Ford’s BX726 series Puma continues to be a major hit for the brand, especially in the UK. Creating the range-topping ST was a stroke of genius, giving the model a high-priced range-topper which rivals have mostly failed to match.

Three cylinder auto or four-cylinder manual?

Now the ST can be powered by a 1.0-litre mild hybrid engine, which while offering fewer ponies than the 1.5 and manual gearbox pairing, has a lower CO2 average of 144 g/km.

The loss of half a litre and one cylinder results in outputs of 125 kW (170 PS) and 248 Nm (183 lb-ft). That compares to the 147 kW (200 PS) and 320 Nm (236 lb-ft) of the six-speed manual ST.

The seven-ratio dual clutch transmission does a very good job of shifting silently as 62 mph is reached in an official 7.4 seconds, with top speed being 130 miles per hour.

Driven normally, the Combined consumption of 44.8 mpg is easily bettered, a little more than 50 mpg being possible, I was able to prove over the course of about 300 miles.

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As well as looking the part, the ST comes with a long list of standard features. That includes heating for the steering wheel, mirrors and front seats, Ford’s always-welcome Quickclear rapid-defrost windscreen, some winsome 19-inch dark-painted alloy wheels and changes for the dynamics.

The suspension has been both lowered and firmed up, so this isn’t just a visual job, it’s a genuine sports package. And the altered looks extend to red brake calipers, ST badges at the front/rear, a body kit and dual tailpipes.

Fiesta dashboard still works well

Scarlet detailing continues inside the car, including for the stitching on door-tops, seats and steering wheel. The sports seats feel fantastic and have FORD PERFORMANCE embossed into them. Those two words also appear on the stainless steel sill plates.

The dashboard design is up to Ford’s usual high standard for logical placement of controls and ease of use. HVAC settings are controlled via lots of lovely buttons. Two other pieces of precise-action plastic are the gear-change paddles.

What is called an ‘engine sound enhancer’ is another feature and sure, it adds artificial noise but it does at least ensure a pleasing note. And the firm’s long-running EcoBoost three-cylinder turbo has always emitted a nice noise anyway, be it 1.0 or 1.5 litres, in the Fiesta, Focus and even the Mondeo.

Merely mildly electric

The tiny triple has had so many modifications over the years that this latest iteration really should be thought of as almost a fresh design. Ford refers to the 998 cc unit as an mHEV though calling it electric is a bit of a stretch. The first of those four letters means mild and signifies a 48-volt electrical system, along with a belt-driven starter/generator.

As with all mild hybrid applications, this one harvests otherwise wasted kinetic energy, utilising it to fire up the engine and get the car off the line. I’ve driven the non-mHEV Puma ST and it’s a total hoot, the manual transmission being delightful to boot. So I wondered if the BSG system on a 1.0-litre engine might make for juddery take-offs? Not really is the answer, though you are aware of the engine being restarted.

As we’ve come to expect of European-engineered Fords, the handling is sublime and class-leading. You soon forget this is an elevated hatchback, body lean being well controlled and the steering precision an example to all cars in the B segment.

It’s Britain’s best seller too

The word seems to be out about just what a great little car the Puma is. Moreover, its price premium over the Fiesta, production of which ended in July, has been both a clever move on Ford’s part. There will be juicy margins indeed from what has become far and away the UK market’s best selling car of 2023. Not quite enough to lift Ford back above VW but the brand at least continues in a strong second position ahead of Audi.

We should also remember the blue oval’s strength in LCVs: the Transit Custom was Britain’s best selling vehicle in both 2021 and 2022. As you could argue it would do, having lost the long-time lead over all others in passenger vehicle sales, Ford says its preoccupation is profit. Being top of the pecking order was nice but losses were not. What the Puma has achieved throughout 2023 will have made the Essex-based company’s high-ups very happy though.

Officially official future Fords for Europe

There is certainly a lot of new product either just arriving or coming soon. Transit Courier and Tourneo Courier production started in October at Ford Otosan’s Craiova plant so these are imminent for dealers. However, it’s ICE variants only at first. The electric E-Transit Courier – revealed earlier in 2023 – plus the E-Tourneo Courier, won’t be in production until 2024.

Another LCV-based model, the Tourneo Custom, including a 2.5-litre petrol PHEV, is also new. Diesel engines for relevant markets are first, these offering the choice of 136 PS, 150 PS, or 170 PS. The plug-in hybrid follows in the spring, and the E-Tourneo Custom, with its 64 kWh usable battery pack and a 160 kW motor, from summer.

The biggest news for the second half of next year will be the debut of the Explorer, delayed from 2023. A second VW-platform electric SUV will follow soon after, its name rumoured to be Capri. We should also see the Puma EV.

Although announced in September, the Ranger PHEV won’t be in production until the end of next year, so that one is to be a 2025 launch. But let’s not also forget the new-shape Mustang, which is now due within the coming months.