Ford Puma ST review

Ford Puma ST

A little over a year since its launch, and the Ford Puma compact crossover has become a firm fixture in the Top 10 UK best-selling cars list.

Up until now it’s only been available with the excellent 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine in various states of tune, but now there’s the sporty ST version.

Using the same 197bhp 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder unit as the Fiesta ST (but with torque boosted from 214lb ft to 236lb ft), Ford hopes it can work the same magic with this distinctive, slightly bigger, more practical car.

Ford Puma ST

At first glance, there’s not much to distinguish the ST from the smaller-engined ST-Line, apart from ST badging and a few subtle tweaks, including twin exhaust tips and new alloys.

This is probably the right decision because too many boy racer additions would limit its appeal. Plus, if you opt for Mean Green, you stand out quite enough, thank you very much.

Inside, the biggest difference is a pair of Recaro sports seats, a flat-bottomed ST steering wheel, plus ST-branded gear knob and door sill protectors.

Ford Puma ST

Elsewhere, the ST gets the same 12.3-inch digital driver’s display and 8.0-inch central infotainment screen as a high-spec regular Puma, with built-in sat-nav, Apple and Android smartphone mirroring and a wireless phone-charging pad.

The 456-litre boot is also carried over, along with the waterproof and drainable ‘Megabox’ underfloor storage area.

Some scoff at the Megabox because it’s just utilising the space where traditionally a full-sized spare wheel would be kept. This is true, but the extra storage makes a huge difference and the Puma really can swallow a surprising amount of luggage.

Ford Puma ST

Power is sent through the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, resulting in a 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds, a 137mph top speed, fuel economy of 40.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 155g/km CO2.

Other changes out of sight include a suspension that’s firmer and lower, plus uprated anti-roll bars.

Sounds good on paper, but how does it go, and is it worthy of the ST badge? Well, the standard Puma drives pretty much how you’d expect a crossover based on the acclaimed Fiesta to drive, which is no bad thing.

Ford Puma ST

The Puma ST takes it up a notch or two, blending impressive engine responsiveness with quick steering, powerful brakes and excellent body control.

Accelerate hard out of a bend and the traction is superb, thanks to an optional mechanical limited-slip differential (a rarity in this price range) and specially-developed Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres.

There’s no shortage of grunt from the engine, while the slick six-speed gearbox has a short shift action and the gear ratios are well chosen.

Ford Puma ST

Even the driving position, complemented by supportive Recaros, is near perfect.

Ok, it’s not quite as nimble as the smaller Fiesta ST, but Ford’s engineers have done a fantastic job crafting a compact crossover this engaging to drive.

There are four selectable driving modes (Eco, Normal, Sport and Track), but with a ride that is on the firm side, Normal will do just fine for everyday driving and reserve Sport for fun on more challenging roads.

Ford Puma ST

Claimed fuel economy is pretty much on the money, though we managed to squeeze as much as a 45mpg out of it on a steady motorway run.

Competitively priced from £28,510, a Performance Pack (with goodies including a Mechanical Limited Slip Differential and Launch Control) is an extra £950, while the £600 Drive Assistance Pack adds nice-to-haves such as Adaptive Cruise Control and a rear-view camera.

Verdict: With its winning blend of dynamic drive, practicality and cool looks, the well-equipped, surprisingly spacious Puma ST sports crossover is a welcome addition to the Fast Ford family.

Toyota GR Yaris review

Is this rally-bred pocket rocket as good as everyone says it is?

Toyota GR Yaris

I don’t know about you, but I’m always a bit suspicious of a new car when it’s universally acclaimed and wins major awards before it’s even hit the roads.

The Toyota GR Yaris is one such vehicle, but don’t worry, it actually exceeds expectations. Here is a car that bears some resemblance to its sensible (and very good) supermini sibling, but in reality it’s totally different and has been developed with the World Rally Championship in mind.

In fact, Toyota says the only unchanged exterior parts are the headlights, door mirrors, rear light clusters and the shark fin antenna on the roof – everything else has been redesigned or adapted to meet targets for downforce, aerodynamic performance and stability.

Toyota GR Yaris

The most obvious visual difference is that the GR Yaris has three doors, a lower roof line, flared wheel arches and bigger wheels, plus spoilers and air intakes aplenty.

Weight-saving aluminium body panels have been used, along with a forged carbon composite roof, while under the bonnet the regular Yaris’s hybrid 1.5-litre 114bhp petrol engine has been replaced by a bespoke 1.6-litre turbo producing 257bhp and 265lb ft of torque – the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine and also the smallest and lightest 1.6 turbo.

What’s more, Toyota has also developed a sophisticated full-time four-wheel-drive system for the GR Yaris and the result of this this tech and attention to detail is impressive. A dinky hot hatch that can sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.5 seconds, and on to an electronically limited top speed of 143mph.

Toyota GR Yaris

For the record, this road-going rally special can return up to 34.3mpg and CO2 emissions are 186g/km.

Of course, outright speed is only half the story, it’s how a car uses that performance that matters, and this little fella doesn’t disappoint.

From the moment you fire it up, the GR lets off a low-level growl and is straining at the leash. Pedal to the metal and it’s like a bat out of hell, especially when that turbo boost kicks in.

Toyota GR Yaris

Flick through the slick six-speed manual gearbox, with its sporty short-throw, and it not only feels fast – it is fast.

There’s impressive grunt, even lower down in the rev range, and thanks to a little acoustic enhancement, the engine note builds to a throaty roar to add to the theatre of the driving experience.

Toyota GR Yaris

In short, the GR Yaris is among a select group of cars that puts a smile on your face from the moment you press the start button.

There are three driving modes (Normal, Sport and Track), but frankly default Normal will do most owners just fine in everyday driving.

Toyota GR Yaris

Even if you let your inner Boy Racer get the better of you on more challenging roads, the nimble GR Yaris’s intoxicating blend of supreme handling, remarkable traction, sharp steering and powerful brakes will flatter your driving ability.

No car is perfect, and the GR is no exception. As you’d expect from a hardcore hot hatch, it’s engineered more for performance than comfort. Sure, the sports seats are suitably supportive, but the ride is on the firm side.

I wouldn’t expect anything else, but to make this a true daily driver, a Comfort setting might have helped smooth out our pothole-ridden roads on those few days when you’d rather cruise than enter a rally stage.

Toyota GR Yaris

On a practical level, the rear seats and restricted headroom mean these spaces are only acceptable for children and small adults, while the luggage capacity is a modest 174 litres (the 60/40-split seats fold down should you need more room).

Like its standard little brother, the Yaris is well put together, but it also shares much the same interior, which means functional black plastic mouldings and a lack of soft-touch surfaces.

Toyota GR Yaris

On the plus side, it comes with a generous five-year/100,000-mile warranty and benefits from Toyota Safety Sense as standard, which includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and automatic headlights.

Prices from £30,020, the GR’s formidable rivals range from Ford’s Puma and Fiesta STs, to the Honda Civic Type R, Renault Megane RS, Hyundai i30 N and Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Verdict: The Toyota GR Yaris is a little gem. Hot hatch looks and on-the road thrills combine to make this dinky thoroughbred a real driver’s car and instant classic.