Ford has unveiled the new Puma ST – the sportiest iteration of its smallest crossover.

It’s the first time a European Ford crossover has ever been given the ‘ST’ treatment, and Ford aims to offer best-in-class handling with the Puma ST.

To achieve that, the Puma ST has a lot in common with Fiesta ST hot hatchback.

The standard Puma’s 1.0-litre mild-hybrid EcoBoost petrol engines have been swapped out in favour of a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol unit. This develops 197bhp and 320Nm of torque – allowing for a 0-60mph time of just 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 137mph – and the power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox.

Uniquely, the Puma ST is the only small SUV on the market with a mechanical limited-slip differential (which sends torque to the wheel with the most grip, aiding traction).

Other performance tweaks include a steering response that’s 25 per cent sharper than the standard Puma, along with brakes that are 17 per cent larger.

The suspension has also been stiffened to make up for the model’s higher centre of gravity compared to the Fiesta ST hatchback, while new 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres ensure the best grip possible.

Stefan Muenzinger, Ford Performance manager for Europe, said: “Our new Puma ST is practical and refined with head-turning SUV proportions, but able to deliver hot-hatchback thrills. We believe that we have the best-handling small SUV in its segment. It really does feel connected and has the true ST feel. It is a joy to drive.”

ST models also come with a sportier look, thanks to a revised bodykit that adds a bigger rear spoiler, more aggressive-looking bumpers and a tweaked grille. A new Mean Green paint colour has also been introduced.

In the cabin, the Puma features the same Recaro sports seats as found in the Fiesta ST, along with a sports steering wheel and gearknob.

But despite its sporty stance, Ford still promises the same levels of practicality as the regular Puma. The 456-litre boot remains the same, while you still get a useful underfloor 80-litre storage area known as the ‘MegaBox’.

Other standard kit includes heated seats, an eight-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with front and rear parking sensors and a wireless smartphone charging pad.

Prices for the Puma ST start from £28,495; the Performance Pack, which adds the limited-slip differential and grippy Michelin tyres, costs an extra £950. First deliveries are expected before the end of the year.