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First drive in the new Ford Puma in South Africa

Ford’s new entry-level car has arrived in South Africa and is now available from a starting price of R569,900.

The Puma is on the market in two specification grades namely the Titanium and ST-Line Vignale, and considering sits at the upper end of the crossover spectrum it has done rather well since hitting the showrooms in September, selling 143 units in its first two months.

Ford rounded up local media to get acquainted with its new city car in the scenic Western Cape, giving us a chance to put both the entry-level and top-spec model through their paces on highways, mountain passes, and as you’d expect from Cape Town, heavy traffic.

Ready to pounce

The new Puma’s main draw card is its striking design that the Blue Oval hopes will pull in customers far and wide.

Sitting on the same platform as the Fiesta hatch with an optimised wheelbase, the new crossover is on the compact side of the market measuring just 4.2m long, 1.8m wide, and 1.5m tall – wider than the now-discontinued EcoSport that shared the same architecture, but slightly lower and noticeably shorter.

The most attention-grabbing elements are the large LED headlights that seem like they should be too big for the crossover but aren’t, and they incorporate stylish daytime-running lights that lend the front end of the Ford an unmistakable look.

These fixtures blend into curvy lines that flow along the flanks and end at high haunches that underscore the crossover’s stocky build. The tailgate features horizontal Puma badging and below it sits a chrome-inlayed rear bumper with faux exhaust outlets.

Compared to the Titanium, the ST-Line Vignale further wears a sportier front apron with scuff plates, a roof spoiler, body-coloured wheel arches, more splashes of chrome, and unique 18-inch alloys.

These distinctive proportions and sculpted panels, combined with the dynamic silhouette, have the Puma looking ready to pounce from every angle.

Punchy performance

Propelling the new Puma is a 1.0-litre, turbocharged petrol block churning out 92kW and 170Nm, which is fed to the front wheels by a seven-speed automatic transmission.

The driveline is punchy and gets the crossover up to speed in a respectable time if you don’t mind the three-cylinder engine drone in your ears, and there are five selectable drive modes – Normal, Sport, Eco, Slippery, and Trail – to tailor the ride to your liking.

It has a low-range mode, too, should you and your crossover be caught in a slippery situation that requires more grunt at a lower speed.

The fresh-off-the-boat Fords we drove still haven’t finished being broken in, but despite this, they registered relatively frugal fuel usage ranging between 6.2-6.7l/100km, which should come down once the engine has loosened up.

The powerplant also features cylinder deactivation, which turns off a part of the cylinder bank when cruising at low revs to save petrol, and turns it on again in as little as 14 milliseconds when more performance is needed.

True to its name, the Puma’s handling is darty and quick to respond on curvy backroads, and while there’s not much difference in feel between the Titanium’s normal suspension and ST-Line’s sports-tuned dampers, there were no serious complaints with how they behaved from behind the wheel.

Courtesy of the condensed footprint and light steering, the Ford was also a breeze to manoeuvre in tight city streets with lots of cars and pedestrians around.

But, you do sit low down in the driver’s seat and the edges of the nose are quite high which can make it difficult to see what’s going on in your immediate vicinity, so it’s important to keep record of your surroundings at all times.

Well-rounded kit

With the foundation of the Puma being around for over a decade, Ford spent most of its money on the crossover’s contemporary bodywork and well-rounded kit.

The introductory Titanium supports this statement, being sold as standard with automatic headlights and wipers, a Sensico leather multifunction steering wheel, keyless entry and start, climate control, a wireless charger, cruise control, an 8-inch central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and navigation, rear parking sensors, hill-launch assist, ABS with brake assist, and six airbags.

Both variants additionally bring several advanced assistance systems that are not as easy to come by in this segment, including automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, active park assist, and pre-collision assist with autonomous emergency braking.

The pricier ST-Line Vignale continues with Sensico leather seats with attractive needlework and massaging functions, a soft-touch dash, a model-exclusive flat-bottom steering wheel, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, an upgraded 10-speaker B&O sound system, and carbon fibre-look finishes.

While the crossover is unquestionably well-equipped in each guise, I was not particularly a fan of the previous-gen infotainment system that is identical to that of the old EcoSport and doesn’t support wireless smartphone mirroring like Ford’s newer operations systems and doesn’t look as attractive, either.

The Puma’s build quality is also up there with the best, but attention to detail falls short of its rivals in the same bracket.

Similarly, legroom inside the cabin is acceptable but where it leaves a little to be desired is with head and shoulder room.

On the upside, boot space is generous as the loading area is sufficiently deep, affording 456 litres of storage if packed to the brim. The Ford Megabox storage system is also standard, allowing you to fit items like two upright golf bags in the boot when removing the floorboard and spare wheel.

All things considered, the price of the new Puma isn’t as easy to justify as we’d hoped it would be going into the test drive, but should you have your heart set on one, it’s tough to imagine that it will let you down.

Unfortunately, Ford South Africa said a more affordable Puma isn’t on the cards for the near future, and that the updated model that is in development for Europe’s stricter emissions regulations will only arrive locally in a good few years.

Ford Puma ST-Line Vignale


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