Ford Puma: Dirty fun

I had a Jaguar XJS on the fleet recently. Not sure I remembered to mention it on the Blog, but it was borrowed from Kelsey Media to act as my muse for the next issue of Classic Jaguar magazine. You’ll be able to read loads about it when the next issue comes out (19th August 2016).

But, all good things come to an end, and Kelsey wanted it back. I had to drive it Birmingham, where it was picked up to return to Peterborough. I was planning to catch the train home, but then I got a better offer. Julian Bailey, who has been a long-time supporter of HubNut, decided to offer even better support. Would I like to drive home in his Ford Puma rather than catch a train?


Ford Puma. Better than the train.

Well, to be honest, that would still be a much better offer than the tired, noisy, slow contraptions that Arriva Trains Wales considers suitable or travel, even if the car in question was a Ford Fiesta Mk6. Diesel. Happily, it wasn’t the disgustingly grim Fiesta, but a Puma. Fiesta-based, but a GOOD Fiesta!

To be honest, Pumas have long been on my wish list. I almost bought one a couple of years ago, and found it utterly charming to drive – so easy! Just how a good Ford should be. I’d not really had a chance to try one for anything more than a quick trip around the block though. Today was my lucky day.

This one isn’t without issues. The clutch bite is rather high, the rear arches are rusty (no surprise there!) and it seems that snails have been crawling around on the windows. Inside. The fact that the rear seat has been replaced by a wooden load bed suggests it may have been on gardening duty quite recently. Which may explain the trails. And the mouldy sunvisors…

But, if you’ve seen my house, you’ll understand that this is hardly off-putting. I threaded my way around the West Midlands and began to assess the new, borrowed steed. First off, Ford column stalks are HORRIBLE. Not one action feels pleasant. Also, the self-cancelling doesn’t work on left turns. The brakes also feel as trustworthy as a government’s promise. They do stop the car, but they never feel like they’re really committed to the process. They’re still far better than the RAV4 though, so maybe I’ll let them have that one.

UGH! Horrible, horrible, cheap, nasty stalk.

UGH! Horrible, horrible, cheap, nasty stalk.

The engine is surprisingly tractable. Surprising because I found myself accelerating from 30mph in fifth gear. Now, sure, the gearing is fairly low, and the ratios are neatly stacked together. The engine really is very happy to pull throughout the rev-range though. Let it rev, and it gets you moving very nicely indeed – this is the 1.7-litre version. Those close ratios then help you keep it ‘on the boil.’ Acceleration almost doesn’t feel like a decision you make. The car decides. And it want to do it very quickly.

There’s no neck-snapping VTEC effect, it just pulls very cleanly, from whatever engine speed. Yes, there’s more punch higher up, but the torque delivery is delightfully progressive, in a way modern petrol engines often just are not.

Eventually, I leave modern conveniences like motorways and dual carriageways behind me and get a good old hurtle on. On the sweeping A roads of Wales, this car is astonishing. Often, I found myself glancing at the speedometer on the exit of a bend to find I was practically at the legal limit already. Alrighty then! It corners well. The steering doesn’t offer tons of feel, but it is very nicely weighted and geared. The brakes are no concern at all, because you don’t really need to slow down.

Definitely the best angle. Love those rear lights.

Definitely the best angle. Love those rear lights. Note wheelarch bubbles…

The gearchange is an absolute delight, even with 122,000 miles of wear. It’s so pleasant to snick your way around the gearbox.

The ride is a bit crap though to be honest, though hard clonks from the back end suggest all is not entirely well in the suspension department. It thumps over potholes and dips in the road, and seems to bounce an awful lot. It’s not a very comfortable car to travel in, and the firm, unsupportive driver’s seat helps not at all. Most annoying of all, the modern hi-fi thing did not have Long Wave, so I couldn’t listen to the cricket. This failure to equip cars with Long Wave needs to stop NOW! I was suffering serious TMS withdrawal symptoms.

This is all going on a bit more than I expected, but I’ve got Jack Johnson on the stereo now, so I’m chilled out and the words are flowing. So, I’ll relate today’s adventure.

I had to get to Oldbury in the West Midlands. I decided to take the Puma, seeing as it was here and that I’d actually put petrol on it. I eyed up the route. No, I didn’t fancy driving the Puma through the horror of Newtown and then on to the horror of the M6/M5 interchange. So, I set the sat nav to avoid motorways, pumped up the rear tyres (they have slow punctures) and set off.

Within a few miles, I’d already overtaken two cars. I swear I’ve never overtaken cars as often as I have in this thing! It zips past slower moving traffic so sweetly. With the 2CV, overtaking needs serious amounts of precision, luck and, often, gravity. The XM was good, as long as you caught it on boost. The RAV doesn’t really have confidence-inspiring power. I’d chosen the right car though. This was huge fun! Yes, it was 8am in the morning, and I was having huge fun on British roads. See? It is possible!

One hour later, the fun had been ramped up to at least eleven. The sat nav, which has a habit of choosing entertaining routes, took me to Pen-y-Bont, then that twisting road to Knighton – the A488. Then it was the B4113 to Leintwardine and Ludlow. By heck, this was ASTONISHING!

Sat nav wasn’t finished though. It then selected the B4364 from Ludlow to Bridgnorth. WOOT! Yes, I had to concede, this was a LOT better than Newtown and the motorway. I was completely ignorant of how much my back was hurting, because I was having a simply magical day. The Puma has the perfect amount of power for Welsh border roads. Not so much that bends approach you with terrifying speed, but enough to accelerate strongly out of bends, even up hill.

Alas, such good times could not last forever, and things got rather more dull after Bridgnorth and into Stourbridge. You know, all urban and boring. Even worse, the sat nav then decided it wanted to ignore the ‘no motorway’ rule. I do hate rebellious technology. By now, I was on roads I knew, so I told it to sod off and found my own way.

Job done, I could then head home. After taking just over 2.5 hours to get there, I was buzzing to drive another 2.5 hours back home! In fact, at one point on the B4113, I did actually yell out loud. It was that much fun.

The only slight issue was the placement of the 12v power outlet. It seems you can either charge something up, or change gear. Attempting both is foolhardy. The sat nav cable got yanked out one last time (it doesn’t help that my sat nav reboots everytime power is restored) and technology got told firmly to do one. I cheered myself up with a drive through the Elan Valley. Bloody lovely!

So, there you go then. If it’s fun you want, a Puma is very capable of delivering it. It’s practical too. A friend of mine, who I suspect of using magic, can transport her three children and the dog in her Puma, and often does. It’s probably economical. I’ve no idea, but it definitely uses less fuel than a Jaguar XJS.

But would I buy one? No. I wouldn’t. I just like my comfort too much, and this car has not enough of it. The French seem able to combine ride and handling in one glorious package – or they did. Why is this so hard to replicate?

Puma roads

A fantastic car, that I do not want to own.

Sorry for coming to the conclusion you probably weren’t expecting, but it just goes to show that I’m a real awkward sod to please. Which is probably why I’ve owned over 60 cars and only one has truly managed to get the claws in. I definitely appreciate a car that’s fun to drive, but I want comfort too. Finding that in a small package certainly is not easy. But, if you’re less fussy than me, and the appalling ride of most modern cars suggests people are, the Puma truly is a bargain fun pot. Buy one, before there aren’t any left.

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