Straight away, you probably will have worked out why this review is biased… the car in question hasn't been loaned to me by some company for the purpose of this review, but I bought it. This is my only car, so it has to do a great number of things, from “B-road blasting” to my daily commute, to bumpy tracks to get to horse yards, transport bikes around, go on holiday in and everything I have failed to mention!
To start with, I will go into practicality. Realistically, there are many larger cars. The Puma is based on a mark 5 Fiesta chassis. This means that inside, there is pretty much the exact same space as there would be in a similar age Fiesta. Room in the front is fine, room in the back is acceptable for short journeys. The boot space is quite surprising – I’m certain that there’s more than there is in a Fiesta! If I fold the back seats down (not quite flat), I can fit two bikes (mountain or road) with their front wheels removed, and enough luggage for about two weeks away for myself and my girlfriend. In my view, this is perfectly reasonable – I don’t need to cart around too much stuff with me, and haven’t ever found myself actually lacking in space in real terms. Other people who review my car will point out the lack of head-room in the rear. They’re right! There isn’t much, but those in the back will complain if they have to be transported far. To put rear legroom into perspective, I have the driver’s seat as far back as it will go, and there is just about space for a small adult’s legs behind there. Because of the layout of the front of the car, the passenger in front can move the seat quite a way forward without compromising on legroom too much, making plenty of space for anyone in the back. Overall then, a great package, as long as you don’t have too many friends.
Secondly, I am going to talk (hand reaching for my wallet) about reliability. There are a couple of ways of looking at this, to start with, I will point out that the car is 16 years old. That out of the way, I think it’s probably best to list the things wrong with it; rust (rear arches and sills are starting to rust now), suspension will need complete replacement in the next couple of years, and finally, the clutch went about 5 months after I bought the car. Apart from that, it’s the usual things that one would usually replace after a certain amount of time: tyres, track rods, brake bits, and that’s about it. The car hasn't ever broken down (in about 16,000 miles), or caused me any real trouble or expense apart from the clutch. Other things have cost me money, but not too much. I replaced the standard brakes with second-hand ones from a Fiesta ST150. This comprised of discs, pads and calipers, all in a total cost of £80. The discs were near-new and so were the pads. Calipers were in good overall condition, and I didn’t have any labour costs because I did the work myself (with the help of a few friends). So, to date, one new clutch, some tyres (1 ½ sets), brakes and that’s about it! Saving me masses over buying a ‘new’ car.
Thirdly, I will talk about my favourite part of the car; the driving! I realise how unfortunate I am to have the Puma as a first car. It handles fantastically!! Throw it into a corner, and you’re fairly certain it will go around it! It will produce, should you ask politely, gentle, but very real lift-off oversteer. I really can’t explain how good it feels to drive – I know that you’re probably reading this thinking about the number of cars you’ve driven, and about how I can’t be the judge having only drive the total of 4 different cars, but honestly, you need to drive one! And they’re dirt cheap! You can actually get a decent one for under £1000! The 1.4 engine in mine is best avoided – it lacks punch round the rev-range. It’s fine if you don’t want acceleration, or are willing to rag it a bit, but realistically, it needs more power. The engine to go for is the 1.7 VTC (all of the 1.7s have Variable Cam Timing). These produce constant power (if only 125bhp of it), rather than a small push of power at about 3,500 rpm as you would find in my car that just gets you to enough speed to overtake a granny in a Nissan Micra!
There’s something about the way that the Puma goes; it’s just so ready to be revved to within an inch of its life, thrown far too fast around bends, and everything in between. It soaks up the abuse I give it, and you know what, 88bhp is enough for British roads, especially in a car that weighs only 1.1tonnes! I would like to get a 1.7 VCT Puma at some point, but for the moment, I have a great car to look after while the cost of my insurance goes down enough to afford a larger engine car!
It seems unfair to review my own car…. You are thinking right, it’s ungentlemanly to review a car that one owns and therefore has to be nice about, so I will set it up against the alternatives that my friends own. They won’t thank me for it, but I really dislike most of their cars, and you’ll understand why. Jacq, 18, has a 1.1 litre Citroen Saxo, with a gearbox that feels like spaghetti soup, a steering wheel that doesn’t feel like it’s attached to the wheels, and a pedal setup that’s all wrong, and no ABS, and seats that are falling apart (you sink about 8” into them!). The Saxo can get a bit of a move on, and is probably closest in terms of power-to-weight to my Puma, but still can’t keep up around the twisties! Sam, 18, has a 2003 1.2 litre Skoda Fabia estate. I don’t mind the car, it’s comfortable, spacious, practical and reliable. These aren’t exactly words that bring excitement though! Especially as Clarkson, Hammond and May have pointed out that the one point of having a car as a teenage male is to try to attract the attention of girls! The only benefit to the Skoda is that you could probably fit a double bed in the back – okay, I sort of wish my car could do that! The Fabia (meaning bean-farmer, if you didn’t know), is horrifically underpowered! It weighs just over 1.2 tonnes, and has only 64 bhp. Hills are a problem, especially if there are more than 2 people in it! Harvey, 18, has a 2008 1.4 litre Honda Civic. Heavy, underpowered, 6 gears (why?!). The Civic is probably quite a good car, but it’s let down by the terrible engine! Having driven all of the above for short distances, I can honestly say that the Civic was my least favourite! Steering is too light, throttle doesn’t feel attached, brakes are too sharp, and not enough feel in the pedal. It just feels too modern for me! I love the mechanical feel of components, it pleases me when something feels just-so, but the gear lever is ‘plasticy’ and has no feel whatsoever, and in general, it’s bloody awful!
So, what was meant to be a review of my car, eventually turned into a defence of my car, and why it’s better than all of my friends’ cars! Bean-farmer Sam is now insured on my car, and has also driven all of the above, so I will await his verdict over the next 10 days as to whether he likes my car more than his!! Overall, my Puma is just powerful enough, has just enough space (the boot is quite generous), handles like a dream, and is better than the rest of my friends’ cars. What could be a better end?!