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When you think of small, fuel-efficient vehicles such as the Ford Focus, sport performance isn't usually the first thing that comes to mind.
Sure, there are cars out there -- such as the Mazdaspeed3 -- that would fit into the category of compact and fast cars, but there hasn't been much else.
Well, that changed this fall when the 2013 Ford Focus ST, the automaker's first global performance car, arrived in showrooms.
At its heart is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that has been tuned to deliver 252 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque. For a vehicle this size, that's plenty (there's even an over-boost feature, which kicks in automatically, that will increase horsepower to 265.) And not only does it have the power for performance, it also sounds the part, with a rather melodious exhaust note that certainly grabs your attention.
The engine is paired with a very nice six-speed manual transmission, which has been specifically tuned for the Focus ST.
From the outside, the Focus ST -- sold as a five-door hatchback in Canada -- is eye-catching from front to back. The ST also comes with sculpted side skirts and a rear bumper that has diffuser-style vents in the lower fascia.
The highlights of the back end, however, are the large roof spoiler and the centrally mounted exhaust. A cool set of 18-inch alloy wheels adds to the performance look of the ST.
Inside, front occupants are coddled by Recaro racing seats, which are optional in the United States but standard in Canada -- with a starting price of $29,999.
Also standard in Canada are LED daytime running lights, high-intensity discharge headlights with cornering function, as well as heated seats and exterior mirrors.
For drivers, Ford has packed some new features into the ST that make it a blast to drive.
One impressive feature is the newly designed sport steering, which uses a variable ratio to increase agility and also comes with torque-steer compensation to help under hard acceleration -- something that is pretty easy to achieve with this powerful little package.
The Focus ST is equipped with a sport suspension, which comes with upgraded shock absorbers and springs to lower the suspension by 10 millimetres, lowering the centre of gravity to accentuate the drive handling.
In the brief time I had behind the wheel of the Focus ST, I came away thoroughly impressed with how powerful, nimble and downright fun it was to drive. It's quick off the line and has responsive steering.
The introduction of the Focus ST also shows Ford's SVT (Special Vehicle Team) is still alive, having been almost dormant during the recession. The Focus ST becomes the third vehicle in the lineup, joining the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor and Mustang Shelby GT500.
"We've never been dead," said Tim Smith, SVT vehicle engineer. "We're on a positive slope."
To be part of the global performance lineup, vehicles must meet criteria on everything from steering and braking to sound quality and seating.
The Focus ST checked off all the boxes, including larger brakes and a redesigned intake system using a new active sound symposer that pipes the engine noise into the cabin.
"It contributes to the entire performance experience," said Smith.
The 2013 model has more power but uses 25-per-cent less fuel than the outgoing Focus ST, which was only sold in Europe.
-- Postmedia News / Detroit Free Press