• Image Credit: Ford
Cars like the Ford Focus ST make me happy. They're like a featherweight MMA fighter. Small and unassuming on the outside, they're perfectly happy to blend in with the surrounding crowd, going about the daily grind like everyone else. But when provoked, they strike hard. Given the go ahead, the strength and agility they can display is amazing.

The Ford Focus ST fits into a class of cars lovingly called "hot hatches." These are compact hatchbacks that, in addition to offering the versatility of a bigger trunk, also come with a larger engine and sportier driving dynamics, usually for under $30,000. Most of us in the auto industry love hot hatches because they are probably the best way to have a sports car without sacrificing space, money or fuel economy.

To many people, the Ford Focus ST looks like a regular old Ford Focus with a different paint job and ST badge. But underneath that shell lies a ratatouille of engine parts that make it into something special. On paper, the Focus ST is impressive. Employing a turbocharged 2.0L I4 engine, it produces a mean 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. And that's on a car that weighs just 3,223 pounds.

I recently took the Focus ST up into the Santa Cruz mountains in order to see what this little firecracker could really do. The little yellow hatch and I made a day of it amid snaking roads, short passing lanes and superb vistas. Is this car as good as it looks on paper? Read on to find out.

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The Basics
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The Basics

Sticker Price: $23,700
Invoice Price: $22,100
As Tested: $28,170

Engine: 2.0L turbocharged I4

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Performance: 252 horsepower, 270 lb-ft of torque

Fuel Economy: 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway

Seating: 5 people

Cargo Capacity: 44.8 cubic feet

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Exterior Design
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Exterior Design

While a cursory glance may not reveal it, the Focus ST is pretty well differentiated from the standard Focus. In addition to coming in a couple of different colors, like the awful Tangerine Scream paint on my tester (which my girlfriend liked to refer to as the Velveeta color), the Focus ST also has a dual exhaust on the back, a rear spoiler, different wheels and a big air intake with side sills. It's a sporty-looking car, but in a subtler manner than that of some of its competition, like the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mazdaspeed3.

Had this car been any other color, I would give it two thumbs up for design. I already like the design of the base Focus. The lowered ride height and sporty visual cues on the ST improves it even more. I'd just rather drive around in something that didn't look like it was dunked in a vat of processed cheese product.

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Interior
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Interior

With its Recaro racing seats and in-your-face color scheme, the interior of the Focus ST screams, "I'm sporty!" Other tweaks inside the cabin include auxiliary gauges, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, metal pedal pads, a special gearshift knob and, of course, lots of ST badges.

It's important to remember this car only costs $24,000, so you're going to get what you pay for. That means there are hard plastic surfaces all around, which feel cheap. And, while it's certainly not horribly noisy, you're subject to a good amount of road and wind noise.

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Passenger And Cargo Room
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Passenger And Cargo Room

This isn't a big car and buyers shouldn't expect much when it comes to passenger space. Up front, the driver and passenger seats are comfortable, with plenty of leg, head and shoulder room. But the back is cramped. I don't envy the person crammed in the rear seats while the driver tosses the car around.

Cargo space is rated at 44.8 cubic feet. Since it's a hatchback, you have a little more room to store some bigger objects, such as larger suitcases and boxes. You're going to be able to fit more in here than you could in any compact sedan. It's unquestionably more versatile. For comparison, the Ford Focus sedan has just 13.2 cubic feet of cargo room.

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Driving Dynamics
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Driving Dynamics

You know you're in for a treat even before you put the Focus ST into gear. The deep growl that bellows from the dual exhaust upon starting the engine more than hints at it.

This is a seriously fun car to drive. The turbocharged 2.0L I4 engine produces more than enough power and torque to get it moving. Accelerating and shifting through the gearbox is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The car feels very balanced, easily taking curves at speed and the handling is very sharp, courtesy of a tightly tuned suspension.

As I whipped through the mountains, a tangerine blur on a green backdrop, sweat beading on the back of my neck, I felt more connected to the road and to the car than I had in a long time. With the windows down, smelling the trees, feeling the wind and listening to the engine, the Focus ST provided a phenomenally fun Sunday morning drive.

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Tech And Infotainment
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Tech And Infotainment

The Ford Focus ST has MyFord Touch. It's not very good. You can read more about why that is here.

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Bottom Line
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Bottom Line

This car is an utter delight to drive, gets solid fuel economy, has enough truck space for your stuff and can be had for under $24,000.

It's always been hard to argue against hot hatches, which, in my opinion, make up the best segment in the industry. The new Ford Focus ST continues that tradition. Monday through Friday, it works as a perfectly good commuter vehicle, providing the space and comfort necessary to tackle the grind of the week. But on the weekend, on curvy back roads, it becomes a truly mean sports car, capable of handling some of the hardest driving you can throw at it.

It does have some faults, namely its infotainment system, but all in all, this is a great little vehicle -- the true definition of bang for your buck.

I just recommend a different paint job than the one shown to the right.

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