incredibly thirsty. It hardly blew me away, either, and how much you get out of the system seems very dependent on your driving style, so anyone expecting significantly longer gaps between trips to the petrol pump may be disappointed. The low-end torque fill and off-throttle coasting do work smoothly in the background, though, nudging up the dashboard’s MPG display without interfering with the sensations you’d expect from a conventional petrol-only set-up.

There was also more than enough power for all the driving I do, with sufficient punch to provide a thrill on quiet country roads without constantly toggling between drive modes – although Sport really does sharpen the driving experience. Perhaps my aversion to Eco mode also saved me from the lurchy stop/ start driving that second custodian Felix Page mentioned, when the regenerative deceleration function becomes quite aggressive.

As for the car’s looks, I wasn’t initially a huge fan of the bug-like nose. But having seen more Pumas, and in different colours, it’s really grown on me. Our car’s Metropolis White paint doesn’t show off its lines in quite the same way as other shades, so I’d definitely go for a brighter hue.

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Ford aims to take the crossover class by storm as it revives the Puma name

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The interior was a pleasant enough place to be, with all the physical controls within easy reach and where you’d expect to find them. It’s a bit plain, perhaps, but that’s not entirely surprising given the brand’s prior form. Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system was equally straightforward, although it admittedly spent much of its time displaying Apple CarPlay.

The £300 Comfort Pack was a very worthy addition during the winter months, but I think I’d do without the £600 electric boot opener. Maybe I kept waving my foot in the wrong place or at the wrong time, but it seemed overly keen to hit me.

I gave the loading capacities a thorough testing, although it was mountain bikes rather than my photography gear that showed just how versatile the Puma can be. With the rear seats folded down, it could happily house two trail bikes (with front wheels off), plus cleaning gear and a change of clothes. That came as a real surprise to me, given it’s not that much bigger than a Fiesta, and was largely down to the Megabox, which adds 80 litres of hidden extra storage under the boot floor. Also, it’s a small thing but the lightweight, flexible parcel shelf is a real improvement over the usual stiff ones found in rival crossovers. It moves and stretches around your luggage by itself, without instantly obscuring the rear windscreen.

When I told colleagues I’d be running the Puma, they almost all said: “Oh, you’re getting a Ford? It’ll drive well, then.” I have to admit that driver engagement isn’t usually at the top of my priorities list, because of the number of mainly motorway miles I do for work (although it’s certainly welcome). Happily, the Puma proved just as capable when it came to the more mundane stuff – and ultimately I think that’s the sign of a great car.

Given that it was one of the 10 best-selling cars of 2020 despite lockdown restrictions, it seems that lots of people are in agreement. Those online commenters I mentioned earlier have certainly changed their tune. Admittedly, they’re now chirping about an electric SUV wearing the Mustang badge, but you’d think that, on evidence, they would have learned not to question the Blue Oval’s methods.

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Second Opinion

In short, it’s great. Is that a surprise? If you think of it as a compact crossover, perhaps. But if you think of it as a high-riding Fiesta, less so. It keeps the core strengths of the hatch, with minimal trade-off for its SUV styling. Would I take a Puma over a Fiesta? In certain circumstances, possibly...

James Attwood

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Love it:

Handling Compact crossovers aren’t known for their dynamism, but the Puma delivers in classic Ford fashion.

Practicality It’s deceptively spacious for both passengers and luggage, especially if you use the Megabox in the boot.

Driver comfort Quick-clear windscreen plus heated seats and steering wheel made the cabin the place to be on chilly days.

Loathe it:

Hybrid badge Any efficiency improvement is good but perhaps it dilutes the message on mild-hybrid models like this.

Overeager boot n my experience, the auto close won’t work when you want it to and closes on your head when you don’t.

Final mileage: 11,981

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Life with a Ford Puma: Month 5

Dial it up - 3 March 2021

The Puma’s Normal, Eco, Sport, Trail and Slippery driving modes alter the steering, throttle and traction control response. I spend most time in Normal, so Sport was a surprise. Steering is more positive, the throttle sharper and the dash gets a dynamic makeover. I’m increasingly conscious of my heavy right foot, but Sport is more engaging when I get off the motorways.

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Mileage: 11,900

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Our mild hybrid disguises its abilities well. Perhaps too well... - 10 February 2021

When I was first handed the keys to the Puma, I admit to not really knowing much about it.

