Provided by Independent.ie

I’ve never been to an international car launch where they put the boot first. I have now – with the new Ford Puma.

The Ford people extolled the virtues of a deep well of a MegaBox which lies under the boot floor and creates a total carrying area of 402 litres and will even expand on that by the summer to 456 litres (164 more than the Fiesta on which it is based).

Apparently a good proportion of people won’t buy one of these compact SUVs without decent boot space. With the MegaBox they’ll even be able to drain and wash it out.

But what about the rest of the car? Well, the Puma may be based on the Fiesta but it’s quite different. Under 4.2 metres long it is 54mm higher than the supermini, 146mm longer and 71mm wider.

It exceeded my expectations; it looks great, handled extremely well and marks a reawakening by Ford after a long hibernation. About time.

The car is already on demo in Ireland, but real sale volumes don’t start until next month. It will cost from €24,465 for entry-level Titanium; the ST-Line is €1,500 more; the ST Line X a further €1,800.

There is just the one engine: a 125PS 1-litre turbo petrol EcoBoost mild-hybrid. The latter has a 48v battery to help boost the engine and look after air con and add torque (pulling power) etc. It is not a full hybrid.

Projected consumption is 5.4-litre/100km. It will be more; the car tended to encourage energetic driving.

Inside is plainer than some rivals but a substantial looking dash, clear instrumentation, decent plastic materials keep it pleasant.

Key rivals include the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Volkswagen T-Cross and Mercedes GLA. It will also tempt Focus/Golf buyers.

The current EcoSport crossover continues, I’m afraid, with a diesel engine – there is a fair bit of demand apparently. The Puma will slot between it and the larger Kuga.

The average spend on a car like this is €25,000-€26,000, they say, so the Puma entry level or even ST Line is within the ballpark. There’s a lot more spec than in the Fiesta with a Local Hazard system standard. It notifies drivers of unseen dangers ahead – such as an accident or stuff on the road around the corner. Great idea.

The Puma was such a good driver: taut, responsive, fun – there’s a new steering system, tweaked shocks, retuned suspension and several driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Slippery and Trail (gravel) – all standard. There will be a 7spd DCT auto in May.

With the boot dominating affairs at the rear, the tyre inflation kit and first-aid pack are stowed under the front passenger seat. You can order a spare tyre but it will eat into boot room.

This is the first proper go at a small SUV by Ford. It is timely as the segment accounts for one in eight cars bought (predicted 16pc by 2022; 17pc by 2023).

We drove in torrential rain on twisty mountain routes between Malaga and Marbella.

Despite the challenges we thoroughly enjoyed the drive.

However, rear sear space is not mega. It wouldn’t suit someone of my size sitting behind someone else of my size.

Other than that this is an exceptionally good car. All of a sudden they have a real player for buyers of small SUVs.

Other models this year include mild hybrids for Fiesta and Focus in July; the first full EV, the Mustang Mach-E before year’s end (expect €50,000 starting price).

Factfile

Engine: 1-litre EcoBoost petrol 125PS with mild hybrid system.

Road tax: €225 (127g/km).

Price: Titanium €24,465, ST-Line €26,065, ST-Line X €27,865

Entry-level Titanium spec: includes 17ins alloys, electronic a/c, cruise control, LED headlamps/auto high beam, Pre-collision assist; 8ins SYNC with navigation, FordPass Connect modem, keyless start, driver/passenger seats’ massage; wireless charging; with adjustable speed limiter.

ST-Line adds: 12.3ins digital cluster, ST-Line sports exhaust, sports body kit, large rear spoiler; LED fogs.

ST-Line X adds: 18ins alloys, SYNC Gen 3 (8ins touchscreen with nav, B&O) Play sound system, partial leather sports trim.

Provided by Independent.ie