2001 Ford Puma Thunder 1.7i VCT petrol
A phenomenally fun driver's car, low on practicality and with possibly high running costs
Clutch started slipping when I drove it home after I bought it. Dealer gave me £100 towards a new one.
Driver's rear suspension shock absorber was heavily worn; caused banging noises over bumps. Had both shocks replaced.
Puma trademarked rusty rear wheel arches, but not as bad as others I've seen. Very little bubbling for its age.
Front driver's ABS sensor failed at around 69,000 miles. Bearing on same wheel wore out 1,000 miles later. All fixed and working now.
Oil leak from power steering pump.
Rear suspension bushes have worn right through; rear is now unstable and an MOT failure.
So, first off, I have to say this car is a bit of a disappointment given my prior experience with Fords. A lot has gone wrong since I bought it. Some have been general maintenance things (cambelt, shocks), others more serious. Repair costs have already exceeded what I paid for the car just six months ago, even though the car is extremely low mileage.
That's not to say I don't like it. This is a Thunder limited edition model, which sports a full black leather interior and very nice 15-spoke alloy wheels. It has the 1.7 litre fuel-injected Sigma engine with Variable Cam Timing. If the Fiesta I had before was a go-kart, this is a rocket-powered one!
The engine is incredibly responsive and has tonnes of power. It even has distinct economy and power rev-bands; economy is up to 3,000 RPM, and from that point the VCT kicks in. Power comes in hard at 3,500 RPM and keeps on going well past 5,000. It's got some character, too; kick it up to 4,000 and the engine computer seems to stay in 'performance' mode; the throttle remains responsive and the engine is very eager to rev, even when you try to calm it down. Not a bad thing, but if you try to drive economically after a high-speed sprint, you could have a hard time keeping the engine reined in! Beware, the cambelt interval for this car is half that of other Sigma engines at 5 years (or 80,000 miles).
It cruises beautifully, happily sitting at 4,000 RPM for hours. It's more economical at 80 MPH than 70, and on a long motorway run can hit 45 MPG. Expect around the 38 MPG mark for normal driving, however. It's very light, around 1,038 KG, and very compact. Very reliable, occasionally doesn't start first time, but this is usually due to low fuel pressure, need to wait for the injection pump to pressurise the system (didn't have this issue on my smaller Fiesta, which would start with the key turned straight from 'off').
Cornering is nothing short of breathtaking. It holds the road like it's on rails. Very little body roll, it's firmly planted and stable. Steering is very sharp for a FWD with little understeer on road.
The gearbox is the same as fitted to the Fiesta - in fact, the entire chassis is based on the mark 4 - but the gear ratios are much closer. It drops about 500 RPM per gear at a constant road speed. The gear shifter has a very short throw, making upshifting very quick. As it's the same transmission as in a Fiesta, it's solid, reliable and will last the life of the car.
The interior is very nice, too. The dashboard is the same as a mk4 Fiesta, but the seats are leather. Even at 12 years old, the leather has no rips or tears and looks beautiful. The seats are firm and supportive, and long-distance driving is pleasant. Room in the rear is very restricted, and my friends find it difficult getting into and out of the car. However, it's a driver's car more than anything; there is ample room in the front. Big doors make it easy to get in and out of the front.
Rear visibility is not as good as the Fiesta, and it's often easier to use mirrors when reversing. The rear-view mirror on the screen is in an odd place due to the Puma's roof line, and can cause a blind spot at roundabouts and T-junctions.
The boot is a good size for two people, but not more than that. I bought some Ford original roof bars to enhance the load capacity with a roof box for a long journey, but these bars do not fit well and leave a small gap in the door frames.
Headlights are a sore point. Dipped beams are very focused, creating a rhombus of light in front of the car, but not much beyond that, restricting visibility at night. High-beams are good though. Condensation can build up in the outer covers if the vent tubes are missing.
Safety systems are good, with driver's airbag, ABS and traction control as standard. Its low weight means good braking performance; it'll stop in a very short distance. A passenger airbag is optional.
This car has style in huge amounts. The smooth body panels and feline cues really do look good, especially with the special-edition alloys. There's just a Ford badge at the back, with the 'Puma' badge on the B-pillars, which is a very nice touch and makes it a bit more sporty. Inside it has a black and polished aluminium theme (although the 'aluminium' panels are in fact silver-effect plastics), with a very sporty aluminium gear knob. I don't rate cars highly by their default radios and CD players since they're easily replaced; the in-dash 6-CD changer didn't work when I bought it and I quickly swapped in my JVC unit from my Fiesta. The speakers are regrettably non-standard sizes and harder to replace, but the factory-fitted ones do sound very good and cope with aftermarket stereos fine. It also comes with electric windows, electric heated mirrors and very effective air conditioning.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 25th March, 2013