I find it can be fun to go in blind with these longer loans, only to discover a feature or option you didn’t know had been fitted. Plus, as I’m the third person to take ‘ownership’, I figured my colleagues would have spotted all the headline functions.

A good example? The Puma’s mild-hybrid powertrain. I’ve done plenty of miles over the past few months, but it still took a reminder from a colleague that there’s more under the bonnet than a turbocharged three-pot petrol engine. This is clearly a credit to the smoothness of the electrified starter-generator as it torque-fills the turbo lag at low revs, and anything done to reduce CO2 emissions is a win in my book.

Equally smooth is Ford’s pre-collision assistance system, which uses cameras to detect if you’re about to hit something and intervenes with emergency braking if you don’t react in time. Other cars I’ve driven recently liked to yank the seatbelts tight when passing cyclists or apply the emergency brakes while driving by parked cars. The Puma’s system has so far coped brilliantly, without panicking. It does regularly predict danger as you come to a corner with an object on the pavement, but so far it hasn’t flung me forwards in my seat by grabbing the brakes unexpectedly.

One thing I discovered early on was the heated steering wheel, which has pretty much remained switched on ever since. I made the mistake of going on a photoshoot last week without my gloves so was glad to have it ready to revive my blue, numb hands. It’s part of the Comfort Pack, a £300 option on all cars below Vignale trim, but also includes heated seats and is well worth adding to any configuration.

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I’ve recently been experimenting with the all-digital dashboard, which, as we’ve come to expect in a lot of new cars, has plenty of options in terms of what information it displays. Normally I’m more ‘set it and forget it’ with this sort of tech, as I don’t like to be overwhelmed with data every time I get behind the wheel, but the Puma’s is simple enough and very easy to navigate.

My favourite is ‘calm screen’, which removes everything bar the speedo and fuel gauge and turns the screen a relaxing blue colour, but there are options for showing the hybrid system working and assessing your driving habits. Intentionally driving to conserve as much fuel as possible doesn’t sound like much fun, but screens like this one, which actively update as you go, turn it into a challenge to get the best score possible.

However, given the digital instruments are so flashy and customisable, the infotainment touchscreen feels just a little basic in comparison. It’s admittedly responsive to touch inputs and does the basics very well, but there’s still a slight visual disconnect between the two. Maybe that’s because the infotainment interface hasn’t really changed since Ford brought it to the Fiesta a few years back, and the digital dials are a newer addition, but it’s something the Peugeot e-2008 on Autocar’s fleet does a better job of.

Then again, if you use Apple CarPlay as much as I do for navigation and Spotify music streaming, you’re hardly going to notice the difference.

Love it:

Heated steering wheel The wheel gets toasty quickly, which should be popular with the Puma’s ‘active lifestyle’ audience.

Loathe it:

Nav showing its age Ford’s Sync 3 navigation is very good, but its graphics feel a bit outdated compared with the fancy digital instruments.

Mileage: 10,098

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Life with a Ford Puma: Month 4

Bigger than it looks - 23 December 2020

Transporting two mountain bikes plus luggage without a rack would be impossible for many crossovers, but the Puma’s 68-litre Megabox means my partner needn’t be buried in bags. I’ve taken a few whacks to the head while unloading, though, due to the powered tailgate: a vague foot waggle towards the rear bumper is enough to start it closing.

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Mileage: 7607

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Getting started with start-stop - 11 November 2020

I’ve been trying to get to grips with the mild-hybrid system’s overly keen start-stop function. The engine shuts off the instant you depress the clutch as you come to a stop but won’t seem to restart without you moving the gearstick into neutral, then back into gear again. It’s a matter of getting used to it, but I’ve been left hanging at a junction more than once.

Mileage: 4925

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Life with a Ford Puma: Month 3

Sluggish screen becoming a chore - 14 October 2020

Two niggles have blotted the Puma’s near-flawless usability record. First, the slight lethargy of the touchscreen is beginning to grate, because this can distract while I’m changing audio sources and sat-nav destinations. Second, the flimsy load cover is in the way more often than not and has to be stowed on the back seat when not in use. I’d prefer a retractable, solid parcel shelf.

Mileage: 2307

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Life with a Ford Puma: Month 2

The only real sign of an eco boost is on our car’s bootlid - 23 September 2020

In its first two months on the fleet, our Puma has been subjected to two flat moves, a succession of arduous motorway jaunts, beach trips, dog walks and a fair few miles on London’s unforgiving side streets, which we reckon is the sort of busy lifestyle this model will lead in the hands of many of its owners.

