It’s easy to forget that the Ford Puma - at least in its current guise - is only a couple of years old.
The compact SUV has so quickly established itself as the car to beat in the segment that it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t the benchmark.
Its balance of space, practicality and driver engagement is still to be beaten, even if its looks are a bit of a marmite issue.
I’ve tested a few versions of the Puma since it launched, including the unnecessary but remarkably capable Puma ST and various versions featuring ST-Line bodykits and a brace of different engine and gearbox combinations.
Now, though, I think I’ve found my favourite spec and it’s making me feel very old.
You see, the Titanium line car I’ve driven is what you’d politely call the sensible choice.
It lacks the fancy bodykit and flashy wheels of higher-spec cars like the ST-Line, and it’s got the lower-powered engine with an auto gearbox. But, for me, it’s a nicer car to drive.
I’ll admit that the 153bhp engine is a more enjoyable motor and feels well suited to the Puma’s lively chassis but the 1.0-litre 123bhp mild hybrid unit is still no slouch and feels perfectly adequate for most uses, even with the seven-speed auto transmission that is often the weak spot of Ford models.
And while the Titanium is set up more for comfort than fun, it still has the responsiveness and fundamentally decent chassis setup that underpins every version of the Puma and even in this less sporty guise out-handles most rivals.
What it doesn’t have is the sometimes harsh ride of the ST-Line models with their firmer sports suspension and low-profile tyres. Instead the standard suspension, smaller alloys and taller tyres means it rides so much better than the higher-spec cars. That’s especially true around town when potholes and poor road repairs can send a jolt through the cabin of firmer-sprung models.
Sadly, despite the more refined ride, noise management still isn’t the Puma’s strongest suit, with noise levels in the cabin best described as “fine” rather than “impressive”, especially in the face of some rivals. The same goes for the seats. Again, maybe it’s an age thing but the Puma’s seats feel too short and narrow to be comfortable on long journeys.
Titanium is the entry-level trim on the Puma and lacks the bells and whistles such as adaptive cruise control, auto air con and a premium sound system but, nice as they are, there’s nothing you immediately miss in day-to-day driving.
Features such as an eight-inch touchscreen, parking sensors, auto headlights and cruise control are still standard, as is a decent suite of driver assistance systems and the ever-useful Quickclear heated windscreen. Our test car also benefited from a few take-them-or-leave-them tech upgrades and the optional Winter pack which brought heated seats and steering wheel and was, in my view, well worth the additional £300.
Beneath all that, the Puma is still impressively practical. It’ll carry five people at a pinch but feels reasonably roomy for four compared to rivals like the Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-30 or Nissan Juke. And with the now famous Megabox providing an extra 80 litres of plastic-lined, waterproof storage beneath the floor of the regular 456-litre boot, it’s got those rivals beaten for usability too.
And if that sort of thing is more important to you than on-the-edge handling and 0-60 times then the Puma Titanium might just be the model for you.
Ford Puma Titanium
Price: £23,845; Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 123bhp; Torque: 155lb ft; ; ransmission: Seven-speed automatic ;; op speed: 118mph; 2mph: 9.6 seconds; Economy: 48.7-49.6mpg; CO2 emissions: 130-131g/km