The muscle car era is being left behind by turbocharged hot hatches.
Coming in at $38,280, the Focus ST should have a long list of eager buyers keen to get behind the blue oval brand. The ST comes equipped with a range of voice command features, a 5-inch colour screen display which is integrated with a nine-speaker audio system and a SYNC connectivity system which enhances Bluetooth and the voice control systems.
Explore the 2012 Ford Focus Range
Ford has dropped the turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder in the XR5 in favour of a turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder. This is effectively the unit in the four-cylinder Falcon and despite smaller capacity, delivers 184kW of power and 340Nm of torque -- 20Nm more than the XR5.
There's an overboost function that briefly takes torque to 360Nm and its sprint time to 100km/h is just 6.5 seconds, making it line-ball with the Volkswagen GTI. On price it comes in below that car and equivalents from Mazda, Mini and Renault.
Transmission is by six-speed manual only, which will limit its appeal, although competitive economy of 7.4 litres per 100km should not put too many off. Special plumbing tries to make the most of the stifled sounds generated by turbocharged engines, and it's partially successful but could use a bit more growl going up through the gears.
Another turbo limitation is rev-ability, and while the ST has strong, linear power delivery with great flexibility at low revs, the redline arrives relatively early. The suspension is a revised version of the standard set-up, with upgraded shock absorbers and springs that lower the car 1cm.
The Focus is a good looking car and the ST improves it with 18-inch alloys, a reworked grille and body kit. It looks best in candy shades; dark colours can make it appear bland, especially from the rear. Inside, Recaro seats keep you snug and there's a driver-pleasing wheel.
The gearshift action and pedals are fine and traditionalists will be pleased to see an old-fashioned handbrake. Where it loses me is its over-fussy dials and an air of immaturity to the centre console design, which is a confusion of buttons and dials. Where do you start?
The electric power steering has a system to counter torque steer -- wheel-tug under hard acceleration -- and another system that brakes the inner wheel during cornering to reduce understeer -- the tendency to plough straight ahead. Torque steer isn't absent but the Focus is one of the best-handling hatchbacks around and this one only enhances its reputation.
It turns into corners quickly and thanks to variable ratio steering, introduced here, it tackles hairpins without your hands leaving the wheel. It has a nicely planted feel on the road with body movements well damped and a very acceptable ride quality. Overall composure is excellent and falls short only of the very best in this category, such as the Renault Megane RS265. Negatives include a little too much tyre and wind noise.