Our Puma has covered a lot of miles, granted, but it has spent much more time at the petrol pump than I would have hoped for. In fact, it was only when a neighbour approached me recently, gestured at the ‘hybrid’ motif emblazoned on the Puma’s bootlid and asked me “where have you been plugging it in?” that I had cause to question the car’s eco credentials. Given that mild-hybrid technology such as that employed here is now so commonplace as to rarely be advertised, can the Puma really sell itself as being more environmentally friendly than its contemporaries?

We can’t ignore the fact that the Puma is an SUV, and its raised ride height and high-sided cabin were never going to let it replicate the frugality of its Fiesta sibling, but an average of 45.8mpg has left me wanting more, it must be said. That’s including some 600 miles on the motorway, most of which were covered in Eco mode, and some very judicious use of the throttle on my congested local streets, so it’s a shame I haven’t been able to grin smugly at Prius drivers in traffic.

That said, the Puma’s Eco Coach function is almost like a video game in how addictive it’s becoming. There’s a certain pleasure to be had in attaining a 100% score in acceleration, speed, braking and shifting (so I’m told; it’s a feat I’ve yet to achieve), but I wonder if jazzier graphics and better signposting would be more likely to incentivise owners to take it slowly. Currently, the programme is buried in the righthand side of the gauge cluster and can’t be viewed at the same time as overall MPG or trip data.

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An easy way to boost your score, I’ve found, is by taking every available opportunity to use the Puma’s regenerative deceleration function. A drawback, most notably in urban environments, is the resultant lurchiness of stop-start driving, which several passengers have said is rather uncomfortable. It’s especially fierce in Eco mode, so I’ve been leaving that for the out-of-town trips.

On the subject of driving modes, let’s end on a high note: Sport is, for me, where this car is leagues ahead of its Volkswagen T-Cross and Nissan Juke rivals. The artificially enhanced engine note and lairy red dials we could go without, but the snappier throttle response, heftier steering and more noticeable turbo inputs make the last few miles of any journey something to look forward to (maybe that’s where all my petrol is going…).

Whereas hot crossover SUVs like the T-Roc R and Cupra Ateca compensate for their raised stature with meatier rubber and firmer suspension, however, the non performance-oriented Puma feels hamstrung in the corners by its skinny tyres, small wheels and stilt-like struts.

Roll isn’t as catastrophic as you might think, given our ST-Line car’s handling-focused suspension tune, but the natural human instinct to remain upright forces me to back off earlier before corners than I might in something a bit lower down. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming Puma ST copes dynamically with a substantial boost in power over the standard car.

Love it:

Electric bootlid A welcome touch of luxury at this price point and, crucially, always useful.

Loathe it:

Narrow rear seats Adult passengers hail the rear leg room, but three abreast for more than 10 minutes is uncomfortable.

Mileage: 2208

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Fits more than you might think - 2 September 2020

Moving out of my flat gave me cause to use the storage cubby under the Puma’s boot floor. The MegaBox may have seemed a bit of a gimmick when the car was revealed, but it snugly accommodated a bedside table, leaving room above for a large chest of drawers. I couldn’t squeeze in much else besides, but that additional capacity would certainly prove a real boon for family trips.

Felix Page

Mileage: 920

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Life with a Ford Puma: Month 1

Is there a better car in which to lose yourself in rural Wales? - 19 August 2020

Apparently, you should never rely on sat-nav to guide you to Aston Martin’s new St Athan factory. Of course, this useful bit of information was relayed to me only once I had reached the home of the DBX (in the countryside not far west of Cardiff) via a circuitous, Google-calculated route that took in all manner of ridiculously tight and twisty Welsh country lanes.

They were the sort of exceptionally narrow lanes – heightened by dense, overgrown foliage – that feature blind crests, sweeping bends and frequent rutted and broken surfaces. A fellow journalist attending the same event made the same navigational error and arrived slightly white-faced, noting that he was glad to have been driving an SUV, given the rough roads, while admitting it was a challenge to fit his large machine down those lanes. His comments perfectly encapsulated why the Ford Puma I had arrived in had been the ideal car for the journey.

In the compact car class, the description ‘crossover’ usually suggests compromise. Sure, you can have a dash of extra ride height and more head room, but it will cost you chunks of handling and composure and won’t really add much in the way of actually useful space. But on my route to St Athan, the Puma showed that it truly does mix the best attributes of a hatchback with those of an SUV with minimal drawbacks. The Puma could attack the faster, wider Welsh roads with the relish that its Fiesta sibling would, with similar direct steering, incisive handling and remarkable poise.

Selecting Sport driving mode stiffened the ride a bit to offer some sporty relish and made it genuinely enjoyable to steer round flowing corners. That combined well with Ford’s mild-hybrid-boosted three-cylinder turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine, which, when worked at speed, is pleasingly responsive.

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Honestly, at times on such roads, I forgot that I was driving a machine that would be classed as a crossover, rather than a supermini. Until, that is, I got to those narrower, bumpier roads. Switch out of Sport mode and the Puma’s modicum of extra ride height really helped to smooth out those lumps and bumps, maintaining a welcome poise that inspired confidence. And while this is largely psychological, the slightly higher driving position than you would find in a hatchback made me feel that I had a bit more visibility on the narrow roads – although it didn’t help me to see round the blind corners exacerbated by the overgrowth…

Once out of the woods, the bulk of my journey was on faster roads, and here the Puma also proved its worth as a motorway cruiser, with a poise and stability occasionally missing in class rivals. That said, the low-40s MPG it achieved was a tad disappointing for an electrified three-pot, especially as much of the journey was spent trying Eco mode.

By way of a glowing effect, the digital speedometer does offer some advice on the optimum speed to accelerate in order to maximise fuel economy, although it’s hard to really achieve in the real world without exercising undue levels of restraint.

Clearly, extracting the best MPG from the Puma will require some compromise in terms of driving. But that’s a trade-off I’m happy to make, considering how few compromises it requires for you to genuinely enjoy driving it on challenging country lanes. That said, if you do ever find yourself heading to St Athan, trust me: don’t rely on the sat-nav.

Love it:

Digital puma A Puma graphic that appears when the screen turns on sounds cheesy but is pleasing in its execution.

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Loathe it:

Grimy spoiler The Puma’s stylish rear spoiler looks good but is also proving to be a magnet for dirt and grime.

Mileage: 540

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Really is as useful as it sounds - 5 August 2020

I want to hate the ‘Megabox’, for the simple reason that it’s a ridiculously grand and gimmicky moniker for what is essentially just a storage well under the boot floor. But it’s proving to be exceptionally useful, whether for stopping small items from rolling around or separating messy items from other luggage. It’s actually quite… mega.

Mileage: 390

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Welcoming the Puma to the fleet - 29 July 2020

I’ve had a soft spot for the Ford Puma since I first set eyes on one back in 1997. Blame Steve McQueen. The TV advert featuring him charging round the streets of San Francisco completely sold my 18-year-old self on the Puma’s cool credentials.

Twenty three years later, I finally find myself the custodian of a Puma. Except, much like that McQueen ad, all is not quite what it seems. That commercial used clever CGI to turn the Ford Mustang from the epic Bullitt chase scene into a Puma, while Ford has now used the nameplate from the short-lived two-door coupé to add some sporting credibility to a compact crossover. Or, to use the inevitable comparison, a Nissan Juke rival.

While the original Puma was (sort of) backed by McQueen, the new Puma has the approval of some arguably more significant (but inarguably less cool) advocates: Autocar’s road test team. They recently proclaimed the Puma the best compact crossover to drive – and by a significant margin. High praise, although in a category not exactly known for handling prowess, that’s akin to saying the car chase is the best bit of Bullitt: whisper it, but the rest of the film really isn’t very good.

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Still, our mission is to find out whether the new Puma continues to shine once the novelty of a compact crossover that’s actually all right to drive wears off. Our long-termer certainly sets out to appeal. While many other compact crossover models are either styled like a miniature pastiche of a boxy SUV or look like superminis with the ride height jacked up beyond a sensible level, the Puma looks – to these eyes – remarkably composed. There’s a clear family resemblance to the Fiesta, with which it shares a platform and many technical bits, but it still feels like its own machine – and a sleek, sporty one at that.

