We've all heard the line about the Leopard changing its spots… but a Puma?

If it had spots to change in the first place, Ford’s latest incarnation of the 90s nameplate would have turned them into a tartan print, I’m sure.

In short, if you’re braving the Parkgate traffic to get down to Rotherham’s Ford dealership this week in the hope of checking out the Puma and expecting to find a cute compact coupé, you may be in for a surprise.

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Back for 2020, the Puma name ushers in — yes, you guessed it — a new compact SUV into the blue oval’s line-up.

On the January launch event in Malaga, officials from the brand insisted that it was consumers’ first contact with the vehicle’s initial designs that brought about the application of the Puma name.

Me? I think it might have caught a case of the Disney — i.e. it simply rummages around in its back catalogue to see which title can be resurrected for a new audience.

Whatever the reasoning, the Puma does take a fresh approach and makes a good fist of being to the Ford line-up what its key rival, the Nissan Juke, is to Nissan’s.

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A sit-up-and-beg appearance may prove divisive but with its “friendly” wide-eyes and open-mouthed smile, it at least marks a fresh approach by Ford and I found the design grew on me.

That desire to be different has also spawned the Megabox, an 80-litre watertight well in the bottom of the boot (with a removable plug) which takes overall stowage to a class-leading 456 litres.

Ford’s new compact SUV also heralds the first phase of Ford’s push towards electrification.

At launch, the new model is offered with a choice of two turbocharged Ecoboost one-litre, three-cylinder engines, each featuring 48-volt mild hybrid system and cylinder deactivation to save fuel at a cruise by disabling one of the three cylinders.

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The powerplants serve up 125PS and 155PS and are assisted by 50Nm of additional torque from the mild hybrid system, making 210 or 240Nm.

A diesel engine, offering CO2 emissions from 117g/km will arrive in May, along with choice of an automatic gearbox.

Until then, it’s an all-petrol line-up of engines mated to six-speed manual gearboxes.

The 125PS mild hybrid is the cleanest Puma at launch, although its 43.6mpg fuel economy and 124g/km CO2 emissions on the WLTP test lags behind its ICE-powered rivals.

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The 125PS should reach 62mph in 9.8 seconds and a 119mph top speed.

The more powerful 155PS mild hybrid option, meanwhile, is the Puma’s quickest derivative and should reach the same benchmark in nine seconds and a 129mph top speed, while still offering 42.8mpg economy and 126g/km CO2 emissions.

On the mountain roads of Malaga, there was little to pick between the two powerplants.

Perhaps that extra 50Nm makes more difference in the lower powered car, but both pulled strongly from low revs and the 155PS version’s added power was only really felt as the pace rose.

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Customers get to choose between Titanium (from £20,545), ST-Line (from £21,495) and ST-Line X (from £22,895) trim levels.

That makes it more expensive than the Volkswagen TRoc, but the specification ensures there is no traditional “entry level” to the Puma range.

Titanium delivers the more SUV-leaning Puma with black plastic side skirts and wheel arches and a wellequipped interior, with Ford’s Sync 3 seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, massaging front seats, wireless smartphone charging, rear parking sensors, cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and lane departure warning systems.

The ST-Line — expected to be the biggest seller — is marked out by sportier exterior styling, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminium pedals and a 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster.

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ST-Line X models upgrades the 17- inch alloys to 18s and adds a B&O sound system, part-leather seat trim and carbon-effect detailing.

As well as featuring automated emergency braking across the Puma range, it also marks the debut of Ford’s Local Hazard Information (LHI) telematics system.

Free for the first year of Puma ownership, the system allows data related to airbag deployment, windscreen wiper activation or ESP activity to be transmitted to other similarly-equipped vehicles, sharing warnings of potential hazards ahead.

Despite being some 54mm taller than the Fiesta with which it shares a platform, on the billiard table smooth twisting tarmac of Southern Spain the new Puma quickly proved that it shares much of the hatchback’s DNA.

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A 58mm wider track aids grip and stability and allows the car to remain agile without compromising ride quality.

On the evidence of our drive on the launch, it offers class-leading dynamics.

The Puma is not without its shortcomings, though, with rear legroom which seemed confined even by Fiesta standards and rear headroom which discounts the comfort of passengers over 5ft 10ins, particularly in vehicles equipped with the panoramic roof — particular issues.

Unlike the big-selling Ford EcoSport, however, the Puma succeeds in offering the best of the Ford formula, lining-up nicely alongside the Fiesta and Focus in terms of interior build quality, tractability and dynamic prowess.

For those reasons alone it looks set to become a top new contender in the compact SUV sector.

Head-up and ready to go, this is a vehicle that looks poised to hit the ground running.