FORD PUMA REVIEW

With grin-inducing handling and performance, the Ford Puma is a stylish coupe and also something of a bargain. Here’s how to buy the best.

While its basic underpinnings may have come from the Fiesta, its handling and performance were in a different league to the humble supermini.  This was an attractively-priced coupe that was designed to put a smile on your face, and it didn’t take long behind the wheel to achieve just that.  Racing Puma aside, the 1.7-litre engine fitted at launch was – and still is – the one to go for.  Free-revving and refined, it was more than capable of delivering the performance goods, punching the stylish Ford to 60mph in just 8.6 seconds.  Accompanied by a slick gear change operated via a tactile (though chilly in winter) metal gear lever knob, and well-matched pedal weights, it was easy to have fun with the Puma without approaching licence-losing speeds.  But perhaps the real icing on this particular Blue Oval cake was the handling.  The Fiesta was already well-regarded in this area but the coupe moved things on a few notches, delivering the perfect combination of sharp and adjustable handling allied to an absorbent ride.  And even if the bulky airbag steering wheel was hardly a visual delight the hydraulically-assisted helm was brimming with feedback, making this a car that you could throw down a B-road without any fear of it biting back.  And if you did get a little over-exuberant the disc/drum brakes were feelsome and easily modulated, and more than ample for the performance on offer. 

After all the dynamic excitement the cabin was almost something of a letdown, borrowing its dashboard and most of its trim from the Fiesta, but it all worked well enough in practice.  The seats lacked under-thigh support for taller drivers but the driving position itself was spot-on, and there was decent space for front seat passengers.  The rear perches weren’t a great deal of use for people though and probably best used as extra storage.  The slightly gloomy interior was also lifted by the addition of metal-effect trim on the fascia and there was plenty of standard kit.  But the Puma was all about delivering a superb driving experience, and it had that well and truly nailed.


VITAL STATISTICS

Ford Puma 1.7

Engine 1679cc/4-cyl/OHC

Power 123bhp@6300rpm

Torque 116lb ft@4500

Top speed 123mph

0-60mph 8.6secs

Economy 38mpg

Gearbox 5-speed manual 


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Bodywork

Bodywork shouldn’t be suffering from any major woes but it’s prone to rot in a few places.  Rear wheelarches are the weakest spot so feel around the lip of the arch and look for signs of previous repairs.  The sills and seat belt anchorage points can also succumb so these need thorough checking from underneath, and examine the extremities of the doors, bonnet, tailgate and around the fuel filler flap.  Pumas can also suffer from condensation in the headlamp covers caused by leaking seals, but it’s easy to remedy. 

The Racing Puma arrived in early 2000 sporting wider wings – the fronts in aluminium, the rears in steel – so check for dents and scrapes.  Both wings and bumpers are very hard to find, and costly when you do.  The Racing’s increased desirability and value means condition should be perfect so be wary of neglected examples, and ensure the unique Ford Racing Blue paintwork is free of stone chips and mis-matched areas of colour. 

Engine

The 1.7-litre Zetec unit with a Yamaha-developed cylinder head handles big mileages with proper maintenance.  Regular oil changes are vital, preferably at 5000 miles rather than the recommended 10,000, and use top-quality lubricant.  Fully synthetic oil is best avoided as it can accelerate cylinder bore wear – specialists advise using 5w/30 semi-synthetic.  Cambelts need changing at 100,000 miles and rarely give trouble before that - it’s worth doing the water pump at the same time - and listen for misfires as leaking core plugs allow coolant to pool around the spark plugs.  Oil leaks from the rocker cover are best fixed with a genuine Ford gasket.  The 153bhp Racing featured revisions to inlet, exhaust, and engine management systems but the same issues apply.  The 88bhp 1.4 and 101bhp 1.6 engines (from February 1998 and spring 2001 respectively) lack punch, but neither are troublesome unless neglected.

Transmission

The transmission is Ford’s robust ‘IB5’ 5-speed manual gearbox, tiredness showing up in weak synchromesh and a baggy gearshift.  The latter is a cheap fix using new linkages but budget for a re-conditioned ‘box if gear-changes are crunchy.  A high biting point means a clutch past its best but it’s neither expensive nor particularly difficult to change, but it’s a good bargaining point.

Suspension

Agile handling was a key feature so anything less points to something awry in the suspension.  Chances are its worn bushes in the front arms, anti-roll bars, or rear axle beam, so budget accordingly if refurbishment beckons.  Clunking over bumps, kerbed wheels or uneven tyre wear should ring alarm bells.  Polyurethane replacements are common but they can harshen the ride, and standard items work fine if they’re in good condition.  Check also for any corrosion around mounting points while Racing shock absorbers are scarce.  

Brakes & Steering

Neither brakes nor steering should give cause for concern.  The former were discs and drums – enlarged post-2000 - although the Racing got Alcon items with larger calipers, and they are rare and costly now.  ABS and traction control were fitted to most examples so ensure the warning light illuminates and extinguishes correctly.  Alloy wheels – the original ‘propeller’ style were replaced by multi-spoke items in 2000 – can suffer from peeling lacquer and corrosion but are reasonably cheap to refurbish.  The Racing got 17-inch Speedline items.

Interior

The Fiesta-based interior was straightforward and signs of wear and tear to fabric or leather trim will be obvious.  Flimsy plastics and broken trim clips will cause creaks and rattles, but the key thing is ensuring all the electrical items are working, particularly the electric seat height adjustment, central locking, and electric windows.  The heated ‘Quick Clear’ windscreen was a handy extra but checking its operation is more difficult unless viewing the car in frosty conditions, and heater valves play up so ensure the system works okay, including the air-conditioning if fitted.  Racing Pumas got costly Sparco bucket seats with blue alcantara inserts that should be undamaged.


OUR VERDICT

The Puma is a stylish package that also happens to be great to drive.  Add in cheap prices and the appeal is obvious.  Running costs are modest too – rare and expensive Racing parts aside - and as long as you avoid the abused and badly modified cars this is a very cheap way to have fun.  It certainly gets our vote.

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