ONE of the great things about this job is that you sometimes get to drive cars which are so new it is the first time people have seen one.

As you can imagine that causes a lot of interest and so it was when I recently got my hands on the much heralded Ford Puma SUV crossover.

Now this is very different from the last Ford to carry that badge – a Fiesta based compact sporty coupe which sold from 1997 to 2002, some examples of which can still be seen on our roads today.

No – the latest Puma is a very different beast, a five door Focus-sized SUV with raised driving position and some off road capability which is aimed at the booming UK market for such vehicles.

The new Puma is 54mm taller than a Fiesta and 146mm longer with a larger wheelbase, track and is 71mm wider.

Mechanically every Puma is a 1.0-litre petrol with a 1.5 diesel following soon. The three-cylinder 1.0-litre, as also found in the Fiesta and Focus, comes in four different power levels, 94bhp and 123bhp then a 123bhp and 153bhp mild hybrid. The latter have an integrated starter/generator which assists the petrol engine at low revs and at just 15bhp it has little impact on overall acceleration but does help fuel economy and emissions (101g/km C02). The car does not go anywhere on electric power only.

Our 155PS version can reach 62mph in 9.0sec and returns up to 51mpg claim Ford, although on a long weekend round trip to Warwickshire I got closer to 40mpg, which is still decent for a mainly motorway journey in a SUV.

The Puma has a higher boot floor than a Fiesta but still manages a decent amount of luggage space even with the rear seats upright thanks to a system Ford call ‘MegaBox Extended Bootspace’.

Inside the dashboard has a fully digital instrument pack with various driver modes from eco to sport including a winter setting and an 8.0in central touchscreen.

Other standard kit includes adaptive cruise control, power fold door mirrors with puddle lamps and wireless charging for the latest smartphones.

The seats are relatively flat but proved comfortable on that 300 mile round trip, the gearbox is good (as we have come to expect from Fords) and ride surprisingly unflustered considering the SUV’s raised ride height.

All in all we emerged relaxed and refreshed after a couple of hours in the Puma and it is a very easy vehicle to live with.

Prices are from £20,300 for the lower powered non hybrid up to £27,100 for the ST-Line X 1st Edition.  Our ST-Line X version was £23,645 and came with £3,400 worth of optional extras including metallic paint, driver assistance pack (including a blind spot warning system), hands-free power tailgate, LED headlights, a panorama roof and special 19-inch 5-spoke alloys.

So I expect to see many more Pumas prowling our streets in the months ahead as Ford may very well have set a benchmark for compact SUVs.

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By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth