Ford is a master when it comes to creating sports models at an affordable price, taking a standard car and turning it into one capable of a dual role, a fast way of getting from A to B, but also with great track capability.
Over the years, I have had the joy of driving RS, and ST badged models on road and track and my latest test drive opportunity came with the Puma ST. With 200PS from a 1.5 litre engine to play with, allied to a slick six speed manual transmission , rest to 100kph (62mph) takes under seven seconds. Drive modes vary from ECO to Track and my test car had the option of a mechanical LSD. An optimised chassis features bespoke twist-beam, anti-roll bar and damper configuration and steering responses are 25 per cent faster and brakes 17 per cent larger than the standard car. The ST travels on road hugging, specially developed Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres which play a part to deliver the most agile Ford SUV driving experience yet. Sophisticated Sports Technologies include patented force vectoring springs, these innovations deliver the energised driving experience Ford Performance models are famous for throughout Europe, yet this performance number delivers surprising comfort and flexibility.
The performance enhancements and strong sports styling gel perfectly with innovative features including Local Hazard Information connected-car technology and the Ford MegaBox that provides 80 litres of storage beneath the boot floor for everyday practicality. The Puma ST is the only compact performance SUV in Europe to be offered with an LSD, which optimises front-end traction to enhance cornering ability and minimises understeer, in particular on the exit of corners. This is where I was really impressed with the Puma ST and the purely mechanical system distributes engine torque to the wheel with the most grip, reducing wheel spin and allowing one to fully exploit the engine performance. The LSD option works alongside Torque Vectoring Control, which improves road-holding and reduces understeer by applying brake force to the inside front wheel when cornering. The balance between the two features has been fine-tuned by Ford Performance to optimise grip on dry surfaces and smoothness on wet surfaces.
Behind the wheel, the handling is top notch and I especially enjoyed some challenging country roads in Fermanagh. Ford’s B-car architecture counterbalances the vehicle’s naturally higher centre of gravity and the rear suspension twist-beam is uprated to 2,000Nm/deg torsional stiffness, an increase of more than 40 per cent compared with Fiesta ST and 50 per cent compared to the standard Puma, with a 28mm anti-roll bar integrated into the Usection and a front 24mm anti-roll bar also contributes to cornering stability. Looks are key with this Ford, a sloping roofline silhouette and pronounced wheel arches lend itself to a more extreme design. A Ford Performance-embossed splitter is integrated into the front bumper to increase front end downforce by almost 80 per cent for greater stability and traction and the large rear roof spoiler also supports optimised aerodynamics, with a distinctive diffuser incorporated into the rear bumper. Signature ST upper and lower grilles are designed to deliver increased engine cooling capability. Standard fitment 19inch alloy wheels, and six available exterior body colours include Agate Black, Desert Island Blue, Fantastic Red, Frozen White, Magnetic and bold, ST-exclusive Mean Green, the latter was the choice for my test car. Gloss black finish for the roof, grille surrounds, side spears, door mirror caps and rear roof spoiler are all standard.
The interior is sports themed with hip hugging Recaro seats, and power-foldable door mirrors and the ST logo is projected onto the ground when unlocking. Other standard features include a wireless charging pad, Quickclear heated windscreen, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers and Ford’s SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system allowing control of the audio, navigation and connected smartphones using simple voice commands. The system delivers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility at no extra cost and is supported by an eight inch central touchscreen that displays the Ford Performance logo on start up. A premium B&O sound system is available as standard, this was impressive. Yes an outstanding system and the best I have experienced in a car for a very long time. Standard FordPass Connect modem technology allows remote control of a selection of vehicle features, including Door Lock Unlock and Vehicle Locator via the FordPass mobile app. The modem also enables cloud-connected Local Hazard Information, which can inform drivers of a hazardous situation on the road ahead, even if the incident is not visible due to a bend in the road or other vehicles.
My test ST had one further option, a Driver Assistance Pack; a very complete, extremely satisfying car to drive, one which I discovered puts the fun back into driving. Should you decide to venture for a Track Day, part of the optional performance pack is Launch Control, it enables you to deliver fast standing starts and using steering wheel controls, the system activates a dedicated graphical display in the 12.3inch digital instrument cluster.