Cat in the Wild: Can you Off-Road a Ford Puma?

ClassicCarsForSale's Calum Brown gets a hold of Classic Car Weekly's £500 Ford Puma to try something a bit different. 

Words: Calum Brown
Photography: Gillian Carmoodie

Being introduced to the Classic Car Weekly Ford Puma was a tad laughable after all the beefy talk it’s caused in the office. It’s difficult to understand why it has become the apple in CCW features editor David Simister’s eye. He’s driven E-types, Ferraris and the odd Bentley - so what was the deal with this disappointing piece of plastic tat? It feels badly made, the interior is cheap and nasty, the ride is more uncomfortable than a sex talk with your Grandparents and the cabin space is lacking in the same way Eric Pickles lacks vitamin C.

When out on the open road the gearbox feels stodgy and fat, despite being overly sensitive in the pedal department the brakes mash like wet cardboard and the wind noise makes my old Mini Mayfair appear sedate and well behaved. It doesn’t even have a practical boot, and the looks are so sickly and perfumed that the smart silver paintwork can’t save the aesthetics from its flatulent, boppy-teenager image. That may appeal to some, but sadly I don’t understand any of it.

If it was light on fuel and generally economical then I could throw some compliments the Puma’s way - but after only 40 miles it chomped through quarter of a tank, and that was without abusing the accelerator in the slightest. I couldn’t even forgive it for being only £500, as that could secure you something realistic and characterful. I can admit, however, that the handling and balance are quite excitable, even if the performance from the 1.4-litre is gutless despite the screaming engine noise. It's so high pitched that local dogs in the area were probably doing backflips. 

Notwithstanding the chuckability, the Puma remains a hateful car. Which is why I decided to punish it for being so downright unfathomable.  I found the nearest Greenlane and lined the pithy hairdresser’s car up for a journey up the dirt track, in as rough a manner as Catherine Trammel would enjoy. 

The first obstacle was a cattle grid, where the suspension clanked and wallowed in a manner befitting spanners in a cement mixer, leaving me with the distinct impression that the Puma wasn’t going to enjoy itself very much over the next two miles. It coped with the mellow potholes admirably at low speed, but as the pits in the ground enlarged, the front valance clipped the unkempt rutted lips in quick succession. 

Having driven this track before, I knew the floorpan would be destroyed if the Puma found itself already struggling with the easy stuff. So, the route was altered to mount the nearby ridge of grass and continue onwards. Except, the Puma didn’t think so.

As soon as the tyres met the grass, momentum stopped immediately. The sound of spinning wheels on pasture whirred into the eardrums of all those nearby, including some lads on a quad bike who stared with curiosity as a handbag car scrambled to push forth into the wilderness. It took three attempts just to get the Ford up a slight grassy incline, which did not bode well for the next segment.

It had rained earlier in the day, leaving one particular section of the greenlane in a bog like state. My Allegro had coped with this last year and escaped out the other side without damage, but the Puma? It triumphantly blared a short exhaust note before flailing uselessly in a dank puddle and filling the vicinity with a burning smell Joan of Ark could be proud of. It clearly wasn’t going any further without self-harming.      

Clattering back onto the tarmac and heading home, I was finally able to find something I liked about the Puma. Giving it back.  Perhaps a David Simister style B-road blast in the near future would sway my opinion, but for now, I simply don’t understand Ford’s attempt to produce the most impractical city car of the 1990s. I can also exclusively reveal that, off the beaten track, the Puma is useless. But you probably guessed that already... 

 

  

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