Pop quiz time: what’s the worst sin a new car can commit? Is it being too small? Too big? Too thirsty? Too underwhelming in the tech department? Too expensive?
No, no, no, no and no. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things suck - and should you be in a vehicle that displays three or more of these unwanted traits, it can suck like an out-of-control black hole - but there is something, one thing, that is much, much worse.
That is, of course, for a car to be boring - to put you to sleep when you look at it, and that feels like a great big pile of nothingness from behind the wheel. I can forgive almost anything, but boring is an absolute deal-breaker for me.
I want a car that excites from behind the wheel every time you climb in. A car that pulls you, as if by magnet, into the drive experience, rather than repels you from it.
Now don’t get me wrong - exciting doesn’t mean fast. Well, it can, but it doesn’t have to. Fast cars can be dull, and slow cars can be invigorating. I’d take a spell behind the wheel of the lesser-engined Mazda MX-5 over any number or nuclear-powered supercars any day of the week.
Which leads me to the newest member of CarsGuide’s long-term fleet, the Ford Puma ST-Line, which arrived dressed to impress in a flat-grey paintwork Ford calls Grey Matter. On paper, it doesn’t sound like a bag of excitement.
It’s a micro SUV, for one. And it’s powered by a tiny 1.0-litre petrol engine that produces a hardly soul-stirring 92kW and 170Nm, which pairs with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto which helps send the grunt to the front tyres.
But I’m here to tell you, the Puma is anything but dull. In fact, when driven with a little gusto, it serves up one of the better drive experiences in the segment. From the scintillating soundtrack of the hard-working three-cylinder engine, to the responsive accelerator feel and the engaged and engaging ride, handling and steering balance, it’s the kind of car that - though not in any way fast - puts a little smile on your face every time you climb into it.
Some reviewers have said it's not great to drive around town. The turbo and gearbox combination results in a lurching drive experience, they say. But not me. It is not the smoothest, most relaxing drive experience, sure. But it’s also not dull. It draws you into the experience, and when you get a feel for how all of its parts work together, you can command it like Cesar Millan does an unruly cocker spaniel. I genuinely think it’s among the better small SUV drive experiences out there.
You also get plenty of stuff. Even the entry-level cars get 17-inch alloy wheels, an 8.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, a wireless phone charger, an embedded modem (for Ford Connect), climate control and push-button start. Our ST Line adds a 12.3-inch instrument cluster, paddle shifters and metal pedals, a sportier black-mesh grille design and stunning headlight-framing LED DRLs.
But that is not to say the Puma (which starts at $29,990, climbs to $32,340 for our ST Line, and tops out at $35,540 for the ST Line V) is not entirely without sin.
There are some serious backseat space issues (we’ll come to those in our next dispatch), and some pricing issues ($30k is lots for an entry-level model, but again,I’ll explain why next time), and this micro-machine seriously stretches the boundaries of what can conceivably be referred to as an ‘SUV’.
But let’s revel in the good before we examine the rest, shall we? And the good here is that the Puma is a hoot from behind the wheel. If you've heard otherwise, be sure to take one for a spin before crossing it off your list.
Acquired: January, 2021
Distance travelled this month: 847km
Average fuel consumption for January: 8.0L/100