Currently, the Puma is available in the UK only with a 1.0-litre electrified petrol powertrain, and we’ve plumped for the more powerful 153bhp version. It’s badged a Ford Ecoboost Hybrid, but it’s important to note the silent ‘mild’: the electrified element consists of a 48V integrated starter-generator attached to the familiar three-cylinder turbo engine. The electric boost can add up to 37lb ft of torque, but don’t expect to be doing any silent EV-only running, aside from the engine-off coasting kicking in a bit earlier than it otherwise might.

Still, combined with the Ecoboost’s cylinder deactivation functions and general economy, the result is an official fuel economy of 57.6mpg and a 0-62mph time of 8.9sec. Not exactly chase-down-a-Dodge Charger quick but ample for this sort of car.

In sporty-styled ST-Line trim, our Puma comes with plenty of kit, including 17in alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and sports suspension. Inside, there are more ST-Line trim flourishes, including a leather, flat-bottomed steering wheel, a wireless phone charger and a 12.3in touchscreen with Ford’s newest infotainment system.

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Ford still found a few options boxes to tick on our behalf, although it could be a good few months before we make use of the Comfort Pack’s heated seats and heated steering wheel. There’s also an electric boot opening, which probably doesn’t seem necessary for a car of this size, and rear privacy glass. Our car also came in Metropolis White, which at £650 is one of the most expensive colour options. We were a bit sceptical about paying more for white, but it definitely looks stylish in the metal (at least before getting a bit mucky). This brings the total price to £25,140, which is firmly in the mix with rivals such as the Volkswagen T-Cross, the Mazda CX-30 and, inevitably, the Juke.

Happily, first impressions are positive. When you’re behind the wheel, you could easily mistake this compact crossover for a Fiesta. That’s partly because of the interior, which, while spruced up a bit (in particular with an upgraded infotainment system), is broadly similar to that of its supermini sibling: perfectly functional but not class-leading.

More importantly, it has the flair of the Fiesta when it comes to ride and handling, with positive steering and admirable poise and fluency in corners. At times, it feels as if Ford has pulled off some more CGI trickery to stick an enlarged crossover body on a Fiesta. It’s nimble enough, in fact, that I’ve even found myself humming that Lalo Schifrin theme music as I whizz round corners and up steep hills.

Making a compact crossover that has the handling verve of a small hatch is a fine achievement, but we’re asking for the Puma to prove more over the next few months: we want to find out if the added practicality and space promised by that enlarged body will make the Puma worth considering not just over class rivals but ahead of the Fiesta itself, too.

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It’s a tough ask – but it’s a credit to the job Ford has done with the Puma that we’re even posing the question.

Second Opinion

The much-ballyhooed Ecoboost triple is far peppier than it has any right to be in a car of this shape and stature. Coupled with a slick, shortthrow, six-speed gearbox, it makes the top-rung Puma unexpectedly engaging on a smooth, snaking B-road. Exploiting its performance potential will do nothing to improve the slightly disappointing MPG readout, however.

Felix Page

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Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost MHEV ST-Line specification

Prices: List price new £23,340 List price now £23,740 Price as tested £25,140

Options:Metropolis White paint £650, rear privacy glass £250, Comfort Pack (heated seats and heated wheel) £300, electric boot opening £600

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 51.4mpg Fuel tank 42 litres Test average 43.1mpg Test best 45.8mpg Test worst 40.3mpg Real-world range 398 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 9.0sec Top speed 127mph Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbocharged petrol Max power 153bhp at 6000rpm Max torque 140lb ft at 1900-5500rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Boot capacity 401-1216 litres litres Wheels 7.0Jx17in, alloy Tyres 215/55 R17 Kerb weight 1280kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £359.72 CO2 126g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £1273.50 Running costs inc fuel £1273.50 Cost per mile 11 pence Faults none

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Comments
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Brumie 7 April 2021

"I hate this car, I think it's rubbish. I'm going to buy something else that's better."Please do. Then delete your pointless comment.

Tonrichard 3 April 2021

I have to say that although I think Ford have done a clever job with the Puma I too share the misgivings expressed by others in the power unit. I just think a little 3 cyl 1 litre engine, however well tuned, is not going to deliver the torque and refinement of a 4 pot. Above all I would worry about the reliability and wear issues that have plagued the same engine in the Fiesta. I am much more a fan on the 4 cyl 2.0 litre block that BMW put in the MINI Cooper S. 

xxxx 22 December 2020

As auto car think the mega box is such a revelation how about this. Remove spare wheel, put cardboard box in its place, pat yourself on the back you now have a mega box. Now where will I put the spare wheel.

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