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A hot American car: Ford Focus ST is a hatch packed with value — a $24,000 scream

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The 'ST' stands for Sports Technologies. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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18" alloy wheels are standard. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The central-exit center exhaust is a nice touch. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The Focus ST offers a signature color, called “Tangerine Scream." Photo by Kevin McCauley
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As far as performance cars go, the Focus is about as usable as they get. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The Focus ST is, above all, very fun and extremely easy to put through its paces. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Visually, it's treading a fine balance between the understated Volkswagen GTI and the look-at-me-Mazdaspeed3 and Subaru WRX (but perhaps not in this color) Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Recaro seats offer grip and comfort. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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There are some nice ST details throughout the car. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The 2.0 liter EcoBoost turbcharged inline-four produces 252-horsepower. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The Focus ST, like any five-door Focus, can seat five and still has a sizable cargo area in the back hatch. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The turbocharged power delivery and exciting handling combined with everything we already liked about the standard Ford Focus. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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'ST' stands for Sports Technologies, which neatly sums up what the new Ford Focus ST is about.

After years of releasing hot Focus hatchbacks across the Atlantic, Ford has finally developed a performance-minded Focus for sale everywhere — including America. The auto giant started with the Focus 5-door hatch and stuffed in 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine, as well as a host of upgrades to suspension, gearbox, brakes and the exterior.

What's under the hood?
The previous Focus ST, not available here, was powered by a 2.5-liter inline-five. This one has a 2.0-liter inline four, which sounds worse until you learn it makes 25 more horsepower from the lighter, more compact engine. That means the Focus ST puts out 252-horsepower and a staggering 270 lb.-ft. of torque.

Observations
Driving
Ford is very proud of the ST's handling setup, but the turbocharged EcoBoost motor is the standout of the driving experience. It goes from being a silky-smooth, "is the car still on?" sound at low RPMs on the freeway, to delivering a raw surge of power when you put your foot in it, complete with a variety of entertaining spooling and sputtering sounds from the turbo. The delivery makes it feels like effortless power when you get it wound up.

In contrast to the power that swells, the brakes are responsive from the get-go, so responsive in fact that you find yourself having to adjust to their sensitivity. 

With all the power going to the front wheels only, Ford has taken some drastic measures to limit the effect of torque steer, which is where the front tires can become overloaded from acceleration, a problem with powerful front-wheel drive cars. There's a Torque Vectoring Control system, which is a brake-based system that limits the front wheels individually while cornering if necessary, and the now-ubiquitous traction-control.

The electronic-power assisted steering could offer more feel, but the overall balance and slightly-loose rear end setup feels very good. It is, above all, very fun and extremely easy to put through its paces.

Styling
The Focus ST gets a new wide-mouth grill treatment, aero-pieces all over, and a huge single-exit exhaust tip. There are also special wheels and changes to the interior. Most of the changes improve the Focus, and the 'Z-crease' where the front fenders meets the doors has never looked better. Visually, it's treading a fine balance between the understated Volkswagen GTI and the look-at-me-Mazdaspeed3 and Subaru WRX.

Comfort
Inside, the car's similar to any Focus, except for the excellent Recaro front seats and the six-speed manual gear lever in the center. The seats are aggressively bolstered and are a great place to spend a couple minutes or a few hours. The armrest is simply too tall, by about three to four inches — it gets in the way of your elbow when shifting gears and makes it so you have to angle your lower arm at a weird angle to avoid banking the armrest or the seat bolster. The steering wheel has wonderfully sculpted shape, but a hard, cheap-feeling leather wrap.

Utility
The Focus ST, like any five-door Focus, can seat five and still has a sizable cargo area in the back hatch. As far as performance cars go, the Focus ST is about as usable as they get.

Efficiency?
The ST is EPA rated at 23 MPG city and 32 MPG highway, which matches up closely with our findings. The fuel tank is absolutely tiny at 12.4 gallons, so you may find yourself at the pump  more often than you think you should be.

How much does it cost?
The MSRP on the 2014 Ford Focus ST is $24,450. The Recaro seats are available with a $2.500 equipment group package that also includes satellite radio, the 8-inch screen and dual-zone climate control.

What's Good?
The turbocharged power delivery and exciting handling combined with everything we already liked about the standard Ford Focus.

What's Not?
The pedals are very slippery if the bottom of your shoes are wet. At full lock, the turning radius ranges from slightly terrible to really terrible. The fuel tank is pretty small, even when you're getting 32mpg on the highway.

Our Verdict
The performance, refinement, utility and relatively impressive fuel efficiency make the Focus ST a rare combination of attributes.  And on top of that, it's an incredible value.

How we'd buy it:
The Recaro seats are a must. The Focus ST offers a signature color, called “Tangerine Scream,” pictured here. Order the ST in black if the bright yellow/orange pearl is too flashy or if you think the wide-mouth grill is too over-the-top, and it becomes a non-issue.

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