By now you've probably heard about something from Ford called "Ecoboost." It's a series of turbocharged engines that, depending on how the company wants to spin the propaganda, is either a way to stretch fuel dollars, or a way to give your right foot a good workout.
Put an Ecoboost four-cylinder in a seven-passenger Ford Explorer tall wagon and you have a docile mileage champ. Put roughly the same engine in a Ford Focus and fuel performance plays a quiet second fiddle to acceleration, turning and stopping performance.
It's one bookend in a rather diverse line. At one end, the Electric model represents all things lean, clean and green. At the other, the new ST, arriving soon, is positioned as the quintessential driver's car for the budget-minded.
Both models come in hatchback formats only. Middle-ground mainstream versions of the Focus can be had in either sedan or hatch variants. The ST owes its existence to Ford's European-based Team RS performance group working cooperatively with the automaker's SVT (Special Vehicle Team), which are engineers in North America responsible for breathing life into the Mustang-based Shelby GT500 and SVT Raptor pickup.
For the ST, that life force involves the installation of a 252-horsepower 2.0-liter Ecoboost turbocharged four-cylinder (torque is 270 pound-feet). That's way up from 160 horses and 146 pound-feet of torque available in non-turbocharged base models of identical engine displacement.
Ford claims the ST is capable of zero-to-60-mph sprints in the low-six-second range, which is about two seconds quicker than a standard Focus hatch. Official fuel-consumption numbers are 23 mpg city and 32 highway, compared with 26/30 for a base Focus with a manual gearbox. That's impressive considering the extra thrust. In true sports-car tradition, the only transmission mated to the turbo is a six-speed manual.
Along with literally boosting the 2.0's output for ST duty, the RS/SVT gang strengthened and stiffened the Focus platform and lowered the ride height 0.4 inches. The shocks and springs are stiffer for more control, plus the front anti-roll bar is larger in diameter, which limits body lean while cornering.
New variable-ratio power-steering makes the ST a bit sharper, while torque-vectoring control applies light inside front-wheel braking force in the turns for improved agility. And let's not forget the beefed-up brakes designed to more effectively arrest the 3,220-pound ST's momentum.
Visual flavor is similarly beefed up with a front spoiler, chrome-trimmed headlamps and a mesh-style grille. There's also extra rocker-panel trim along the sides. The bumper containing the exhaust outlets and tinted taillamps are both exclusive to the ST, as is the optional roof spoiler designed to reduce drag as well as aid in overall stability. The exterior is finished off with a set of distinctive 18-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear Eagle summer skins.
The interior is available with Recaro-branded front seats that provide significant side bolstering. An extra-thick steering wheel is complemented by a trio of gauges displaying turbo boost pressure and oil pressure and temperature. They've been assigned to a special spot on the upper portion of the instrument panel, while down low are metal foot pedals.
ST passengers should also get a kick out of what Ford calls a Sound Symposer that allows the "confident growl" from the sport exhaust system to infiltrate the cabin.
For a starting price of $24,500 (including destination charges), the ST includes most of the desired performance goodies, but skips a few of the niceties including a split-folding rear seat. That item is optional, along with a navigation system, dual-zone climate control and other must-want features.
Perhaps the best part of the Focus ST is that it places its considerable sizzle within reach of a good percentage of the population. Whether they feel like eco-warriors with "Ecoboost" under the hood - or road warriors - that means there are at least two good reasons to buy in.
What you should know: 2013 Ford Focus ST
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact hatchback
Engine (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (252)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Market position: Producing a performance version of a particular vehicle is a common approach taken by automakers seeking to highlight potential. Such aspirational cars also help build interest among more youthful buyers.
Points: Turbocharged engine has plenty of guts; Six-speed manual as sole transmission limits buyer interest, but perhaps that's the point; ST suspension upgrades should be made optional across the line; Keeping most dress-up features optional helps keeps price in affordable zone; A muscle car for the 21st century; Still "Eco" despite added power.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 23/32
Base price (incl. destination): $24,500
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Base price: $23,200
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Volkswagen Golf GTI
Base price: $25,100
Two and four-door models look sharp, offer lots of people/cargo space.
Base price: $24,800
A rip-snorting turbo-four plus a firm ride makes for a fun hatchback.