Think of a fast Ford and chances are visions of Mustangs with twitching V-8s will dance in your head. Ask someone in Europe what a fast Ford looks like and they'll probbably describe something along the line of the Focus ST you see here.
For decades, Europeans have been denied the Mustang. As a result of that cruelty, they've made do by making fast cars out of their hatchbacks. Some of these creations were seriously fast, barely disguised race cars, like the Escort RS Cosworth. Woefully, America didn't get any of those firecrackers--until the arrival of the $24,495 Ford Focus ST.
The 2013 Focus ST is a performance car in the European idiom, and that means there isn't a V-8 under the hood. Instead, a turbo-charged four cylinder with 252 horsepower provides the muscle. Fuel consumption, a priority in Europe for decades, is low--the EPA estimates 23 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway.
Fuel economy won't be on your mind the first time you stomp on the throttle in first gear. From the way it pulls and smokes the front tires, you might mistake it for a V-8. OK, so it doesn't play the bass-rich notes of a V-8, but this four cylinder still has a raucous voice made louder by a tube that channels engine sound into the cabin.
Extensive suspension changes firm up the ST's ride. Large 18-inch wheels are wrapped by sticky tires. The resulting ride boarders on harsh, but the payback is a highly reactive car that changes direction at the slightest turn of the wheel. Throw the ST into an on-ramp at twice the recommended speed and it won't flinch; it'll simply hunker down and grip.
If you're getting the idea that the ST is a Focus that is foaming at the mouth, you're right. Every control is infused with quickness and an uncanny directness. Next to its main competitor the Volkswagen GTI, the ST feels a little uncouth, a bit more adolescent, but also more engaging and more fun. Ford is so serious about driver involvement that the ST is available only with a six-speed manual transmission.
The lack of an automatic will surely turn off some buyers, but for those willing to row their own, the Focus ST is as energizing and fun as a trip back to the old country.