There is a new Ford Puma out, but honestly it isn’t a proper one. No the ’90s Puma was a pocket of pure driving joy and you should buy one before they all rust away.

Fast, affordable, sensational styling and low, low running costs, that is the blueprint for a true blue collar coupe’. However, only one company has consistently delivered a sports car for the people and the credit goes to the blue oval in the shape of Uncle Henry. Firstly the Capri and latterly the Puma have proved that Ford have consistently understood (imported Probe apart) what their customers really wanted.

It is hard to believe that underneath the Puma’s striking exterior is a humble Fiesta hatch. The Puma though is a thoroughly reworked and a hugely exciting little coupe’ which raises buyers expectations when it comes to handling, styling and performance and most importantly of all, never disappoints. This is clearly the most remarkable sporting Ford launched in the last decade. New it was always fabulous value and now as a used buy it is shaping up as one the best pocket coupes on the market. Why make do with a me-too Mini when a more rare, more distinctively styled and just a roomy in the back Puma can be yours for half the cost? Indeed, the Puma was used as the standard by which the new Mini was judged. It came out rather well too and it still stacks up well against the opposition of which there isn’t very much.

If you want hardcore performance there is also the Puma Racing to seriously consider. Then again if you want looks, but aren’t too bothered about the performance element there is always the 1.4. Yes there is a Puma for just about every type of used car buyer, but there are many more reasons to choose one right now.

Why buy a Ford Puma

Steve McQueen, King of Cool. He might have used a Mustang in Bullitt, but Ford digitally pasted him into a Puma for their TV ad. I think he would have approved don’t you? It handles superbly, looks sharp and has perky performance. The ride is also very controlled making it comfy and composed at low speeds too. However, for some the Puma might be a bit on the girly side, it’s small and cute and based on a humble Fiesta, but that doesn’t stop it being bags of fun and a truly brilliant all rounder. People who think that way are just image snobs and they are missing out on one of the best small performance cars ever built. The chassis is set up for maximum effect, that alloy gearknob shifts precisely and sportily and the performance is sparkling. Not only that, the insurance is just group 12.

Yes in real life, the power steering, compact dimension and Fiesta set up means the Puma is very happy to go shopping. There is actually more room in the front of a Puma than in a Fiesta although things are obviously a bit tighter in the rear, but fine for short journeys, or children. The ride is fine and the seats very comfortable. Luggage space is good, although that high rear loading sill limits always its practicality, but not by that much, it really could not be easier to live with. The reliability has been excellent according to owners.

When it comes to having fun the Puma has the sharpest handling package in its small class and also shames many more expensive sports cars. It always feels safe yet can be steered into and out of sharp bends with remarkable ease. Yes it flatters the average drivers, but what’s wrong with that, the Puma is all about having fun.

So is there anything wrong with the perfectly formed Puma? Not really, some think the styling is a bit too edgy and those big arched aren’t quite as full of rubber as they should be. Also one has to question the point of the 1.6, when the 1.7 is clearly so much better, whilst the 1.4 manages the impossible by making the Puma seem almost sluggish.

Owning one

It could not be easier to look after. The whole point is that the Puma is Fiesta based, so the running costs are fairly similar when it comes to servicing and parts. The only difference is going to be slightly higher damage repair costs and consequently higher insurance ratings. The 1.4 registers as a 9, the 1.6 a 10 and the 1.7 a 12. Even so compared to many other pocket rockets with comparable performance that is still on the low side. Servicing is just like normal a car too at 10000 miles or annually, whatever comes soonest for the standard service. This is followed by the 30,000-miles or 3-years, interval for the major service.

Overall fuel consumption at just under 40mpg for the 1.7 is very similar to the Fiesta so it is more win/win for the owner who finds that running costs are very containable.

Which model should I buy?

There really is only one model to seriously consider and 1.7 certainly delivers the thrills and it feels as lively as any hot hatch. It is also the model that will also be easiest to resell. The 1.7 litre engine is just about perfect for the Puma’s capabilities, this high tech unit produces plenty of power at low speeds gets to 60mph in just over 8 seconds, being smooth and working brilliantly with the slick gearchange. The 1.4 is much more sluggish and the 1.6 only marginally quicker. Unless you just want to pose and want a lower insurance group the 1.7 is the best version. The Racing special edition is pretty much certain to become a future collectable because it sold slowly (just 500 were built) and was relatively expensive. However it is a hoot drive, is hand built and was

There were some special editions they may retail for slightly more on the used market by around 8% to 10%. If you like the Millennium then you must also like yellow, ditto Black and the colour black. The model run out Thunder is not as special as it should be, but has a suitably high specification.

