I swear Ford is sometimes deliberately messing with us reviewers.
Having declared a few months ago that it was simplifying its range it recently sent me a Puma ST-Line X Vignale, which appears to be a mash-up of two distinct trim levels which are usually polar opposites.
Buy a Fiesta or a Focus and the ST-Line is the sporty one with lowered suspension, grippy seats and a deeper body kit. Vignale, on the other hand, is the luxury-tinged trim line with fancy upholstery, lots of equipment and a big shiny grille.
So our test car appears to be a combination of the two. There’s the ST-Line body kit with a big spoiler, deep side skirts and carbon fibre-effect interior details, plus sports suspension. But there’s also lots of shiny exterior chrome trim - including a grille that makes it look like a wannabe rapper - heated Windsor leather seats and a premium B&O sound system.
It does, in effect, mean you get the best of both worlds. All the fancy toys of the Vignale line, such as a heated steering wheel, more comfortable seats, keyless entry, auto-dipping headlights and front parking sensors are present but the car also has the more aggressive stance, handling and sporty details of the ST-Line. It’s just unfortunate that the chrome embellishments clash with the dark theme of the ST-Line X kit.
Our early example of the Vignale came with a non-hybrid drivetrain and automatic transmission but has already been joined by the mild hybrid engines offered with the rest of the Puma range. All are based on a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol. The auto offers 123bhp and no hybrid help while the other two are mild hybrid, six-speed manuals with either 123bhp or 153bhp. The difference between them is pretty clear, with the tested auto feeling muted in comparison. It’s not bad but the transmission is occasionally sluggish and the lack of extra low-down torque apparent. The manual 123bhp is better while the 153bhp tune is the sweet spot if you can afford the extra outlay.
You might not think extra power is a big issue in a B-SUV but part of the brilliance of the Puma is how it drives and the more powerful motor is a better match for its dynamic performance. From the driver’s seat it is still unrivalled in terms of feel, fun and involvement but even with the lesser engine it’s still the B-SUV to beat.
In practical terms, it’s also still among the class leaders. That’s partly thanks to the clever Megabox which offers 80 litres of additional storage in a waterproof, drainable space beneath the boot floor. It’s also down to a good interior layout that offers decent space for four and will even carry five in a pinch (although it will be a bit of a pinch).
While Vignale brings a “sensico” material wrap the the instrument cluster and full leather upholstery, elsewhere it’s like every other Puma - and Fiesta, for that matter. It lacks the style of something like a Peugeot 2008 or Vauxhall Mokka or the over-the-top individuality of the Nissan Juke but it’s well put together and easy to live with.
Depending on engine choice, there’s only £1,650 between the Vignale and the ST-Line X, which means if you’re desperate for leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel and auto-dipping headlights, it’s reasonable value. However, if you can live without those baubles, you can opt for the more powerful engine in an ST-Line X and still save yourself close to a grand. It all comes down to priorities.
Whichever trim you go for, the Puma is still a great choice. Many rivals offer their own strengths, but the Ford maintains its position as the one to beat thanks to its combination of practicality and fun.
Ford Puma ST-Line X Vignale
Price: £27,340 (£28,640 as tested); Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 123bhp; Torque: 148lb ft; Transmission: Seven-speed automatic; Top speed: 116mph; 0-62mph: 10.2 seconds; Economy: 38.7-53.3mpg; CO2 emissions: 141g/km