Otherwise any standard 1.7 from 1997 on is a good buy as the specification did not change. Many 1.7s had the Climate Pack, which means air con and heated mirrors and pay at least £300-£400 less if it isn’t there. Luxury Pack, electric mirrors, heated front screen and CD player is nice to have and adds £100 or so to the price. So lets say a well looked after 1999 on a T with 50,000 miles, that’ll be just over £7000. Bargain.

What to look out for?

The simple fact is that the Puma is one of the best-built Fords in recent years. It may be that the Puma leads an easier life than a rep’s multi mile Mondeo, but the feedback from owners is generally extremely positive. Many Pumas have been privately owned and that should mean a full service history and also a lowish mileage of up to 10,000 miles a year. There are no weakspots on this model and a looked after model will look after you. There is no reason to settle for second best with a shabby secondhand example, there are some excellent examples in the classifieds and here’s how to find one.

Engine: We haven’t heard of any gripes about the Puma’s powerplants. The 1.7 VCT (variable cam timing) system works very well. But what you don’t want to hear is any noisy top end rattles. Major neglect and skipping services is going to cause trouble, but so far all the Pumas in captivity seem to have been treated like pampered kittens. Even so, look at the oil on the dipstick for colour and if the mileage is ultra low, has it been serviced at least once a year? Just a note about, Ford ancillaries which acquired a poor reputation in the late ’90s for reliability. So any starting problems could be traced to a dickey starter, or possibly an alternator, which isn’t up to the job.

Gearbox: No reports of any nasty surprises. Underneath that groovy alloy knob it should feel like a slick and precise sporty ‘box, if it isn’t and synchros are grinding then a previous boy racer owner could have inflicted all sorts of damage.

Bodywork: On the whole the Puma is pretty well built. Fit and finish is fine, but the chances of the new edge styling getting an early facelift against a lamppost are quite high. Check the paint match in good light and look in all the unusual places for overspray. Lining those new edge panels up properly can be a problem for the talentless bodger. Soft, water based paint is a recurring modern car problem and that means chipping around the front end as the miles build up. Indeed on the Ford Racing Puma (FRP) good bodywork is essential as panels can be expensive to replace and paintwork on FRPs is very thin and chips very easily. This is especially bad on the front bumper and rear arches. Also on the FRP cosmetic items like valve caps, badges and centre caps tend to go missing but are readily available from Ford Racing. Just remember that small things add up, so broken headlights, chipped windscreen and panel dents cost more than you think to put right. Get a quote for this work and chip the asking price accordingly. RUST, I wrote this a while back and rust wasn’t initially an issue but it is now. Look everywhere, mostly floorpan, doors…

Suspension: The Puma is a well set up and nimble little thing. If it isn’t, then there is likely to be a problem. Tracking can be neglected on a well-used city car, which causes plenty of handling upsets. Dampers should still be fresh and any suspension damages points to sub standard accident repair.

Wheels Tyres: Lovely alloys eh? Not so lovely if they have been used by someone who is a less than careful parker. Chips and dents are not very encouraging at all, but it is easily done and alloys are going to cost over £100 each. Tyre wear isn’t a particular problem, hard use though will see them last no longer than 10,000 miles, but normal driving doubles that life, so the fronts should not look ragged. If there is unusual wear this will usually be related to suspension set up problems or suggest serious accident damage.

Brakes: The Puma has good brakes. However, previous owners may have spent a lot time trying them out. It is basic stuff, but take a peek at the pads if you can and also feel the thickness, when cold, of the discs.

Interior: So far, so good. Sports seats bolsters are always going to be vulnerable to lardy drivers, but otherwise it is pretty tough. Tight rear access means that there can be lots of scuffs and knocks, from big bodies getting in and out. Immobilisers are not the most reliable and can give problems. The alarm system also can function eccentrically, so make sure you understand how it works.

Parcel shelves can work lose, but new pins are cheap to buy.

Air conditioning, has it ever been rePETROLsed, or checked? According to the service schedules it should have an annual check, but few garages are qualified and even fewer owners think it is important. If it does not blow cold the bills could be big if there has been a major component failure.